When I Can’t Breathe, I Will Listen

My son came home and told me that on his walk from school in our middle-class neighborhood, a police officer slowed down and tailed him and his two friends.  His friends, one black, the other white nervously chuckled and joked that if they got stopped only one of them would end up dead.  It wasn’t my biracial son. It wasn’t the white boy.  It was the black child, a boy who has sat around my table too many times to count.

This is so unfair, y’all.  When my boy’s first response to me when checking my phone for texts at a stop light is, “Put your phone away, Mama.  If a cop sees you-he’ll shoot you.”, the world is surely broken  It’s unfair that I’ve had to warn him to similarly mind his manners.  Now it’s come full circle– the child worries for the mama.

Actually, this is more than unfair- it’s hell on earth to worry that my son may not be safe and it’s all my fault.  It’s my African-American DNA and a heritage of terror that leaves a mantle of hateful prejudices upon his shoulders. Sometimes, I feel like the Israelite mamas when they issue a Hebrew boy begging the midwives to lie to the Pharaoh that they had a girl. I wish I could fashion a basket of tar and pitch and send my babies someplace safer, better, more just.  It’s as if the story of oppression has woven into their psyche like a never ending, unsettling bedtime story.  They—no we—can’t find our rest, so we toss and turn under this blanket of racism.

Then some how I remembered that we’re called to be agents of Shalom, peace-makers, reconcilers.

When the quiet racism that creeps into our systems and our minds, causes mamas to once again  weep in the streets of  America, it’s time to put aside my self-indulgent, angry words, my indignation and  seek God for his heart towards the suffering. So, I spent the week after the #EricGarner decision quiet. I wanted to find God and his heart.

I did.  I found hope and encouragement and calling during my reading Exodus last week.

I’ve always loved the story of the burning bush. I loved the calling of a normal, flawed, insecure man to partner with God to redeem his community.  I loved the mystery of a burning bush and the Emmanuel, God with us, nature of him showing up on earth to commission his servant to action when his people were suffering.  I love the wisdom of God that there will be some obstacles towards freedom, but nevertheless, he is present and will respond on their behalf.  I love it all.  I loved it when I was a little girl in Sunday School making bright orange and red crafts to remember this story and I loved it as a mama with my babies curled into me while watching ” The Prince of Egypt”.

After I posted to Facebook that I would share my thoughts, I sat with my tender heart and watched the burning bush scene.

I’m inspired by Moses humility that he’s just human and I wonder if I could do well to access our my own humility when I’m  moved to action against racism.

I’m amazed at God’s anger when Moses dragged his feet when called to restore the brokenhearted. It tells me that, injustice angers God and his people made whole is serious business and that he intends to empower us to express that fully on the face of this earth.

I’m grateful that while the bush burns, it’s not consumed.  It’s like God is communicating to us sweltering under oppression that we will find respite. I’m grateful that when we put ourselves into the fire we will not be consumed either, because the place where we stand and the work we are doing is holy.

I trust that when I don’t have the right words, God will teach me what to say.

I find it so fascinating that before God called Moses- an impulsive, idealistic, young man whose first action in response to injustice against his people, ended in murder and distrust – before God called him to seek justice for his people, he first lead him to the desert and the profession of a Shepard. When I read, “Scouting the Divine”, I was struck by how well Lynne, the shepherdess knew her flock.  She knew their bleats and they knew her voice.  Lynne perfected the art of listening to her charge, just as Moses must have. I wonder if God is leading us to a similar approach.  I wonder if the time it takes to listen will be enough to calm anxieties. I wonder if the humility is takes to listen will build the trust necessary to move forward when we’d rather dig in our heels.

I wonder if the love that is spun in the words, “I’m listening and I’m sorry” can change the very fabric of this world? I think so.  I think this is who our God is.

He’s the Listening God and he’s asking us to enter into this new story of redemption, this new instance of light breaking into darkness, this new effort of reconciliation with open minds, generous hearts, and few words.

I’m listening white friends who don’t know how to respond and I’m sorry you feel overwhelmed. Seek to the Lord, ask him to direct you to one person of color who needs genuine compassion and listen well.

I’m listening fellow mamas of color who are terrified for our children and feel isolated in our anger. I’m sorry our children have to learn courage under literal fire.   Let’s cry out with confidence that God is listening and sending us the hands of our sisters to hold. Their hearts are full of his perfect love to minster to our fear.


I’m listening Christians who don’t want to acknowledge racism.  I’m sorry it’s unsettling to look this darkness in the face, but Jesus looked darkness in the face for you.  In his very body he suffered pain and abuse to express your great value to God.  In light of this, can you look darkness in the face by listening to me and millions of black women when we cry out unsettled by the devaluation of the bodies of our black boys, men, fathers, and  brothers?  Will you ask God what you should do with such a precious gift?

I‘m listening,  black boys walking home from the community center, nervously joking about dying at the hands of a police officer.  Oh little lambs, I’m sorry and I wish I could gather you all in my arms. They are small and feeble but they are yours for the holding.  I’ll try to protect you as best as I can.

I’m listening, Lord and I’m sorry for letting my fear, my pride, my anger drown out your voice.  Let your words burn within me and let it consume the darkness in my soul, leaving me ready to go and do your will, ready to let your wonders transform the world.  I am your child, Listening God, help me listen well.

Practicing Shalom with a Closed Mouth, Gracious Spirit and Listening Ears,


10 thoughts on “When I Can’t Breathe, I Will Listen

  1. Thank you for speaking such beautiful words. I’ve never thought of God as a Listening God. May He comfort and embolden you with His presence, and lead each of us to what He desires to create through us!

  2. As a mother of 3 sons my heart connects with your. I’ve experienced the full range of emotion as I observe what is going on in our nation. My heart is grieved when I overhear my husband coaching the children on what to do when an officer comes near. But I’ve resolved that #ALoveRevolution can change our world. I’m committed to doing MORE to love on purpose.

  3. Osheta, I’m a white southern grandmother who never thought I would see the things I see today. I hear my white brothers & sisters blame black crime, the breakdown of the black family and all the other things they find wrong from their special place. I confess to have joined in at times. However, my pastors have posted ideas and discussions that have made me stop, think and be ashamed. I have asked God for forgiveness and now I ask you and all your sister-mammas for forgiveness. I have no idea what it is like, but I am listening and learning. I am an old dog learning new tricks and I have a voice. I will no longer tolerate racism in my white privileged world. I am not sure what my next step is, but I know that I must set a boundary first. I pray your kids will be safe as they come home today and leave again tomorrow. I pray for that police officer to check himself out and have a change of heart. I pray for you to continue to speak out and call us to God’s heart of compassion and love. Unconditional love is what He has given me. I can give others no less.

  4. That scene from Prince of Egypt gives me chills every time. It is the most moving portrayal of Moses and the burning bush, and you’ve applied it so powerfully to your message here. Thank you for setting an example for us all in your vulnerability, your truth-telling, and your shalom-seeking.

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