Yesterday, I went to one of the many prayer vigils that happened at African Methodist Episcopal churches all over the country to show support and love for the people tragically killed at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston. I’ve been to these kinds of events before. But this one was different because frankly, I am different.

emanuelThere was a time in my life when I would have felt some sort of an obligation to show up at these events. To put it simply: my white guilt would have compelled me. I would have shown up and felt pretty great about what I was doing. I would have followed all of the tips for social justice I learned in seminary (look empathetic, don’t talk too much). And, afterwards, I might have told myself that I will be better about going to more of these events. Because, you know, it’s good for me to be pushed out of comfort zone. Honestly though, after battling all of the jargon in my head, I would have left these rallies, protests, and vigils exhausted and disconnected.

My former piety taught me that I served a God who loved the oppressed and the poor which meant that if I didn’t get out there and hustle on their behalf, then I am not really Christian and God doesn’t really love me. Now, certainly no one says that outright. But in religious circles, the most painful judgments are almost always implied.

Of course, I am a different person than I used to be. My theology is different. I have started to question doing things because they are the right thing to do or because I should do them. Because those worldly charges make me tired. And I am a young mother with two children. I can do tired before I even get out of bed in the morning.

Yesterday, I had no good reason to go downtown to pray with people. There wasn’t even a small should there for me. All I now know is that I am forever astonished at the loving God who forgave me of my sins. Such Gospel knowledge brings me ultimate comfort. And in a moment of great pain and terror, I wanted to be with other Christians who were comforted by the same truth.

Some years ago, when I was just beginning to understand the Gospel anew, one of my dearest friends said to me, “Its simple, Sarah. 1 John 4:19, ‘We love because He first loved us.”

That one short sentence of scripture has changed my entire life. I think of it as a parent, as a wife, as a daughter, as a sister, as a friend. And yesterday, I thought of it as a brokenhearted believer.

AME Charleston victimsI didn’t go stand in front of the AME Wesley Chapel in Houston, Texas yesterday because I am a white woman making a grand gesture. I went because I am so grieved by the systematic sin and racism that has plagued our hearts. And I am beside myself because of the tragedy that happened to Cynthia, Susie, Ethel, DePayne, Clementa, Tywanza, Daniel, Sharonda, Myra, and the people of the AME Emanuel Church of Charleston. I needed to be in the company of believers, who know that God’s love is one-way and undeniable, no matter what we bring to the table.

My participation yesterday felt markedly different because I have come to know that I cannot bear the burden of making the world a better place. I will fail every single time. I needed the Body of Christ to hold me up when I could not think of a way to hold it up myself. That was my old way of doing things, show up and be productive. For the first time in my life, I attended a prayer vigil knowing that I was only bringing a broken heart.

There’s another vigil this Saturday and I’m going back. Because I am realizing that Jesus didn’t come to exhaust us, he came to save us from sin. And because He first loved me. And the knowledge of that is so undeniably remarkable that I cannot help but love, and be loved, by others.