A Few Words on a Living Faith

What is it about the world that keeps us clinging on, hoping for dear life that we might be accepted by it? How can the fear of isolation train even the most unique people to conform? It’s almost as if Rejection reaches directly into our hearts with its ugly, tainted hands, shaking our souls by the collar and shouting, “Straighten up!”

And, for the most part, we listen.

Rejection and I have had a long-term love-hate relationship. As a kid, Rejection slashed its angry claws across my chest until I ached so badly, I would have done anything to appease it. When I reached the age of pubescence, I told myself to break up with Rejection–he wasn’t worth my time. If people didn’t like me for me, well, that was their loss. But that was just fluff that filled the air during bouts of desolation. In reality, I still longed to belong. For some reason, it was just hard for me to do that. So, over the years, Rejection punched and pulled me until I learned what to say to whom and when. I learned new lingo and used it only with certain crowds. I understood how to inflect my voice and contort body to make others more at ease (affirmatives like nodding, smiling, and agreeing go a long way). I gauged my success on how frequently my confidant smiled or rambled along. And I learned how to laugh at almost everything, including myself. Essentially, I mastered the art of small-talk. Words flipped from my tongue like Olympic divers on springboard. But I never truly felt them. I felt happy, of course, that I had new friendships, but it was all a mirage. I wasn’t sharing myself with anyone, I was just saying and doing what they would enjoy. It was simply smoke and mirrors, a power-play between me and the puppet master. I played Rejection’s game to show that I could be accepted, and he mocked my efforts by proving I was still his–still truly unknown by the hearts of others.

I came to know Christ in college and experienced His love (the kind you don’t have to work for) for the first time. I didn’t have to say or do anything to impress Him–no new words or phony head nods. All I had to do was be myself–the one He created–and we could both be filled with joy.

What??

By that point, I didn’t even know what it meant to be myself. I couldn’t fathom having a conversation–much less a relationship–where I didn’t analyze the other person’s needs and adjust my behavior accordingly. And it sure as heck didn’t make sense for me to do nothing and receive, in return, the one thing I’d been yearning for my entire life. But somehow, that’s how it works. When I gave my life to Christ, a veil was lifted and my formerly achromatic heart awakened to vibrant exuberance. The inner transformation rejuvenated my childlike spirit and erased the ashen taste of the world. Yet, in our nation, Christianity has become commercialized, overdone, and sometimes frowned upon. Those who follow Christ have to battle against “Christians” who don’t know Him. “Christians” tend to be publicized for their faith or become silent reasons people don’t attend church. To nonbelievers and people of other faiths, however, “Christians” and Christians are one in the same. They witness hypocrisy and blatant disregard to be Christ-like and conclude that my religion is a crock, filled with phonies. So, once again, the most central and integral part of my life gets cast aside by the world. Frightened to step on anyone’s toes, I thought to myself, “If I love like Christ, people will notice there’s something different about me–that I can offer them the unconditional love I always sought. Then, I won’t have to talk to them about my faith because they will feel it instead.” And, once again I find myself shackled to my oldest companion. I can barely see him in the dark, dank prison cell, but the sinister laugh of Rejection echoes…

“I didn’t realize how much faith was part of your and Kyle’s life,” my bridesmaid told me over coffee one Saturday morning, “until Kyle’s best man made that toast at your wedding. Most guys just say, ‘My friend is a great guy’ or ‘He’s really funny’, but it was really cool when he said the best part about Kyle is his faith.” My trained, people-pleasing heart sat across from one of my closest friends, smiling, nodding, and agreeing with her statement. She asked more about my faith and was interested in learning more about Christianity. I didn’t want to sound like the Jehovah’s witness who knocked on my mom’s door and mistook her polite refusal as a sign to push harder. I didn’t want to say anything that would make Christ sound like the cartoon superhero our nation has turned Him into. And, I later came to realize, I especially didn’t want to say something that might cost me our friendship. So, with a bit of verbal turbulence, I began speaking from my untrained heart. The heart that shows me beauty in life each day and keeps me humbled and grateful in the presence of God. The one that sings when it’s entirely itself. The one that lives with childlike faith. But, most notably, the heart that hadn’t had any practice socializing.

After the shameful sting of being a slacker subsided, I joined a twenty-somethings group for women at my church. Not only do we get to discuss what it’s like to live as transitional tweeners in a college town, we also get to share our greatest passion: our faith. In one of our study sessions, an awe-inspiring young woman said, “If Jesus is the best thing that ever happened to you, how much do you have to hate someone to NOT tell them about Him?” She’s right. And I love you more now than I ever could have without Christ in my life.

So here goes…

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