Monthly Archives: February 2010
I have often felt inadequate about sharing my faith.
At some periods in my life I felt unsure of what I believed. Or at least not sure enough to express it verbally–without feeling like I was stumbling around stepping on my shoelaces.
Always, I feared sharing my faith. I feared pushing people away. People who may be put off by my faith. People who may have been hurt by other Christ-followers who were brash. People who look at the long history of Christian and religious violence and wonder how we can possibly say that our theology is one of love and forgiveness and grace. People who have been marginalized by society.
Who can blame them? I feel equally put off by how we as humans and we as Christians, historically, have failed to love and have compassion for each other.
But, I find that I am both awed and put off by the bold: Those who openly and passionately share their faith. Those who are candid about the singularity of Christ with people they hardly know. I am awed by those who are comfortable being in that place and who are comfortable having those conversations. Because of the bold, certainly, some non-believers have come to know Christ. And so, I cannot say that bold is wrong.
But, honestly, I am equally, and almost always, put off by the bold. I feel the air thicken and I go into panic mode, looking for the closest exit.
If I, as a believer, feel that way, then I imagine how many non-believers feel. A lack of compassion, or respect, or just a tinge of discomfort.
So, perhaps I shouldn’t feel inadequate about sharing my faith. But, scripture–Christ–says that we are to “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything [Christ has] commanded [us].” Matthew 28:18-20
How do I–how do we as Christians–square the fear of being off-putting with the command to “make disciples of all nations”?
Over the years, and especially over the last 23 years of being married to a non-believer, I have come to this conclusion: Telling all about the singularity of Christ needs to be squared with Christ’s command to “love everyone.”
And so, for me, loving others, unconditionally, has to come first. That means listening. Listening to what others believe or fear or hope. It is about showing my humanity and reflecting my faith through my love and compassion towards the people who I am fortunate to meet.
For me, it is also about finding common ground and loving others for who they are, what they believe, and where they are. When I listen well and seek common ground, I affirm for me–and hopefully for them–that we are all very much alike.
For me, it is when I focus on the differences that things fall apart rather than unfold.
I like the unfolding. I learn so much by listening to the hearts of others and watching the unfolding of the human experience of love and compassion and acceptance. And, in that unfolding, Christ shows up.
Sometimes my kids surprise me — in a good way.
When they were little, they shared everything with us — the little accomplishments, the disappointments, the boo boos, their fears, their joys. I knew their hearts. I saw their creativity and their dreams and hopes, daily. They didn’t hold back.
As they have grown in to young adults, I find comfort in seeing little glimpses of their hearts and dreams and hopes. It makes my heart do cartwheels to know them — even a little — as they become independent and share their lives with their dearest friends and now, long-term significant others. Those moments that I am privileged to grasp, make me smile.
And so, here is a poem my daughter wrote. It made my heart turn cartwheels — because it gave me a little peek into her heart. And, it affirmed many things that I already knew about her.
I hope it makes you smile, too.
Just a little.
That I can’t sit still
That I have no interest
In the Digestive Fate of A Sandwich.
I must confess
I am slightly distracted
By the giraffes
Playing jump-rope in my mind.
And though no one seems to notice
There is a very awkward man
In a garbage-bag poncho
Yelling for Moses
Across the street.
And the perfect leaf,
Once a parking ticket,
Once a trapeze artist,
Is laying trampled and soggy
Next to an abandoned shoe.
So please forgive me
If I seem a bit preoccupied:
There is music playing in my head
And I would much rather
Be befriending dragons.
[Or helping the awkward poncho-man
Look for Moses.]
I sat in the pews of our Church for three and a half years — sitting upright, hardly anyone ever talking to me. Sitting and listening and praying. Feeling our pastors and elders are not accessable to the church body, except to the privileged few. I still feel that way, at least a little. While sitting and worshiping without much connection is what I wanted and needed at first, I grew to long for a true community. As Nora Gallagher wrote in her book, “Things Seen and Unseen,” I didn’t want the “false camaraderie.” Rather, I grew to long for community, in all its joy and brokenness.
But I was fearful and tired. Too many times had I found myself stuck between the married, the divorced, and the unmarried. Being married to a non-believer puts you in a category that seems to make you an untouchable to some. Not that others don’t want to know you or connect with you — but I think people don’t know how. Married couples look for other Christian couples to connect with; the divorced want to find others who are single and who understand the pain and hope of divorce; the unmarried seemed to be indifferent or maybe even shocked that I would be unequally yoked. Most didn’t know my story at all before I felt the pain of the nails of judgment and the loneliness and hurt of being excluded from small gatherings.
No spiritual community at home and no spiritual community at church. Just communion with God and self. A place of pain and darkness at times. But a place of hope and comfort if I would look to Christ.
I felt like I was standing outside a circle of people, all with their backs turned to me. And yet, I felt God’s grace.
At one point a few years ago I attended a church members’ meeting at which the elders brought in a position paper on divorce. While I was not sure — and I’m still not sure that I agree with the position of the church on the issues of divorce–I found it refreshing and encouraging that the church actually would take a stance and be supportive of those who have divorced. I spoke up about how I was encouraged, because as a person who was married to a non-believer, I understood the feeling of being marginalized in a community of believers. I don’t think I used the word marginalized, but apparently that was the message that came across. At the end of the evening, the Women’s Pastor came up to me and said she would love to talk to me further about what I meant. So, we scheduled a lunch date.
