By Lee Harper
How a mentor and a marriage taught me about Christian unity
“So in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.” – Romans 12:5
In March 2020, a dear friend, surrogate mom, and mentor of mine went home to be with the Lord. She was 94 years young and had an unmistakable love for Jesus. Whenever she would see my husband and me, she would always ask each of us if we were loving on each other, and if we knew the other’s love language.
Initially when she would ask, I was puzzled by the question, given we were married and committed to each other. But as I grew to understand what she was saying, I knew she was attempting to help us realize the special relationship we shared as husband and wife. Our bond should be so great that communicating with each other doesn’t necessarily require verbal exchange. Our deep affection for one another should cause us to recognize each other’s needs, feel each other’s hurts and share each other’s joys in a way unlike any casual relationship. Our connection should forge a relationship that transcends all other desires of human nature, causing us to care for one another in deep abiding love.
In essence, it is our commitment to each other, driven by our matrimonial oath, that distinguishes us from just another two people living under the same roof. Marriage is meant to be so much more than living together within four walls.
As the Church, we too are more than a group of people gathering together within the four walls of the sanctuary once or twice a week. We are called the bride of Christ, that special group Christ identified as those who bear His name and represent His life to a dying world until His return.
My relationship with my 94-years-young friend and mentor helped me realize what being connected to the body of Christ represented. My relationship with her was made possible because we ignored the world’s boundaries and journeyed ahead to forge a companionship grounded in Christ’s love for us. Jimmie, an elderly white female, and me, a less elderly black female, grew to understand that being members of the family of Christ meant our bond was made possible not by any effort of our own but by recognizing the work already established in us through the Spirit. Our relationship was significant because it defied the pervasive narrative of the day, which assumes that our differences in age and culture would keep us from developing something real.
As I witness a growing separation among the Church in a world that desperately needs to see love made perfect in us, I understand why our commitment to one another must be made manifest in our love relationships across all manner of differences. Just as Jimmie and I needed one another, the true Church of Christ must defy the deceitful message that our differences make it impossible for us to live out our mission of unity among His faithful. God knew that we, a broken people with an affinity to sin, would not be able to pull this off in the flesh without the inworking of the Spirit. So on the day of Pentecost, He poured on us His power (Greek: dunamis) from the Holy Spirit, which gives us the ability to love beyond our human capabilities.
Just as marriage doesn’t work unless both spouses are fully committed and engaged in creating one new person out of two, the Church doesn’t work unless we are fully committed to Christ and each other despite our differences, bonded together to display His love made perfect in us. Thank you, Ms. Jimmie, for teaching me how to live in abundant grace, and for allowing me to love and to be loved unconditionally.
Lee Harper, a native Mississippian, is married to her lifelong soulmate, Larry. They have two adult children and two precious grandchildren. Professionally, Lee serves as an agent and financial services representative for a nationally known company. Lee and Larry have lived in the Jackson area for over 30 years. They currently live in Terry.