Earlier this morning as I sat on my porch sipping coffee, I randomly thought of something I hadn’t remembered in years. I have no idea what brought it to mind. When I was in nursing school, I worked at a small Christian bookstore called Sign of the Fish. Goodness, I guess this was about 14 years ago now (no wonder I hadn’t thought of it in a while!) Anyway, I remember one night I was working with a young man named Peter. He came over to me and shared this simple but profound encounter he had just experienced with a little girl. I don’t remember how old she was, except that she was no more than elementary age. She walked over to Peter and asked a very simple yet profound question of this tall and lanky blonde boy (who was incidentally the owner’s son). This little girl asked, “Are you a Christian or do you just work here?”
If you have children or are around them more than 10 minutes, you quickly find they will cut to the chase. There is an innocence about them…they don’t yet know to filter their honest observations about people and life. They don’t yet know that grown ups pretend, too.
I have recently been on the receiving end of my oldest daughter’s observations. Not too long ago, as a tornado threatened our area, my first grader had some questions about the weather but let me know she would wait to ask her dad because he is “the smart one.” Wow! Sure, a part of me wanted to defend myself and explain I was a nurse for 13 years and I know a lot more about English and Literature than her daddy!! But, I just swallowed it down and let it go because the truth is her daddy is smarter than I am! And in her world he has all the answers to bug and bird questions.
This morning, as I remembered the little girl in the bookstore, I couldn’t help but think of how right she was. See, us “grown-ups” would never come right out and ask the person in the pew next to us “Are you really a Christian or do you just come here on Sundays?” We wouldn’t ask it of someone else because we don’t want to be asked ourselves. See, that little girl was dead-on. Peter worked in the Christian bookstore. He had a name tag and was knowledgeable about all the different versions of the Bible, the music selection and could probably help order robes. But did that make him a real Christian? As Joyce Meyer says…”Does sitting in a garage make you a car?”
Check out Matthew 5: 8 (the message) “You’re blessed when you get your inside world — your mind and heart — put right. Then you can see God in the outside world.”
You know, there seem to be so many ideas about being a Christian. Being “good”, attending church, agreeing there is a God and Jesus was His son, having had a “Christian” upbringing, being able to quote a bit of the Bible, singing on stage, volunteering for worthy causes, voting republican, being “confirmed” in a church or even just by default of being American. I think over my journey so far. And although I believe God wants us to grow and give and seek Him, I am learning more and more as time goes by that being a Christian starts with the inside and works its way out. Like the verse above says…your “inside world” being put right…your heart and mind touched and changed by God’s love and Spirit. In the end that might look like church attendance, volunteering or singing your heart out for Jesus. But it doesn’t start there. “Christian” isn’t a pin I wear on my lapel. It isn’t a status I inherit from my family. I don’t earn it with church attendance or good behavior. Just saying it doesn’t make it true.
Too strong? Too hard? Too uncomfortable?
Here is why I might just have the nerve. I know what its like to ride on the coat tails of my parent’s spirituality. I know what it’s like to try so hard to be a good Christian. I know what it’s like, brace yourself, to live in complete abandon to having my own way and doing what I want to do and what feels good at the moment…I know what it’s like to say Jesus is Lord and yet He really has no say what-so-ever in how I live my life. Come on. I know.
Am I suggesting that I have it all figured out now? No, matter of fact I am comfortable in saying I have realized I have less “figured out” than I had thought. Thank God! See, one of the most paralyzing places of my life has been living in the rut of my religion. Judging everyone else around me while neglecting to really love them. Sizing up the lack in another’s spiritual life while resisting having my “inside world” put right.
I asked Jesus into my heart as a child. And I loved God growing up. So, yes I believe I have been a Christian most of my life. But you know what? The truth is sometimes it was no more than a label. Like the one on my pajama pants. And in the end label-living just wasn’t changing my marriage…it wasn’t changing how I parent…it wasn’t setting me free from insecurity and pain…it wasn’t leading me to God’s purposes for my life. I finally took a good look at the label and the box I was in and I declared I was sick to death of it. I believe the Bible is true! And I am tired of staying the same and I don’t want to live a mediocre, don’t want to travel outside my comfort zone, don’t want to get my hands dirty in the soil of messy humanity kind of “Christian” life.
I quit. I quit trying so hard to wear a label. I quit trying so hard to sell goods to others that I don’t possess myself. I don’t want to promise you joy and peace in Christ when I am full of negativity and quite miserable myself! I don’t want to pray for healing for sick friends, children and strangers when deep inside I just hope they get lucky. I don’t want to scoff at those walking through divorce when my own marriage is a sick mess. I don’t want to admire the compassion of Jesus or pass on sweet emails about God’s love when I won’t take the time to listen to an elderly person for a while in the grocery store or give that homeless man on the corner a bottle of water. I don’t want to sign up to serve on a ministry team at church and then act like it’s a pain and real inconvenience when it’s my turn to serve.
So, I am determined to quit the label-living. And everyday I pray God brings me around to the stunning truth of that little girl in the bookstore so many years ago….Vanessa, are you really living for me with your whole heart, are you really a Christian, or do you just work here?