Hmmmm. It all began when He started messing with my clap-back. He’s still messing with my clap-back, and I promise you, my peace levels are inching up by the minute! Here’s what I mean.
This past month, I spent some time on holiday in my beloved second home, South Africa. As far as I’m concerned, it’s one of the most blessed countries in the world. I love South Africa – in fact, I can safely say that most of the significant life experiences that have shaped me (I like to call them my roots-and-routes) unfolded in South Africa. But I will get into that a little later. Let me first tell you about an experience I had while I was there on holiday. So this one day, I was in a well-known store, shopping. I was having a not too unfamiliar experience of, let me call it, “shop-assistant-nastiness”. My personal experiences, having grown up in South Africa, predisposed me to believe that the attitude that this lady was serving up oh so generously was either racial, or xenophobic, or both. Likely both. In other words, my experience told me that her disdain for me was either because I am Black, or because I am Foreign African and Black. Loaded statement, I know. But like I said, this was my instinctive insight based on my past experiences. Now, this is not a blog post about racism or xenophobia, but rather about the work that God is able to do in a life that has been conditioned to clap-back in reaction to the brokeness that this world throws at it. Stick with me. I’m taking you somewhere.
Now, folks. I am, or I can be the Queen of Clap-Back. You push me too far on a bad day, and I will put you back in your place, using just words. My husband used to tease me that my nack for logical arguments can spin marathons around an unsuspecting guy’s head! *laughs*. Well, that might be taking it too far. But I am a corporate lawyer by training and professional experience. Not to mention that I am the youngest child in my family, and the only girl, and so I decided long ago, that to avoid being walked all over, I needed to have a mouth and a sharp clap-back on me. Oh boy, there’s a whole lot about the roots-and-routes of my life that sharpened my instinct to clap-back at life, or at anyone who I felt was threatening my self-determination and dignity.
Back to my story. Well, so here I was, leaning against the till counter, and the lady standing behind the till, who was meant to be serving me with respect and basic customer service, was spouting out attitude as if I had asked her to give me the whole trolley load of stuff for free. But I was calm; not just in my demeanour, but also in my heart. I was not tired, neither was I short of words to clap that lady right back into her place. But I was fully unwilling to do this because not only would it make zero impact on this woman’s perception of me and people of my race and nationality, but I also knew that my clap-back would not please Jesus Christ for one second. And I did not want to displease Him. I also did not want to disrespect a person that He created, loves and died to save. So I stayed calm, and kind. And when I happened to have the attention of the floor manager who asked me whether I wanted him to address the way I had been treated in the store, I told him that I did not feel like it would be fair for me to escalate the matter to him, since I had not first taken it up with the culprit, his subordinate.
That morning, I walked out of that store with my bags of purchases in hand, and a warm strength growing and glowing inside me. You see, I had the power to clap-back, and the freedom to do so. But I chose restraint, and I knew in my heart, that the only reason I had gotten it right this time was because God had been messing with my clap-back, and clueing me in on what true freedom is. You see, God does not work the way the world does. The world says, “You are entitled to your clap-back. You are justified to hit them hard where it hurts. So clap-back! Let ’em know what’s what! Use your voice! Use your wit! Use your snarl. Show them that they cannot mess with you! Show them that they have gone this far but you will not let them go any further.” But God says, “Yes My child, that was agonising, I know. And I hate it when you are hurting. But child, right now, I am more interested in you seeing and reflecting Me in every distressing situation. So you just focus on that. You do that, and lay your clap-back at My feet, and watch Me RISE to eternal heights for you, in ways that mere mortals will fail to comprehend. Lay your clap-back at My feet, and choose to mirror My undeserved love and grace, and I will open the eyes of your spirit to see the armies of heaven, standing at attention to fight for you. Lay your clap-back at my feet, and decide to represent to the world the Person I really am, and I will make your battles, Mine.” This is what God says.
So, this time, thank God, I got it right. Instead of reacting with the entitlement I would usually feel when treated like crap simply because of my race and/or my foreign-ness, the Lord helped me to lay down my clap-back for the sake of showing off Christ for who He really is, and for the sake of birthing real and enduring solutions to the brokeness that hurled itself at me on that day.
Let me tell you a lil’ something about this girl right here. I did not always have a ready clap-back. It sort of was planted in me as my life’s roots-and-routes unfolded, and it then festered under the surface, until one day, I just no longer bothered to hold it back. Life can do that to you. Prejudice can do that to you. Let me try to give you an abridged account. I was 11 years old when, for the first time in my life, I came to a realisation that changed me in ways that I am still discovering. You see, at the tender age of 11, it dawned on me that I was foreign…and Black. Well, I still am; Black, that is. But for this little Nigerian girl, moving to Cape Town… in 1995… a year after the first democratically elected President of South Africa started to govern, five years after that evil beast of a regime called Apartheid was abolished, this was a life-changing realisation.
At the time, well, at least as far as I know, my little foreign Black family was the only one of its kind that lived in the area that we settled in. Some of our neighbours spared little time in letting us know how they felt about our presence in their segregated suburb. I recall walking home from the train station after school and being harassed by neighbourhood kids as I made my way home. This one time, I ran the last two blocks home crying because a boy who lived down the street from us had managed to deftly spit some chewed up stuff from his mouth at me and my Black friend (who incidentally was the only other Black girl in my school at the time). This boy was riding past us on his bicycle. Another time, some clever prankster smeared some very sugary substance (honey maybe) all over our front door at night, so that by the morning, every sugar ant and its mother was making its way from all corners of Cape Town to our front door (as far as I was concerned anyway)! Yet another time, out of nowhere, we heard our door bell ring, and since we were not expecting anyone, we hesitated a bit before answering the door. For some reason, my mum told me that instead of opening the door, I should just unbolt the glass panel in the middle of the door and peak through to see who was there. I did just that, and instead of finding someone waiting to enter, I spotted a large keg of HTH on the ground, leaning against the door. By the way, HTH is Calcium Hypochlorite, and it is used for treating algae and stuff like that in swimming pools. It turns out our mystery door-bell ringer’s plan was for the carefully placed HTH keg full of some liquid to tumble inward and empty its contents at the feet of whoever had the misfortune to open the door. I must have been about 13 years old at the time.
