Author: Nicole Speer
But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.” ~Matthew 16:23
“Where will your discomfort with giving up your privilege limit your work for justice?”
I heard this question a couple of months ago at a training and was surprised by my lack of immediate answer. For as far back as I can remember, I had focused my attention on the things I do to put more love and justice into the world. I had never focused on the things I fail to do in the service of love and justice, and why.
It seemed noteworthy that I didn’t know the answer to this question, especially when I have a good sense of many of my other limits. I know that I despise running so much that if I had to run to save my life I might choose to sit down and bid the world farewell. I know that if I want people to avoid seeing my attention lapses, I need to re-read typed messages at least three times to find my errors before I send them out. And I know that I am so extroverted that if I go even a few hours without talking to another person, I will end up questioning the meaning of life.
But where were my limits when it came to what I would and would not give up in the service of justice?
As it happened, while I was trying to understand the limits of my work for justice, I began reading a book with some friends entitled Me and White Supremacy, by Layla Saad. Over the course of 28 days, Ms. Saad takes readers through a series of short lessons and reflective journaling prompts to uncover their white privilege and their complicity in upholding systems of white supremacy. She covers the myriad reasons white people like me don’t work against racism and the ways our inaction perpetuates harm toward people of color.
In journaling my responses to the questions posed in this book, I found that one of my limits in my work for justice is my desire to avoid facing my own and others’ emotional discomfort. I have had the privilege of rarely making people feel uncomfortable throughout my life and, like Peter, I found that I sometimes prioritize avoiding human discomfort even though it means bypassing divine will.
At times I will bend over backwards to maintain other people’s comfort, particularly when they have more power than I do. I will do this even when their behavior is harmful to me or to someone else because I have been taught to feel uncomfortable when I risk disrupting the comfort of those with power. I often have the privilege of choosing to stay silent but this human desire to protect myself from discomfort serves to uphold unjust systems and comes at the cost of further harm to those who are already oppressed.
In his life and in his death, Jesus taught us to embrace discomfort and sacrifice in the service of eradicating oppression. As uncomfortable as it makes me, my discomfort in challenging those who uphold unjust systems is substantially less than the discomfort of those who are oppressed. I may not need to take up running to follow my faith, but if I am to be a faithful Christian, I must pick up the cross of my human discomfort and carry it with me on my journey toward justice.
Empowering God, help us find and overcome the stumbling blocks that keep us from surpassing our human limits. Amen.