How to Vanquish an Elephant

The healing choice of love

by Tracy Hilts

I was dispatched to support a 94-year-old home hospice patient and his wife with making his funeral arrangements. When I arrived, the wife opened the door and said, “Oh my! I wasn’t expecting you, but I guess you can come on in.” As she led me in she went on to say, “I’m not sure how my husband will take this. We’ve never had a colored person in our home before.” When the husband joined our meeting, I began by speaking directly to their discomfort about my race. I also quickly saw their Christian faith was important to them. I made a point to emphasize the Christ connection between us and made this the foundation of my entire visit—which ended warmly three hours later.

When I sat down with the elderly couple, I had to decide I was going to see them as people whom Jesus valued and loved.

A large, painful, and fear-inducing elephant lurks in the collective room of the US and most certainly in some form behind the doors of most Christian churches. Its name is Racism. Its presence is so massive and daunting that it seems easier to turn away and only acknowledge its presence when it manifests in some grotesque form such as a mass shooting or an obvious hate crime. Then we are forced to look, but most often we feel overwhelmed and hopeless to remove it from our midst. What could possibly take on this behemoth? Maybe instead of asking what, we should start by asking who. God gives us hope for victory. God offers a Christ command to love one another. And God offers full partnership as the Spirit graciously empowers us to fulfill the command: “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34–35).

God created us to be a fellowshipping people because although many of our wounds are received through relationships, so are our strengthening and our healing. It will take a concerted effort to enlist, empower, and encourage each other to shrink this elephant down and expel its every attempt to exist among us.

Truly healthy and healing relationships do not happen without humility and intentionality. The book of Acts describes intentional efforts to transcend racial, ethnic, and social identities. In Galatians Paul writes, “… for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:26–28). Knowing Christ is the primary and powerful commonality for understanding who we are as individuals and as a Christian community. When we identify first as followers of Jesus Christ who live in partnership with the uniting Holy Spirit, then the church can model relationships that are redemptive rather than divisive.

When I sat down with the elderly couple, I had to decide I was going to see them as people whom Jesus valued and loved. I took the risk of inviting them to see the same in me. We acknowledged the presence of racism, worked through its painful effects, and let the choice of love bring healing. Several days later this couple asked me to be at the bedside as the man took his last breaths. And with that an elephant was vanquished.

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