I took all of this in as a little girl, pained about all this hate and intolerance in my world, hurt that I appeared to be on the receiving end of it all. My response? I just geared myself up for the time when I would be bold enough to stand up for myself and to clap-back at the world for being so nasty.
School was no better, at least so I thought at the time. I was now a teenager. Dark-skinned. African hair. Kinda chubby. Foreign name. Oluwatoyin Amosun (my pre-married surname). For most parts, I was one of only two Black girls in my High School. Note; my school had over a thousand kids. So, I was different. Now there are those kids who are different, and it makes them popular because it peaks everyone’s interest. Like exchange students, for example. Well, needless to say, I was no exchange student, and my “different” did not make me popular at my school. In fact, I could share some nasty experiences I had at the hands of kids in my school who were considered to be popular. But no need for that, because all these experiences achieved was to convince me that life was indeed all about the clap-back, and that therefore, I needed to learn to fight for myself and my kind, and take no prisoners. I needed to woman up and silence the hurt and pain, and let nobody see how their sneers and insinuations were breaking me. And don’t be mistaken, they were breaking me.
And so, even when I left High School, and I intentionally moved my life out of spaces and places that I believed were the root cause of my troubles, and I relocated myself to settings where I thought that these evils called racial and heritage-prejudice would be less prevalent, I found that life is what it is, because this world is what it is – broken. And a broken world will always find a way to dish up meanness and brokeness. As long as we are in this realm of time, there is, and will always be a reason in life to be reactive, and feisty, and militant, and to clap-back. If it’s not racism, it will be xenophobia. If it is not xenophobia, it will be gender-inequality. If it is not gender-inequality, it will be religious prejudice. If it’s not religious prejudice, it will be peer-pressure, or oppressive cultural practices against women and children, or back-stabbing friends, or lying lovers, or unrequited love, or unappreciative people, or even your own insecurities and mind-sets of self-deprecation. Yes, in many instances, you might even be the one inflicting the brokenness on others. Now this is not to diminish the anguish that these ills spill, or to even equate them with one another. Rather, this is to say that just like an apple tree brings out apples, a broken world dishes up brokeness… But then, there is Jesus! Hallelujah! And He makes all the difference. This has been my experience.
Enter Jesus. God is the “He” that’s been messing with my clap-back. You see, all the while when I was responding to the roots-and-routes of my life, and settling into my sense of entitlement to fight for myself and clap-back at the world, all the while, when I was allowing my clap-back to morph me into this marred shadow of the person God created me to be, God was at work, messing with me, and messing with my clap-back. He went and still goes out of His way to show me that He did not create and save me to be tossed here and there by every sharp shard of broken glass that life hurls at me. He did not create me to defend myself and to clap-back at the world and at life, as if I am someone with no God, no Defender, no Strong Tower, no Refuge. He teaches me that no matter the loops and turns that my life takes, I must give the reins to Him and allow Him to help me respond, not with a personalised, super uber clap-back, but rather with an unflinching surrender to the One who takes the most sour roots-and-routes and converts them into incubators to birth healing solutions to the most far-gone broken spaces that we could possibly encounter in this life.
So, God has been messing with my clap-back. He still is. He better not stop, because if He does, I don’t see myself having the strength to keep this up. Because left to myself, I’ma clap-back! I don’t want that life anymore. I don’t wanna go back. I don’t want that. I prefer this life. Its a more peaceful and purposeful life. I cower less. I fight less. I get offended less, and I think I give offence less. I am learning to define myself much more in terms of what Jesus says about me, and in terms of what He has commissioned me to use my roots-and-routes to do for Him in birthing solutions to this broken world. Does this mean I never stand up for a cause? Does this mean I never get angry? Does this mean I never fight for the broken and the down-trodden? Does this mean I am just a soft sap using up air while the world chews people up and spits them out? No, no, no and no. It does mean that I am learning that God has fashioned for me the tools that He wants me to use to birth solutions to the troubles of this our world. And it is His desire for me to discover those tools and get to birthing, instead of using my clever tongue and manner to be clapping back at the world, left, right and centre. Creation is waiting for the manifestation of the children of God. We are all faced with roots-and-routes, some more ugly than others. But in it all, God has placed tools in our hands to be the solution, and not to join the folks that are part of the problem. That’s my story folks. That’s my experience with God, and my clap-back.
So, He has been messing with my clap-back. That “He” that I speak of, is God. I now believe, that a life with a clap-back that is bowed out to God, is a good life, a purpose-driven life; certainly waaaayyyy better than anything I have ever had… methinks.
I am Toyin, fully convicted by my own words, and very much still under construction in the hands of the Father.
Written by Toyin Oladiran (Christian Life Coach, Creator of The B.O.O.M Walk Program, Founder of The Narrow Gateway)
The B.O.O.M Walk Program by Toyin Oladiran is a relatable and practical online Program with creative and clarity-provoking tools to help you identify and “bow out” traits of the “Old Man” in you. The Old Man is that old sinful identity that you have because you are born of Adam, and the traits of the Old Man in you emerge because of the roots-and-routes of your life. The B.O.O.M Walk Program will help you sustainably identify the Old Man in you and bow him out, setting you up to reach for the fullness of intimacy with Jesus Christ, and to key into His purpose for and calling on your life.
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