Seeing Blindspots (and Shalom) at Christmas
It was Christmas time, and my classmates and I sat in a circle on the carpet of our kindergarten classroom. That day, we had been asked to bring in a Christmas treat for everyone. We took turns distributing our gifts to each other, dutifully dropping our offering into the personalized bags that sat before each student. When it was my turn, there was a moment when I doubted whether there were enough gifts in everyone’s bag for me. But I quickly dismissed the thought and made my way around the circle, beginning with my own bag.
As I approached the last classmate, she looked expectantly at my sack of goodies. I reached into the bag—only to realize that it was empty. I had miscounted! I turned to dig through my own gift bag for a gift I had held back earlier and dropped in there. But in my panic, I couldn’t find it, so I sat down with an embarrassed apology. It just so happened that the little girl who was left out was also the only African-American girl in my class. It was years before I understood the implications of that detail.
I often worry about how many similar incidents pepper my life, moments that left less of an impression on my memory. Growing up as a person of significant privilege, I was blind to many experiences of the people around me. The depth of the disparity between my world and the rest of the world was conceptual more than it was a truth I felt in my bones. I didn’t see anything. And because I didn’t see anything, I couldn’t appreciate the implications of my words and actions. Through the years, I have now started to see, but I worry about all that I still don’t understand, and all that I continue to be blind to. I want to give myself the grace to learn, to confess and repent, but I worry about the cost. I worry about the people who, like my classmate, will be hurt by my fumbling mistakes.
In 2 Corinthians 7:10, Paul writes, “Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.” My constant fretting and guilt-tripping is not helpful or healing for anyone. If anything, the thinking paralyzes me and works me into such a state of anxiety that I am almost guaranteed to continue making the same mistakes. It is a fear-based approach that leads to death. But godly repentance, a sorrow that is brought about by the conviction of the Holy Spirit, is an opportunity to change course and to become part of the holistic restoration of shalom on this earth.
The next day after the gift distribution at school, I gave my classmate a special present that my mom and I had picked out for her and I apologized. Every Christmas and Valentine’s Day moving forward, we labeled each gift with the names from my class roster. While I couldn’t undo that first mistake, I could make amends and learn from it. Maybe it’s enough to trust that, whatever missteps there might be in the future, God has always put people in my life who can help me see where I am blind—and he will always help me course-correct.