My family sat at the breakfast table the other day and started talking about current events. As the conversation unfolded, I started feeling uncomfortable at the thought of conflict, so I decided to not engage at all. I walked out the door. I left.
As a White person in the US, I have the privilege to decide how long I will stay engaged in dialogue about race. I can choose to walk out the door whenever I want. But for seven of the eight InterVarsity campus staff on my team and the majority of students whom they serve, who are people of color, this isn’t something they can just walk away from. It’s their daily experience. And in order to love them well, I have to find a way to stay at the table.
The problem is I don’t always know what to do with my emotions. When I hear of the compounding racial trauma that many InterVarsity staff and students face, I feel overwhelmed with sadness. At times I become paralyzed with self-doubt and shame, wondering what I can do to fix things. I often feel powerless and out of control.
And as much as I wish all these emotions would just go away, Jesus has been teaching me to linger a while longer in my discomfort. When I stay with my emotions and let Jesus speak to me through them, only then am I able to love those who don’t have the privilege of leaving. I need to learn to welcome the discomfort rather than push it away with quick fixes.
This Welcoming Prayer has significantly helped me in processing strong emotions, and I’ve adapted it for this season. This type of prayer helps us to welcome the emotions and learn from them, to let go of the things that tempt us to leave too soon, and to open ourselves to God:
I welcome you, discomfort.
I welcome you, anxiety.
I welcome you, sadness (insert other emotions)
Teach me, emotions. What do you want to show me?
(Wait. Listen. Linger.)
I let go of my desire for security—and my fatigue in risk-taking.
I let go of my desire for approval—to be seen as “woke,” important, and wise.
I let go of my desire for control—and my checkboxes for doing good.
I let go of my desire to rid myself of this discomfort and sadness too quickly.
I open myself to the loving presence of the Father.
I open myself to the Spirit’s correction, grace, and guidance.
I open myself to the body of Christ and to Christ embodied in the leadership of the Black church.
I open myself to becoming a lifelong learner.
Try praying this prayer for yourself. What parts resonate with you? How might it help you to pray this every time you find yourself feeling tempted to walk out the door rather than staying at the table on behalf of those who are suffering?
I eventually came back to that breakfast table with my family, after lingering with my emotions, and I am so glad that I did. Because as my team lingered in their grief from the current events of the week, I could say with integrity that I would stay with them there, and that I wasn’t planning to leave anytime soon.
Kelly Aalseth is a Regional Coordinator for Leadership Development for InterVarsity in the Greater Los Angeles Region. She is the author of Keeper of Your Life: Actively Trusting Jesus Through Chronic Pain. She enjoys helping young people connect the dots between what God is doing in their inner lives and in mission. She graduated from UCLA in 2008 and now lives with her husband in Santa Ana.