By Candi Hagan
Recently my family walked through a challenging season of loss when we unexpectedly had to say goodbye to my mother. She had traveled down to Florida to visit us for the holidays and became sick. After seventeen days in the hospital fighting for her life, she went home to be with Jesus. We rejoice that she is in heaven, but the truth is: I wasn’t ready. The shock of it all still stings. I am not sure we are ever truly prepared to say goodbye to a precious loved one.
Death can bring about a raw vulnerability and an opportunity for deep reflection. It can cause us to look back and perceive relationships differently. You wonder if you did all that you could to make that relationship the best it could be. Did I take enough time to show my mom how much I valued her? Did she know how much I loved her?
Relationships can be complex and messy at times. My relationship with my mom was not perfect. Over the years there was tension, misunderstanding, and conflict. There were times, if I am honest with you, that I simply tolerated our relationship. And now, in grieving the loss of my mom, I regret those moments. I wish I had more opportunities to show her love and grace.
About fifteen years ago, however, there was a shift in my relationship with my mom. The Lord impressed upon me that I needed to love my mom for who she is, extend grace to her, and celebrate her in the times that I would normally choose to tolerate her. That word transformed my relationship with my mom. I started to enjoy our relationship and didn’t allow my insecurities or selfishness to define our relationship any longer.
In fact, that realization has helped me these past months as I have felt the loss of that precious relationship. Since moving to Florida a year and a half ago, my life has been filled with new and wonderful friendships, many of which are with people from a different race and culture than my own. These friendships have so deeply enriched my life that I cannot imagine life without them. Learning that life is lived by others through a different lens than my own has increased my ability to love and grow in a way that I never thought possible. It has also taught me to be a better listener and to think about life from a different angle. This experience has allowed me to hear firsthand how people who are different than I am (with different skin color and ethnic background) feel about matters of race in America and in the Church. It has not always been comfortable or easy, but it has been vital to my personal growth as a disciple of Jesus. One of the difficult moments for me came when I heard a precious pastor friend share that there were moments in certain circles that he as a Black person felt “tolerated” rather than “celebrated.”
We probably all have one family member that everyone puts up with during the holidays. But even though we may tolerate that family member, we don’t want to get stuck eating next to them at dinner.
Have you ever felt tolerated in a relationship? We probably all have one family member that everyone puts up with during the holidays. But even though we may tolerate that family member, we don’t want to get stuck eating next to them at dinner.
No one enjoys feeling tolerated in a relationship. When I heard my dear friend share about that experience of simply feeling tolerated among Christian colleagues, I had to ask myself if I have ever felt tolerated before. Because of my outgoing personality? Perhaps. But because of my skin color? Never.
The only way I would know that people of color have experienced this demeaning feeling is because I have learned it from conversations I have had with my friends. They have shared times where they have felt tolerated, not celebrated. For example, there were times where they were invited to gatherings or meetings but not really included.
Sometimes cultural differences can become barriers instead of bridges. It can be intimidating to encounter a new culture or race and not know what to do. I have learned to lean into that uncomfortable space, to be patient, and learn to listen and watch.
Relationships are hard work. I believe we often tolerate people who are different than us in some ways more than we celebrate (or love) them. When we simply tolerate one another, we miss out on the love that Jesus talks about so often. Jesus didn’t keep a safe distance from people. He went into their homes and ate meals with them. He listened to their stories and saw life from their perspective.
Oswald Chambers wrote in his treasured book My Utmost for His Highest, “If what we call love doesn’t take us beyond ourselves, it is not really love. If we have the idea that love is characterized as cautious, wise, sensible, shrewd, and never taken to extremes, we have missed the true meaning. This may describe affection and it may bring us a warm feeling, but it is not a true and accurate description of love.”
Here is what I am learning: for me to get better at loving my neighbor, I need to give quality time to get to know them and to listen to them. Not only do I then learn a lot about them, but it also becomes natural to celebrate who they are and love them in a way that is meaningful to them. How do we make a difference in racial issues? I am not quite sure how to answer that, but I do know that it has to begin by humbling ourselves and cultivating genuine relationships with those whose life experience and perspectives are different than ours rather than digging in our heels and expecting others to adopt our preferences and perspectives.
About the Author
Candi Hagan is a pastor’s wife and creative educator. Her heart for the Lord, His Word, and His people has led her all over the country for over twenty years serving the Body of Christ. Currently, she happily serves the Southeast Region of Open Bible Churches with her husband, Nathan, Southeast’s regional executive director. The Hagans have been married for nineteen years and have three very active teenage children.