By Gabrielle Booth
Theologian Howard Thurman once shared, “There is something in every one of you that waits and listens for the sound of the genuine in yourself. It is the only true guide you will ever have. And if you cannot hear it, you will all of your life spend your days on the ends of strings that somebody else pulls.”
Losing my corporate job right before my journey to seminary, gave room for me to listen to the sound of the genuine. That particular year marked one of the most difficult seasons of my life. It also assisted me in detatching myself from the “strings that somebody else pulls.”
During this season of my life, I was compelled to dig deep into the well of strength instilled in me by the matriarchs of my family. As I reset my life, I was afforded the space and opportunity to reevaluate my dreams. I was called to ministry. My passion had always been religious education and women’s ministry. I had committed myself to this for many years— secondary to my corporate job. It was time for me to prepare for ministry full-time.
As I accepted my admittance into Candler School of Theology at Emory University, I realized my “set-back” was a “set-up” to realign my life to Gods plan. When I shared with the admissions counselor I was in a place where I couldn’t pay for school because I had recently lost my job, I also shared that if I was supposed to be there it would all work out. Here I am, almost three years later and excited to graduate this year. Everything did work itself out because I was exactly where God intended for me to be.
Life is uncertain, but God is not. Knowing this allows us to journey through life unafraid because the Creator guides us through the unknown, providing much strength in misfortune when we allow ourselves to surrender to God’s greater purpose and plan. Acknowledging this fact gives us the ability to have strength in adversity.
I am glad I surrendered. The three years I labored to complete my master’s degree were filled with obstacles. These included not only personal difficulties, but many major world events—most recently the global pandemic and civil unrest occurring around the country.
We are all forced to muddle through unchartered territory. As we seek strength in these unprecedented times, it is important to put our hands to the plow and take up a cause that serves God’s people.
As an Atlanta resident who lives in the heart of downtown, I witnessed the protests which ensued after another un-armed black man was shot by the hands of law enforcement. I saw the military tanks roll down my street and heard the cries of youth begging our police officers to let them breathe. As a Black woman, my heart was overwhelmed with the pain I felt from my community. Again, I had to find strength in adversity. I felt it was necessary to support the next generation in their fight for civil rights.
I asked myself as a minister and theological student: “What should I do?” After donating to bail-out funds for youth protestors, praying, and beseeching our government officials to seek justice, I intensified my academic endeavors.
Listening to the sound of the genuine gave me the courage to pursue justice on my own battle front, offering language for movements through scholarly and religious writing.
Kimberlé Crenshaw coined the term “intersectionality.” This theory emerged from conversations surrounding critical race theory and has impacted racial justice movements in America. She gave language to concepts the masses did not know how to express. We who are minsters, scholars, activists, or even parishioners, are responsible to each other and must use our voices to speak out for those who cannot speak for themselves. That is where we find strength in adversity—by being the keeper for our brothers and sisters.
I understand why the scripture says in Ecclesiastes 4:12; “Though one may be overpowered by another, two can withstand him. And a threefold cord is not quickly broken.” While life can sometimes throw things our way that are intended to break us, if we are wound in community, dedicated to our purpose, and undergirded by Christ, we are fortified to survive.
In No Crystal Stair: Womanist Spirituality, womanist scholar Diana L. Hayes shares, “God was a spirit of strength and perseverance that guided them over the rock-strewn paths on which they were forced to ravel and a liberating, righteous lover of justice who opposed their oppression and the blasphemy of those who claimed that God was on the oppressors’ side.”
What we can glean from her message is that life is not always easy, but God is a spirit of strength and perseverance that guides us through difficulty on our journeys through life. We should all be dedicated to liberating others through our life’s work, being like Christ, proclaiming justice and truth. As we take time to listen to the sound of the genuine, we find the tools needed to fight for what is right and the ability to take up causes that provide a better future for the next generation. This is remaining strong in adversity, using our life experiences to fuel us and discerning the heart of God to guide us.
Gabrielle Booth is a CBF Leadership Scholar and recent graduate of Emory University’s Candler School of Theology.