Our family enjoyed a weekend away to a close city, one brimming with southern appeal and quaint stores. We simply enjoy strolling in and out of a variety of shops. I delight in all kinds, from the exquisite to the five and dime! My main joy lies in finding a deal, wherever that is! The day was beautiful and our conversation was sweet. I love being with my family, though when my son is forced to go shopping with us, we had better make it quick. Brayden hates shopping of any kind. When he was little, my daughter and I began to notice a pattern. As we would slowly approach the vicinity of a mall, Brayden would begin to complain about his head hurting. When we exited the car, he would move at a snail’s pace and whine about a stomach ache. As we would enter the glass doors of the department store, he moaned of nausea. We noticed this cycle time and time again, and we finally gave this unusual illness a diagnosis. Lanie and I came up with SMS…Shopping Mall Syndrome. You won’t find this as an “actual diagnosis” but I can assure you it’s the medical malady for men who hate to shop! Yes, he will still occasionally and silently protest through SMS but it no longer has the same sticking power. Now, he just brings a book and finds a place to sit!
On this particular day, he had his dad with him which made it more palatable. We approached a specialty store with a variety of charming home items and a unique assortment of jewelry. Upon entering, I was greeted by a visiting designer from Atlanta displaying her distinctive collection of necklaces and bracelets. She was very friendly and inviting. I’m known to never turn down an opportunity to talk and make a new friend and she was opening that door! Insert- happy dance! We engaged in small talk for a moment and then the conversation became a bit more personal. We spoke of where we were from and the adjustments of moving to new cities. She was from New York and had been in Atlanta for quite some time. As she shared, God began to move in my heart, pressing me to listen more intently. She spoke of how hard the transition had been when her kids were young. They found it extremely difficult to find community because of the vast assortment of choices for schools. Everyone seemed so spread out. The more she conversed with me and the more I asked her questions, it became evident that she was most likely an atheist or agnostic. She was so tender and respectful in the way she spoke of all the “faiths” in the south but also the struggle of finding her niche amongst what seemed to be a majority.
One may think, “Oh, this is where the conversation turns south and we find a quick escape plan.” We often fear dialogue about God with unbelievers. In this politically correct world, we fear immediate hostility. Sometimes, we fear that we won’t present our faith in the right way and others will feel “less than” by our poor choice of words. Something we never, as believers, want others to feel!!! Or, even worse, we fear they will dislike Christians even more and what once started as a friendly exchange has turned sour. We envision them folding their arms and turning their backs! The word failure blinks across our guilty filled conscience. Often these kind of visuals keep us from opening our mouths. Ultimately, we don’t predict any form of success around these opportunities but almost always plan for failure.
I think that is the first thing that must change. We must be careful to not plan for a rising defeat! In fact, I believe we must change even the way we define success. God has personally helped me understand that success in this area is NOT an expectation of an outcome, though we hope for the best, but rather the obedience to choose courage over our own comfort. To be willing to care enough for others that we want to hear them. We want to know them. We want to reverse this insane problem of offense that we have in this country when discussing such important topics.
Has Christ so impacted our lives that He leaves no room for us to walk by opportunities to love and share? To keep in step with His Spirit means we must be tender to Him. When He says listen, we listen. When He says speak, we do so. When He says, it is completed and that was your role, we leave satisfied. Ultimately, our job is to simply do what He says and trust Him with the rest. I think we often leave God’s Spirit moving completely out of the equation and place all bets on us! It’s all about us and our performance! Just saying that makes me want to run for the hills! We must understand that our part is small and God’s power is GREAT! If He calls us to speak, then He is and has already been moving.
Marc and Brayden saw that our conversation was deepening and that Lanie and I wouldn’t be joining them for a while, so they headed out of the store. My new friend began to share her concerns over the condition of our country. We totally connected over the lack of respect that is being displayed on TV over all kinds of things: religion, politics, different cultures, you name it! We expressed our frustration over the news and how disappointing they have become due to lack of integrity and trying to stir things up. We connected on so many levels and I simply loved her!
As our dialogue turned to faith, she expressed concern over world religions as a whole. She then posed questions about the Christian faith and about the interpretation of the Bible. I began to share with her the purpose of the Gospel and how the entire book was meant to show us our need for a Savior and that how He came and rescued us through an abounding and sacrificial love. Many of her concerns regarding this, have been developed from so many who pull Scriptures from the Bible without reading them in the entire context and relating them to the ultimate message that God was giving us. This message points to a human condition that we all struggle with (sin) and has caused SO MANY problems for us personally and as a whole. That through Christ not only are we released from the punishment for sin but we are filled with the Presence of the Holy Spirit. He gives us the strength, insight and power to continue to face and overcome our own personal struggles and to help others!
And in total transparency, she asked me questions that I didn’t have a quick answer to. She challenged me and I found God comforting me and reminding me that this, too, is an area where I am quick to label as failure. God doesn’t need me to share, love or minister. It is a privilege and an opportunity. It is about obeying what His Word has called me to do. I can assure everyone that I don’t have all the answers and never will! Praise God, that is why there is a God and He is far above human capabilities!
“The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may follow all the words of this law.” Deut. 29:29
But God does want us to allow these challenges to spur us to learn the answers that He has allowed for and that’s exactly what I came home and did! Success is not that we always know every answer but that we point to the One who does and we also seek to strengthen weak areas in our knowledge of faith. Not knowing is not a threat but rather an opportunity. Pride often stands in the open space of our minds and points its finger to shame us but God honors humility and one who seeks to serve and represent Him in sincerity and honesty.
I won’t tell you that I don’t feel nervous when sharing my faith in certain situations either, because sometimes I just do, but I can’t hide in silence because of my fears or insecurities! Even if no one believes me, it doesn’t take away the truth of His existence and His life changing intervention in my world! I want others to at least know that I care enough about them to get uncomfortable. Is it hard? YES. Am I so careful because I want to be respectful and I so want them to know that I value them, whether they believe or not? YES! Do I want them to know that I really do want to hear them and understand? YES! Do I desire to have more friends that have different views than me? YES!
I stayed in the store for quite some time and loved every moment talking to this extremely talented designer! Our conversation started and ended in peace and respect. I believe I was faithful with exactly what God had called me to do. To listen. To share. To talk. To be challenged and to challenge. To love. To value. To leave.
Do I long for her to know Christ. Absolutely! There is nothing that can compare! But, what I also know is that I believe success was accomplished that day. I listened to God’s Spirit and I stepped out of my comfort. I loved hearing her thoughts and concerns and we built a bridge to learning to dialogue without offense, cynicism and fear. Let’s be careful that we don’t plan for failure but instead learn to plan for success and let Jesus define what that looks like.
“I planted the seed, Apollos watered it but God grew it.” 1 Cor. 3:6
Enjoy this beautiful day!!