"I sometimes hear Christians talk about how terrible life must be for atheists. But our lives were not terrible. Life actually seemed pretty wonderful, filled with opportunity and good conversation and privilege. I know now that it was not as wonderful as it could have been. But you don't know what you don't know. How could I have missed something I didn't think existed?"
So said Fox News' Highly Reluctant Jesus Follower Kirsten Powers, in her article for Christianity Today.
The quote haunted me even days after reading it. I've heard that before, but it's so hard for me to wrap my mind around the idea of living for this world alone.
Don't worry- God clued me in yesterday morning. I woke up in pain. Not the good kind of pain that tells me I worked my body hard and it was paying off. Joint pain. I don't talk about it much because it seems so... blah. Mundane. It's not glamorous. It's just arthritis, and since it is so common and boring I'd rather just act like I don't have it.
I couldn't do that yesterday. My arthritis fooled me like it does from time to time. Like it did two days ago when I was feeling good. So good. Like, normal good. And I'd had that normal feeling for a few days in a row and I thought perhaps the most ridiculously unfunny thought, "Maybe it's gone."
Really, a few days of ease and I think it's gone? Yet it happens every time.
We get used to what we know. When I wake up with joint pain every morning, albeit it is slight in comparison with so many, I get used to it. It can be tiresome sure, but I function and everything seems fine. Like Kirsten, I know now that it was not as wonderful as it could have been. But you don't know what you don't know.
Unbelief is like being diagnosed with chronic illness.
* You do what you can and you deal. When you're in a lot of pain, you get desperate and might even try a crazy remedy just to see if it works, but if there are no immediate results you move on.
* You get so used to the abnormal, that it becomes your normal. And that is fine as long as it is manageable. You live life as usual.
* Unless someone lives a pain free life in front of your face, you actually forget that some people have that option.
* You don't take advice from anyone on the topic unless you trust them. That means they either have a vague idea of how you feel, they have treated multiple people with your condition and have a heart for it, or they have a vested interest in your wellbeing- meaning they like you enough to listen to you.
Maybe our witness would be more effective if we saw unbelief for what it was: a soul-killing sickness that only Jesus can cure.
Would that add some urgency to the issue?
Would that take the pressure off of us to "save" the person, and place it on the Only One who can?
Would that highlight the true gift we have to serve those around us?
So how do the "well" serve the "sick"?:
* Don't "deal." Live. Jesus needs to be more than the crazy remedy for our personal lives. He needs to be our lives. I'm not talking the need to live perfectly as an example to the sinners around. I'm talking living in joy and thankfulness, and forgiving ourselves and others when we screw up. I'm talking living with patience and hope when the immediate results the world demands do not coordinate with the awesome plan God is working.
* Live normally in an abnormal world. Christians are weird. Maybe we are in the abnormal minority. So own it. Revel in it. As vanilla as it may seem to you when you step out of the gossip, out of the parties, out of the complaining- what you are doing is rebellious. You are rebelling against the world! That doesn't mean leaving out the ungodly participants. It means living respectably and serving neighbors no matter how they spend their time and resources. People know who they can trust- who they can talk to honestly- and when you show yourself to be humble and trustworthy, they'll pick up on that.
* Don't mask your struggles- show them Who's boss. Fake isn't following. Denial isn't discipleship. And just like people detect an honest person, they just as easily detect a false one. The only difference in our struggles is how we deal with them. Unbelievers ignore their struggles or bow to them. Believers do neither. Believers face their struggles for what they are, and bow only to the One who bears our burdens for us. One of the greatest gifts you can give your unbelieving neighbor is a glimpse into your imperfect life, because it is there that the might of God shines gloriously.
* Be a friend, not a fixer. Think about it- who do people speak most honestly to? Doctors and loved ones. So, unless you are interacting with them as their therapist, if you aren't willing to love them they probably won't be open to your witness. That doesn't mean you don't offer it, that just means you take the time to love first. Remember, the sick need relief.
* Pray for them. This is something that has come to mind a lot lately. I guess there have just been a lot of situations where all I could do was pray. All I could do. Like interceding to the Lord on behalf of a friend, taking that person's needs and cares to Jesus, was too little. What? It is the number one thing any of us can do, and as I ponder and pray on this topic I hope to add a new page to this blog for prayer scriptures, quotes, and concerns.
If you are curious about any other specific ways you can love the unbelieving (or the believing, for that matter), Colossians 3 has some absolutely rad words of wisdom. Seriously, so good. And after all that good stuff, Paul writes these words, that I pray will resonate with you all day long:
Praying for a love-filled, harmonious, and God-glorifying day for us all around.