Voices: Black lament shouldn’t feel so lonely

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A big part of being a pastor is sitting with people as they cry. Even more, it’s a big part of being human.

There’s something beautiful about coming alongside those so dragged down by the weight of their tears they scarcely can raise their face. There’s something sacred about taking some of that weight upon oneself. To fasten anchors to yourself for the sake of another person, enabling that person to stand—even one day to stand tall—is human as humans were meant to be. It is loving and Christlike.

It is a great privilege to mourn with those who mourn, as Romans 12:15 commands us. There are few actions that demonstrate one’s love for another more powerfully. Each shared tear is a love note of Shakespearean prose. How better to bear one another’s burdens (Galatians 6:2) in a world brimming with them?

Black burden

There is no denying that no group of people in this country has shouldered a greater burden—in quality or quantity—than Black people. That is not to say others have not carried burdens or faced adversity, or that the burdens they have are insignificant. It’s merely to say it’s not on the same level.

Slavery, Jim Crow, sharecropping, redlining, gentrification, police brutality, the Tuskegee experiments, the destruction of Black Wall Street, domestic terrorism by white supremacy groups, lynching, voter suppression, housing and economic disparity, mass incarceration and so much more have been borne upon the backs of Black brothers and sisters for centuries.

Yet, as I think through these trials and struggles, the thought occurs to me how rare it is for a white person truly to lament these with us, to sit in tears over how a broken world strives to break us. Worse still is how much it takes to convince many white Christians to mourn with me as I mourn another Black body turned black body bag, or to grieve the continuation of systems that grind into dust those who escape that fate. I have to beg for the right to weep.

Black proof

When a friend’s grandmother is hospitalized, no one demands medical records before offering prayer. When a child says his parents are getting divorced, his Bible study leader doesn’t call those parents to ask if he’s lying before offering comfort. When a woman in Sunday school reveals she lost her job, we don’t immediately interrogate her to determine if she deserved it.

Any of these responses would be unspeakably callous, coldhearted and utterly devoid of compassion. They rightfully would be met with a reprimand and demands for an apology, while the offended party was consoled.

But I never have been part of a church where I felt I could express openly, mere weeks after taking up running as a hobby, the fear I felt after a Black man was gunned down in broad daylight while jogging. “Just don’t do anything wrong” is the more likely response.

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If I expressed in a prayer request how terrifying it was for a woman to be shot in the head by police in her own home in a neighboring city, I would be accused of being “too political” by those far enough removed from the situation to dismiss as abstract something all too real for me.

Any comfort I sought from many of my white brothers and sisters for the anxiety and pain experienced in the simple act of being Black in America has had to be earned. But I shouldn’t have to justify or defend my tears. I shouldn’t have to prove my pain to experience compassion.

Christlike compassion

You don’t have to agree with me to mourn with me. Obviously, I would prefer you do, because denying the cause of my suffering will only lead to more mourning. But you do need to mourn with me to love me. You do need to treat me with compassion to love me like Christ.

Every time the lament of Black Christians is answered, not with compassion, but with dismissal, silence or, worst of all, outright hostility, a little bit of trust is lost. The ties that bind us fray just a little bit more, and the chasm forming in the midst of the church grows that much wider.

I would love for you simply to believe us. I understand that is asking a lot from many people. I’m willing to settle for simply hearing us and mourning with us. That much grief can be bottled up for only so long before it ferments into resentment and explodes outward in rage.

I have a great many things to be angry about in this fallen world. I don’t want my fellow believers to be one of them. I want to believe you love and care for me, but every tear you reject refutes that belief.

Mourn with me as your brother. Help me carry my burdens, whether you understand them or not. It’s not everything, but it’s a step in the right direction. And that’s something.

Trent Richardson is the singles associate pastor at The Woodlands First Baptist Church. The views expressed are those solely of the author.

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