The South African word ubuntu loosely translates, “I am because we are,” and highlights how our lives are deeply intertwined and impacted by one another. Without ubuntu, individualism, possessiveness, and self-centeredness are the order of the day. We need support from others, especially as we grapple with issues around race, equity, belonging, reconciliation, and revolution. Black folks in general and specifically young adults are trying to find a footing in our families, communities, this country, and around the world.
The journey of healing is an intensely emotional process that cannot be rushed or ignored. It doesn’t occur in an orderly way with fixed steps. No two people will heal precisely the same. Increasingly, we become aware of the emotional baggage from the past, and we seek to offload it so we can freely move forward. Famed Nigerian novelist Chinua Achebe wrote, “If you don’t like someone’s story, write your own.” I believe this is a call to uncover and recover from the words and wounds written on our hearts, minds, and bodies by someone else.
I realize that if I am calling folks to live authentically and vulnerably, I have to do the same no matter the cost. I must tell the complex and messy truth about myself and my family in every life story I write. I also deal with the residual shame of my journey and the risk of being misunderstood. As we lament or celebrate our continuing story, we have not been taught to hold the tension between the now and the not yet. However, the Lord can show us how to reject the pulls toward the meaningless activity we face on an almost daily basis. In that quiet space with the Lord, we can confront things we’ve run from and actively avoided by doing too much—or too little—and learn to sit with uncomfortable and unfamiliar feelings for a time. But how?
Preparing. A first step in the healing journey can be to use a real or imagined container to hold our thoughts and feelings. We can write about our experiences and emotions in a journal or a letter, place them in a container, and put them away until we are ready to look at them and address the feelings they invoke. This helps clear a pathway toward healing. There are verses such as Proverbs 4:11–12 that give us assurance from the Lord: “I will guide you in the way of wisdom, and I will lead you in upright paths. When you walk, your steps will not be hampered, and when you run, you will not stumble.”
Lamenting. Often the next stop on the journey is taking time to lament. We can lament in a form of prayer where we pour out our complaints to God. There are many laments in the Bible, such as in the books of Psalms and Lamentations. They are honest, raw, and speak to the truth of how we feel and also to the reality of the ways the Lord loves and cares for us. If we look at the Psalms of lament, we see there is often a pattern that can serve as a model for us: acknowledge how God has been faithful to us in the past, vulnerably voice our complaints and ask for help, and finish by trusting and praising God.
We can speak our lament in prayer or write it down. Jesus helps us to release our pain, and if need be, to forgive from the heart as he begins his mysterious work of healing. From that posture of being with Jesus, we can hear his healing words of life that help us grow in resilience and bounce back stronger than before.
Through other folks. We need Jesus and we need other people to help us to acknowledge what happened, what we’ve lost, and how we feel regarding it to begin to heal. So in the next phase of our journey, we look for where God is at work, how he has extended— and continues to extend—grace, where we find inner strength, and how his love shows up through people.
As we share ourselves and others listen to our whole story, we feel seen and known. They create space, and their presence can be life changing. Listeners can come in many forms, such as a trusted friend, family member, or therapist. Profound healing can occur as we journey through this process with a trustworthy friend.
Healing can also happen when we share in a safe, supportive group. We tell our own story, and we also listen to the stories of others. As we witness each other’s stories, we find the encouragement to take small steps toward healing and walk more fully in our gifting and calling. Within a group, we can see “a living, breathing illustration of how stories overlap in a powerful way to inform, confirm, contradict, challenge, and inspire,” as Stacy Notaras Murphy stated in her article for Counseling Today entitled, “The Power of Story.”
My earliest experience in a support group was as a participant. I was skeptical about joining the group because, as a counselor, I thought I’d heard it all before and considered myself to be self-aware. As the group members shared their trauma stories and experiences in and outside of their families, I respectfully listened. But occasionally, my eyes drifted to the birds on the tree outside the window. However, when a group member shared how her parents’ divorce affected her, I became fully present. She said she couldn’t ask them what happened, so she just blamed herself. Growing up, she followed the rules: “just do what you are told and don’t question or try to understand why.” This young woman, who was an accomplished architect, often blamed herself for failures in her relationships while also facing racism and bias at the company where she worked. As I listened, I realized the similarities in our stories.
Rewriting our story. When the group leader prayed at the end of the support-group session, a memory surfaced of my older sister and me. We were in our best dresses and sitting on the front steps of our house. We were waiting for Daddy to pick us up for a visit. We waited for what felt like hours, being careful not to get dirt on our dresses. Our daddy never showed up that day. There were subsequent visits where he did arrive, but I believe this memory surfaced to remind me that I needed more profound healing in that area.
On an emotional level, I was still sitting on the steps on my best behavior, waiting for my daddy to show up. I sought out a therapist and received individual counseling to work through this. Eventually, I was able to emotionally get off the steps and fully embrace life. I was rewriting my story.
Reflections and Prayer Practices
The Lord is constantly speaking to us, and he is willing and able to communicate in many ways. The Holy Spirit will bring us into all truth, whether it’s through the Word, a still small voice, prayer, a situation, a person, pictures, or a gut-level hunch. We must make the time and place to get quiet enough to pray and listen and remain open to his voice as we go about our day.
As we learn to listen for God’s voice and distinguish it from other voices, know that God always speaks to us from a place of love and with compassion and mercy. Even when asking us to face difficult truths about ourselves or a situation, God’s messages always lead to clarity, release, and relief.
Jesus always welcomes us. He alone heals the pain and meets the deepest needs of the ever-brave, bright, and shiny ones. The starting line is no longer on shifting sand. Jesus is with us on the journey to reset it and all the other lines or barriers that try to hinder us. He is the firm foundation where we can stand secure as we learn to hold lament and celebration. So, let’s begin this journey together.
Young, Gifted, and Black will be available February 15, 2022.
Adapted from Young, Gifted, and Black by Sheila Wise Rowe. Copyright (c) 2022 by Sheila Wise Rowe. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com