I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. (Ezek. 36:26-27)
Day naps. As a child, I despised them. Sunday afternoons were the worst. I remember exclaiming to my mother, “sleep is such a waste of time when there is so much to do!” My frustration with the inertia of my family members instigated many a solitary walk that led to enchanting discoveries, a strengthened body, and a refreshed spirit, all while they slept away the same glorious hours.
I do not remember deciding to take that first nap. There was no hammock beckoning from under a shade tree, no puffy comforter that coerced, no pillow sporting a soft divot just my size. It was likely just one more hard thing heaped upon others that prompted a desire to simply stop that day. And because I can, I chose to go no further and to fight no longer. To lie down on a hard, bitter rock, with my stone-shaped heart, and sleep before the “weary years, and silent tears” of my brothers and sisters.
Writing these words – taking them out of their original context for my benefit – tells of the privileged nature of my nap.
Now, bolting upright at the sound of exploding tear gas canisters and smashing glass, I turn my sleepy head toward the heartbroken chants of righteous anger over a black man killed for no reason. Hands shaking and heart pounding at the abrupt end to sleep, I try to think. I remember taking a sleepy 2.23 mile walk a couple of weeks ago, lamenting the murder of another young black man who lost his life doing what I have done a hundred times. I am already tired and tempted to nod off again. Yet, as I look at the melanin-rich, exhausted faces of those for whom one more hard thing has just been heaped upon all the others, the Spirit pokes. “It is well past time to wake up,” she says.
I have not been oblivious to the need to wake up. Friend’s stories have kept me present to injustices aimed at black and brown women and men – mothers, fathers, and children who live in a country and community where there is little love and space for them. These friends have been endlessly patient as I stretch and yawn, and slowly open my eyes to their realities of the constant burden of race. A burden that does not offer the luxury of an appropriate age for children to learn about the ugly, deadly realities of racial disparity. A burden teaching that justice cannot be expected, but only meagerly hoped for. A burden that often squashes even the most meager of hope. A burden that is too heavy for naps.
I do not bear this same burden of race. Rarely do I consider my whiteness in the spaces I inhabit or wonder about the impact my whiteness will have on others. My children have had the benefit of the doubt and the unfettered freedom of childhood. Getting them home before dark was a requirement for bedtime, not their safety. When I get weary of the fight, I have the luxury of taking a white-woman-nap. I have. Often. “Given how seldom we experience racial discomfort in a society we dominate, we haven’t had to build our racial stamina.” (Diangelo, 2018, pp. 1-2)
My stamina is abysmal.
Friends, this is wrong. It is not just wrong. It is sin.
I must repent of wasting time when there is so much to do. I must repent of the damage I have caused while sleeping.
Several years ago, I took a class about the history of the black church. One of the texts was a black history book – similar to the history books I had studied as a young person – but with stories, dates, and people not listed in the history books of my childhood. Not even during my children’s school years. I have been provided other opportunities to learn how I benefit from simply taking up space in a country built specifically for people like me. This learning has been transformative, hard, awakening. And yet, here I am again, rubbing the sleep from my eyes.
I must repent. Again, for taking advantage of my ability to close my eyes. And then, with eyes and heart open, I must get up and move.
Lord, have mercy on me. I am a sleepy sinner. Often apathetic, I nap instead of exercising my racial stamina. Forgive my slumber, Lord. Continue to chip away at my heart of stone as you enliven a heart of flesh. Move me. Interrupt my tendencies. Give me the presence to advocate for those who need rest now – it is well past time. Use me and my sleepy sisters to stand in and to step down as we lift weary ones toward their rightful places of influence, power, and benefit in a world made by you for them. In Jesus’ name.
Diangelo, R. (2018). White Fragility:Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism. Boston: Beacon Press.
Jill English is an avid encourager of humans and lover of words. She is most at home out-of-doors, and in particular, while walking any beach. Her most magical moments involve being Grammy to two remarkable grandchildren, and Mom to their lucky parents. As a discerner of call in higher theological education, her favorite conversations involve connecting the sacred dots of every-day life and faith. Jill lives in Grand Rapids, MI with two small, elderly pups.