I appreciated her effort and concern to bring all women in the community together. She was genuine, a good listener, and engaged. I was encouraged that she would help me to find a place in the community — even if it meant helping me to find a group of women who were also married to non-believers.
She did try.
But, more than ever, I realized that finding a place, if at all, was going to be a long and arduous and very lonely journey. And, it was my journey — not hers.
Time has passed. And, I am at peace. God has brought some amazing women in to my life. They are women like me, who love God, but who are not afraid to talk about our faith and our doubt, our joy and our brokenness. They have issues with their marriages and families, just like I do. They grapple with the church and its position on so many things, just like I do. I have found community and hope.
God was and is faithful. I feel alive.
I read a Facebook post of a young married woman this morning. She was going to a movie by herself, because her husband didn’t make all their plans for Valentine’s Day–he just asked her, “what should we do?”–essentially leaving it up to both of them, or just him, to make the plans.
She went on about how he needed to do it. If he couldn’t, then they just weren’t going to celebrate. She would take time for herself.
It made me sad. Really. Our culture has these commercial-based holidays that set us up to have certain expectations. What we should expect others to do for us. How those in our life should demonstrate their love to us on that one specific day.
But, culture-based expectations that we thrust on others more often than not just lead to disappointment and other dysfunctional outcomes. If having a romantic Valentine’s Day really matters to me, then I make the plan or prepare a romantic dinner for two at home. If it matters to my husband, then he does what he wants to demonstrate his love for me. I can’t thrust Valentine’s Day on him as an obligation. Who wants love based on obligation anyway? That isn’t love; it is action made to look like love. It is like one of those lovely chocolate candies that you bite into and find a gooey filling that you just have to spit out.
Culture-based expectations emerge at Christmas, too. Santa, shopping, spending. The expectation at Christmas has grown to this massive frenzy of shopping and buying and giving just because it is expected. Millions spent on gifts that will be forgotten or tossed in the Goodwill box in a matter of months.
Our church, Imago Dei Community, started a movement called Advent Conspiracy to help re-focus Christmas on the expectation of the birth of Christ and making Christmas about relationships. It has been beautifully transforming for our family. It has made Christmas about spending time with each other, rather than spending time in the mall in search of the “perfect” gift for each other.
So, for Valentine’s Day, I suggest: have no expectations. Rather, if you feel like showing someone you love him or her, find a special way to do that. But don’t sit, waiting expectantly, for the chocolates or the flowers or the perfect night out. Love may not show up in that culturally defined way.
But the bottom line is, we need to show our love for others, not expect others to show their love for us in a certain way. Christ reminds us, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” I don’t recall him reminding us to expect “small tasty or Hallmark-branded tokens of love from others.”–unless there is some chapter I missed.
So for the young woman on Facebook: I send prayers for you and your husband today. That you will find a way to talk about what is on your heart. If it is something more than culturally imposed expectations, then I pray that you will share your feelings with each other and listen, really listen to each other. That will show true love. If it is just culturally imposed expectations, I pray that you will instead just express your love in a way that is meaningful to you. . . and just maybe, you will find you receive more in return than what you gave or ever could have expected.
What will my day look like? Well, it will mostly include work — grading papers.
And who knows, I may just have a little something up my sleeve for the man I have loved for the past 29 years.
Does he have something up his sleeve? If he does, I’ll be surprised. I know–I am certain–he loves me unequivocally. He shows me that daily, in little ways–he makes dinner almost every night and has it ready when I walk in the door. He greets me and helps me put my bundle of work-related stuff away. He goes to the grocery store when I’m just too tired to even think about it — even though he dislikes shopping more than I do. He tells me he loves me too often to count, warms up my coffee when I let it sit a little too long, and sends me random text messages when I least expect them.
Two days ago, friends pulled a young man out of the rubble of a fallen marketplace building in Haiti. Given the recent earthquake that devastated the country, it was not unexpected, except, that it occurred 28 days after the quake.
28 days. No food. No human contact.
But hope. And, faith.
That young man’s name was Evan Muncie.
I don’t go around saying out loud things like “God is present,” “God has his hand in things.” Or other such statements. I think them and I feel them. But, I rarely share them.
I just can’t resist it here. This young man’s survival is a miracle. A wonder. God had to have his hand in things. I am certain.
Of course, the other side of things–the cynical side–is that God had his hand in all the devastation and suffering in Haiti, too. The poverty, the destruction, the death, the disease.
I know that God is present in all things. And, I wouldn’t try to explain why there is pain, and poverty, and disease in the world. Why God just doesn’t get rid of it all if he is all-powerful. That is beyond knowing and beyond fully understanding.
But, despite those human sufferings, we have faith, hope, and love. And, I know, just from my life experiences, that those three truly are powerful. And, that they spring forth with force during times of suffering.
While we could not prevent the earthquake, men and women — of all faiths and backgrounds — have stepped in to help the people of Haiti. We feel drawn to the people of Haiti. We have hope for her people. We have faith that perhaps, through this tragedy, we, as a world, can help Haiti rebuild and climb out of poverty and all that comes with that extreme poverty.
God reminds us–through the life of Evan Muncie–28 days later, that we need to keep our faith and hope and love for Haiti. God reminds us that his hand is in this all and that through Him all things are possible.