Get off the Sidelines and Fail

I felt the heat rushing up my neck. She yelled at me for crying. She said that my tears had derailed the conversation.

Her words smacked into my chest, leaving me gasping for air. A few years ago, as a senior in college, I had begun learning about systematic racism. My journey led me to study my responsibility as someone who both benefits and is complicit in the systematic racism.

In my mind, I had become an alley — even teaching others about White supremacy and racism. I boasted about an award I had won earlier that year for my efforts.

When some of my But instead of seeing my failures as the end of my journey, I’ve learned to see my failures as opportunities for God to rebuke me so that I can repent, grow and learn to follow him more fully. Black friends started to share their experiences of racism in ministry, I jumped in.

Crying, I apologized for my “people” and the racist system. I thought I was helping.

But the conversation stopped. The look on my friends’ faces was not one of thankfulness, but of betrayal.

She broke the silence, yelling, that this experience was not about me and that my tears were neither helpful nor needed. Shame engulfed me. How was I supposed to be part of the conversation, if, when I did try, I just messed up?

Peter felt shame as his teacher rebuked him. He was supposed to be the rock. He was supposed to lead the group of men. But when Jesus started to talk about dying, Peter stood by him, offering the encouragement he thought his teacher wanted.

But when Peter said, “No, Lord, this shall never happen to you!” Harshly, Jesus responded, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”

I took my daughter to a block party in a predominantly Black neighborhood. I smiled as my 2-year-old tried to join the older girls as they danced. I eagerly gulped down the delicious soul food and connected with other moms about the difficulty of being a working mom.

Pride filled my heart as I walked back to our car. I gave myself a metaphorical pat on the back for not avoiding this neighborhood – like so many of my friends, whom I thought I was better than – just because of the rumors of drug violence.

But as we walked past a corner store with bars on the windows and a group of Black men standing around an open trunk, fear quickened my steps.

My oblivious daughter sang out, “Hi, neighbors.” Waving, she started to stop. Controlled by racism, I grabbed her hand, to pull her along. My frenzied efforts sent both of us crashing to the curb. I felt the blood break through the skin as the men I had feared rushed to my aid.

That night, as I cried to God, repenting of my racism and my and believing the lie, that I can never change, God replied, “Oh you of little faith, I can move mountains.”

Peter saw his teacher walking on water. While the other disciples were afraid, he thought, what if I could join him. Bravely, he shouted it out, “Lord, if it is you, tell me to join you.” When Jesus invited him to walk with him, he stayed above the waves for a second. For a second, he did the impossible.

But as the wind raged, Peter’s eyes wondered from his Lord and saw the dangerous sea; he started to sink.

Jesus caught him. He said, “You of little faith. Why did you doubt?”

Sitting at a tailgate, a White man made a racist joke. I had been invited to this tailgate by a friend, and even though I’ve spoken out against racism publicly, at work, in my family, and among my friends, I kept quiet. I ignored the comment. I didn’t correct him. To myself, I reasoned, I don’t know this guy, he had been drinking, he was older, I didn’t want to embarrass my friends.

My silence convicted me. God kept asking, “Do you think you should have stayed silent? Why was this case any different than any other time, I’ve asked you to speak up? Do you love me? If so, you must love all my children.”

Peter had been running from his Lord. He had denied him three times – just as God said he would. Peter had failed. How could Peter ever be the rock that Jesus asked him to be? As Jesus visited his friends, Peter wanted to embrace his teacher, to run to his teacher, but the memory of his failure kept him at arms distance.

As Peter sat here at breakfast, watching Jesus cooking, he remembered the first time Jesus had called him. Peter desperately desired to turn back time. To have never denied his beloved Lord.

After they finished eating, Jesus began to ask Peter if he loved him. After Peter had assured Jesus that he loved him twice, Jesus asked again. Peter was hurt, not only did he keep asking him, but he called him by his old name, Simon. Fearful that Jesus would never forgive him, Peter said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.”

Jesus repeated his answer, for a third time, “Feed my sheep.”

Just as Peter had denied Jesus three times, Jesus gave Peter three opportunities to repent. Jesus had forgiven him, and with that forgiveness, Peter could be the man God had created him to be.

Following Jesus, especially as I have engaged in racial reconciliation, is a journey. There are many times where I have failed. But instead of seeing my failures as the end of my journey, I’ve learned to see my failures as opportunities for God to rebuke me so that I can repent, grow and learn to follow him more fully.

Too many of us are paralyzed by failure, especially in the conversation about race. We don’t move forward, because we don’t understand or truly believe that we can repent and be forgiven. Instead, we are held captive by the lie that sin creates our identity. Ibram X Kendi wrote, “The good news is racists and antiracists are not fixed identities.”

Your identity is as a child of God. And as a child of God, you will mess up. You will fail. You will say something that is racist. You will do something that is unkind. But there is good news. All of those failures are opportunities to learn to lean in a little closer to Jesus and do it differently tomorrow.

So get out of the boat and fail.


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