When I was around seven years old, I had a boil. It got big and was not healing, so I was taken to the hospital and a doctor did a minor procedure where they opened it up and drained out the pus and fluid. It was not so painful and I was wide awake, as they only applied a local anesthetic. But the fear I had was so overwhelming that, at the end of the procedure, I felt a little ashamed that I had made such a fuss over the whole thing. And be assured, I made a big fuss. That is why I still remember the incident today. Imagine if a sibling had been with me and later passed a comment like “What was all the screaming about? It was just a small cut and you were shouting the house down?” What do you think would be an appropriate response from me? “Wait till something like that happens to you. Then you can tell me how it feels. Right now, you don’t know how I feel. You don’t know what I’ve been through. You don’t know.”
A lot of times, when others are feeling pain or going through circumstances that are particularly painful, we tend to underestimate their pain, and wave away their experience because we have no idea how they feel about what they’re going through. We cannot relate to their experience or their pain. When my father died, I felt pain that was almost tangible. Such deep emotional pain that I never expected or anticipated. It was deep and it was quite surprising. I had never lost anyone that close before. The pain hit hard because it was so unexpected. By the way, he was 88 years old when he passed. Before then, anytime a friend lost an aged parent, I would joke, “Oh, he/she was old. That’s a celebration of life. Rice and stew very plenty”. People had taken it in good faith, not sharing the depth of their loss and their grief with me. I didn’t know there would be grief. I mourned my father for a very long time, and gradually the pain eased. But it is still there, somewhere in the periphery of my life.
I say all that to say this: We cannot identify with or relate to pain that we have never experienced. Yes, we can imagine it, we can sympathise with them, but deep inside, we will ask the question “How bad can it really be?” True empathy only comes with experience. If you have felt the pain that I feel or something similar, then you can relate with my experience, understand it and articulate it in such a way that I might not be able to, since I am still in the throes of it. This is like the fellowship of suffering.
In Yoruba tradition, when a husband died, as part of the mourning process, the widow is expected to sit on a mat on the floor, as a sign of bereavement and mourning. Female friends and family members who have also been widowed are allowed to sit with her on that mat, sharing in her pain. Women whose husbands are still alive are not allowed to join them. This is because they have not experienced what the widow is going through. So they cannot share in her pain.
Paul prayed that he may know the fellowship of Jesus’suffering. He wanted to identify with and relate to the pain and suffering our Lord went through. I guess he hoped that this would bring him closer to the Lord and they would communicate in the language of that suffering. A bond would be formed. A secret code, based on a shared experience.
In America today, there is a fellowship of suffering being displayed by the black people. People have risen up to protest the racial discriminations that have gone on for decades. Each person has a story. Not all stories have led to the death of a black person, but all stories certainly have one thing in common – anger and irritation at being made to “feel less than”.
Racism in America has its roots in the slave trade of hundreds of years ago. It has been passed down through the generations by parents who have taught it to their children. We cannot underestimate the authority of parents over children and the depth of influence they exert especially in childhood. When children are taught, directly or indirectly that a particular race is ‘less than’, they believe it and will act as they see their parents act. This has gone on for decades. Children will do as we do.
So, in this present day, how do you end racism? The debate is on. Who can understand what the black people have gone through in America and all over the world? Who can empathise with them and tell their story? If they were to do it on their own, it might be taken as exaggerations of reality.
Who can relate with the psychological and physical damage that has been going for hundreds of years, right from slavery times till now? Who can form a truth and reconciliation forum to expose and to review what has happened and what needs to happen now? Who has the wisdom and the ability to articulate what needs to be taught now, how re-education needs to take place? Who can empathise and make change happen?
Those who can, are exemplary people waiting to make history! They exist in America today and I pray that they will emerge to carry out their God-given assignments, to bring all races together and end the hatred and the violence for all time. They are sent for such a time as this. We are waiting for their manifestation.
The scripture says: “I said, ‘You are “gods”; you are all sons of the Most High.’ Psalm 82: 6
We are all children of the Most High God. Red, brown, yellow, black and white, we are precious in His sight! Could it be that this is the appointed time to end what started years ago? It is not a day too soon. The years of pain, of unnecessary death, of wastage of lives needs to end. It is time to end it all. God made us all and because He does not discriminate, we should not.