Last summer, some dear friends of ours came to visit. They were on their way to a family gathering in Colorado and spent the night with us to help break up the long stretch of car-sitting and windshield-gazing. We ate a meal together and talked well into the night, before sleep got the best of us. In the morning, Harry cooked eggs and bacon, and I rinsed off and dried some raspberries for our breakfast. After we ate, our friends packed up their belongings and we held hands together in the dining room, praying a blessing over one another and thanking God for His great provision of friendship.
Harry and I stood on the deck and watched our friends drive away. These friends of ours are committed to unity and oneness in the body of Christ. We are fellow authors, and their stories have been instrumental in breaking down walls of division in the church and in their communities. When we talk with them, our shared vision of unity and oneness keeps us close to one another. Our intimate knowledge of the struggles, the pushback, the success, and the grace of God in the midst of it all serves as an unbreakable tie that binds.
After our friends had driven out of sight, I went into the kitchen and turned on the television just in time to catch the early morning news reports of Alton Sterling being shot in Baton Rouge. Those who watched the video saw Alton die in front of their eyes. I didn’t know it then, but I was watching the first of several violent events that would unfold over three consecutive days.
This series of events brought the country to its knees, quite literally.
The next day, Philando Castile died after being shot in Minnesota during a traffic stop. Many of us watched his death live, as it was streamed online by Philando’s fiancée, with her four-year-old daughter in the backseat of the car. And then, the next day, in a horrendous act, a sniper gunned down five law enforcement officers as they patrolled a peaceful protest, fulfilling their oath to serve and protect the city of Dallas, Texas.
On that first day, after our friends left our home, I spent a good portion of the day laid across the bed in our guest bedroom. I cried. I stared at the ceiling. I had a few conversations with God. Those conversations sounded like this: “What am I supposed to do? I have cried. I have prayed. I have spoken. I have written. I have protested. I have kept silent. And still . . . violence. What’s up with that, God? What do I do now?”
I don’t know that I was really expecting an answer. But I got one.
Late in the day I went out onto the deck to let myself get lost in the pages of a book I was reading. I hadn’t been reading very long when two words seemed to stand out on the page: “come together.” I stared at those two words for a couple of moments.
How? I thought. Where? Who? When? Then, I thought to myself, Never mind. I mean, I’m just one person, right?
In the evening, my husband and I made a phone call to our son. We talked about the death of Alton Sterling, about what it meant and how we should respond. I told my son, “I don’t know what to do. I have cried. I have prayed. I have spoken. I have written. I have protested. I have kept silent. And still . . .”
“Come together,” my son said when my voice trailed off. And an idea began to take shape in my head.
I remembered the promise that God will gather with us, whenever we come together, in His name (Matthew 18:20). God is not hindered by time or space, so the Internet seemed the most likely gathering spot. The next day, working quickly, I put together a Facebook event, named it “Prayers of the People,” and sent out invitations. We would pray together, for thirty minutes, from wherever we were in the world. The event was shared over and over again. Invitations were issued. By now we’d all learned about Philando Castile’s death in Minnesota, and our hearts were broken yet again.
I thought maybe a dozen people or so would join in. But that afternoon at 4:00 p.m. Central Standard Time, more than four hundred people checked in to the event and joined in the praying. I wish I had words to describe it. Beautiful is a weak descriptor. Even holy seems to fall short. What I can tell you is that the answer lies in our unity, and not in our division.
The next day we learned of the tragic shooting in Dallas and joined for prayer again. Our time together was sweet and sacred, just like the previous day. The answer right there in front of us.
I don’t know who in your life is difficult to love. I don’t know the walls you’ve built or the lines you’ve drawn. Democrats? Republicans? Illegal immigrants? Terrorists? Gang members? White supremacists? Muslims? Law enforcement officers? Black Lives Matter supporters? LBGTQ community members? What I know for sure is that Jesus came to tear down all the walls we put up to keep one another at a distance.
We have one true enemy, and it is not one another. If we get distracted from that, we do the enemy’s work for him. If we look at other human beings, no matter how much we may disagree with them, and label them as “evil” or the “enemy,” then we have missed the point. We have fallen into a trap. The only way out is beyond the walls. Across the lines. The only way to get there is by the power of the Holy Spirit in us.
The only place to begin is on our faces, before God.
I wish there would never be another event like any of those our country experienced during that violent week in July 2016. But we are in the space between what is and what will be. In this life, we will have trouble (see John 16:33). It is for this reason we get to work out our salvation, right where we are. We don’t get a free pass out, because we are salt and light in the world.
Together, we are called to lift our voices in prayer for the terrorist, the shady politician, the protester, the criminals, the refugee, and the brokenhearted in our world, in our communities, in our churches, and beneath our roofs. God desires nothing less than that everyone know His great love for them — right here and now. He is counting on us to make it so.
The revolution begins in your heart. And in mine. May we be humble enough to let God transform us, beginning this very moment.
This post is an excerpt from One: Unity in a Divided World by Deidra Riggs, now available where books are sold. Deidra is an author, speaker, and unashamed disco-lover. She and her husband are the happy inhabitants of an empty nest in Lincoln, Nebraska. They are the proud parents of two adult children whom they love, practically to death, and Santana, their brilliant farm dog (named after Carlos, the musician, of course). You can learn more about Deidra and her books at DeidraRiggs.com.