An Invitation to Empathize

I first met Tasha Morrison in 2014 at the IF:Gathering and since then have been able to spend time with this brave teacher, leader, and unifier around the world. Whether sharing the stage locally or serving and learning together in places like Uganda and Rwanda, Tasha’s heart for biblical justice is changing the church. She’s a kindred soul I’m thankful to also call friend. With bravery and genuine hope, Tasha calls us to something deeper and truer for God’s kingdom. It’s an honor to serve alongside her and to welcome Tasha to the farm’s front porch today….

guest post by Tasha Morrison

Growing up, I felt a great divide between my mom and me.

We were emotionally detached and distant.

Things came to a head in college as I sat on my bed and tried to remember whether my mom had ever told me she loved me.

I knew she loved me, of course, but had she ever verbalized it? Looking back over my childhood, though I had everything I needed, I felt something was missing.

And because my dad was more verbally expressive, because he told me all the time how much he loved me, the lack of verbalization from my mom stood out even more.

Was something wrong with her? Was something wrong with me?

Why could she barely bring herself to hug me?

And why did her siblings and it difficult to express love too?

In college, as a new follower of Christ, I began to process my childhood. I acknowledged the things that were holding me back in my relationships with others, this issue with my mother being primary among them.

I began watching the interaction between my friends and their mothers, seeing how they expressed their love verbally and physically, and I wanted this sort of relationship with my mom.

As time passed and I grew in spiritual maturity, I began expressing love to my family members.

I regularly told my dad I loved him and made sure my brother understood how much I loved him. I told my grandmother and grandfather.

But what about my mother? What was it about our family dynamic that kept me from telling her I loved her?

Tasha Morrison

Months passed and I eased more and more into the practice of expressing love.

One day I decided I was going to tell her that I loved her.

I dialed her number and, heart pounding, waited for her to answer. I told my mom how much goodness was waking in my heart.

I was meeting amazing friends, I told her, and being exposed to the true love of Jesus.

She listened and then, almost without warning, turned the conversation. She told me of all the hardships she was experiencing at the time.

My grandmother, my mua, was dying, and it was a difficult time. Mom was heavyhearted and sad.

I listened as she poured out her heart, and then I told her that God loved her.

Then I told her I loved her too. She didn’t say it back to me that day, but it was okay. I said what I needed to say.

My mom never left my mua’s side during her last days in the hospital, and when my grandmother finally passed, my mom experienced deep sorrow and pain.

She also experienced other emotions.

She remembered Mua with joy. She laughed at the good times they had shared. She walked through these emotions day after day, and in the months after my mua’s death, something unlocked. Her lamentation brought Mom a new kind of freedom and peace.

One day as we were riding in the car together, my mom began telling me details about her childhood, details I’d never heard.

She’d never respected her father, she said. He’d cheated on my mua several times. He had verbal and physical altercations with my mother, one of which resulted in her running away when she was sixteen years old.

And though my grandparents had matured and settled down by the time I came of age, my mom’s wounds were never really healed.

She had never called her father Dad but instead had called him by his first name, Troy. The reality was, with my mua gone, there was very little to balance out the memories of her childhood pain.

My grandfather was a military man. His educational opportunities were limited as a child. (Black people in his area of rural North Carolina had limited access to school past the eighth grade because of Jim Crow laws.)

Wanting to broaden his horizons, he lied about his age, joined the army, and became a military mechanic.

In the service, his all-Black unit was segregated from the White servicemen. Blacks were treated differently and paid less.

He endured humiliation, shame, and daily prejudice. He was beaten down, physically and emotionally, and this took a toll on his mental health, a toll that lasted long after he left the military.

It affected every relationship in his life. Hurt people hurt people, they say, and this was true of my grandfather.

All the anger, all the hurt and abuse my grandfather experienced, he transferred to my mother.

My mom never gave up on pursuing a relationship with her father.

She told me of a conversation she had with my grandfather after my mua’s passing, a conversation in which he acknowledged the harm he’d caused. He apologized for how he’d treated my mom, for the terrible things he’d said to her.

He apologized for not being there when she needed him the most. He apologized to my then thirteen-year-old brother too.

The acknowledgment of the harm was the beginning of the healing balm my mom so desperately needed.

In considering my mother’s story, I began to realize that the way my grandfather had been treated, the way he was subjected to prejudice and hate, had filled him with rage and anger.

He’d lashed out at my mother in that anger, and as a result, they’d never connected emotionally. That emotional disconnection between my mother and her father informed the way she parented; it led to our own disconnection.

In understanding her past for the first time, I began to acknowledge the emotional difficulties in my family.

I began to lament my family history.

As acknowledgment and lament took root, I began to feel great empathy for my mom. Understanding the hurt and harm she experienced, not only as a child but also as an adult, has helped me become a better daughter and friend and has helped me identify with and relate to her.

It’s taught me how to avoid creating unhealthy tension by placing expectations on her she isn’t emotionally able to live up to.

Acknowledgment and lament have led me into the healing process.

In order to move from awareness to acknowledgment, we must first be brave enough to accept the historical truths and modern realities.

We can’t shy away from the conversations just because they’re uncomfortable or awkward or unpleasant.

We can’t change the subject because issues of racism make us feel bad.

Instead, we have to have the hard conversations so we can move to a place of deep lament.

To lament means to express sorrow or regret.

Lamenting something horrific that has taken place allows a deep connection to form between the person lamenting and the harm that was done, and that emotional connection is the first step in creating a pathway for healing and hope.

We have to sit in the sorrow, avoid trying to fix it right away, avoid our attempts to make it all okay.

Only then is the pain useful.

Only then can it lead us into healing and wisdom.

 

Tasha Morrison works with organizations — small and large companies, churches and non-profits — and high-impact leaders who realize their efforts toward diversity and inclusion are falling short. Do you want to lead from an authentic place? Are you ready to audit your organization, take time to listen and learn, and develop a strategy for creating an authentically diverse organization? She will be your guide.

A leading advocate for racial reconciliation offers a clarion call for Christians to move toward relationship and deeper understanding in the midst of a divisive culture. Be the Bridge is a guide that helps readers deepen their understanding of historical factors and present realities, equipping them to participate in the ongoing dialogue and to serve as catalysts for righteousness, justice, healing, transformation, and reconciliation.

I could not agree more: it’s time for Christians to become the leaders in the conversation on racial reconciliation.

[ Our humble thanks to Waterbrook for their partnership in today’s devotion ]