Someone asked me, “So what brought you to this area?” Long pause swollen with want of possible answer, best answer, authentic answer. I quickly pray to ask God what he would have me say.
Because I could say, “We work for a non-profit.” It’s accurate. It’s also not the whole truth, and it makes me uncomfortable to skirt the question.
However, if I spout out, “We are missionaries, and we work alongside people who want to go further and deeper in their relationship with Jesus,” then every small but significant relational building block we’ve stacked together will be forever altered by whatever her perceptions of Christians are. The pause is long.
While I don’t want to stand so closely to Peter and his denials of Christ that they somehow become my own, I confess that I just don’t want to speak too loudly sometimes. The version of Christian that I see in lots of places provokes a hiding instinct in me. Since changing gears in mission from pastoral to para-church ministry, we’ve enjoyed greatly the ability to blend in with people and be known simply as John and Shannon. I’m hesitant to blow my cover.
Exposing what we do comes with a price. It’s akin to reaching into my purse, pulling out my signature fragrance, and spritzing the people around me. Some might appreciate it. Others may prefer the opportunity to draw in close enough to me, take a whiff of what I’m wearing, and discover the subtlety pleasant and interesting. I don’t fear the exposure because I want only to chase after Christ and make him known when it’s comfortable and private. The revelation of occupation–or calling, to be more specific–changes the stakes of relationship. Especially when what Christians in the United States are up against is as much the reputation of unattractive behaviors of their brethren and with their brethren as it is the persecution from the culture.
What if I peel back my shirt sleeve, show my Jesus colors and, right away, I get lumped into piles of manure? What if they smell lingering manure on me, as surely I am culpable, too? Or, what if they have been so wounded by some soul who abused them in the name of God or the church? What if they hear the “loving” way the church talks so much about changing the world but sees how little they (we) seem to do in the way of really loving people?
No singular person carries the burden to correct these pains, though the scriptures are full of examples of praying prophets who shouldered heartfelt confessions on behalf of not only themselves but the whole of God’s people. We should take note and do likewise. I should take note and do likewise. The mounds of division and hurt I see grieves me deep in my gut. All along, water for the thirsty is in our hands, and we’re watching people die of thirst while we argue over the water pitcher.
I can’t calculate how I will be received, no matter how I answer the question, no matter which way I carry the water. As with so many conundrums, the best answer comes when I abide in the love of Jesus; there, in his heart, I learn what to say. And I have no choice but to leave the fall-out up to him.
“Job change,” I tell the woman. “My husband was in pastoral ministry for many years, and, after a long journey, we changed direction.”
I watched her face, then I nervously scanned the walls of the warehouse structure where we stood. I counted panels on the walls.
She asked a few more questions while we waited for our boys to finish their play. We filled the gaps with parent talk and odds and ends. Only God knows what she thought or thinks. It’s okay, I guess. But I know I liked it better when she just knew me as Shannon.
It’s not, as some might propose, that I do not have a burden for those who do not know the beauty of walking in relationship with Christ. It’s not, as others might suggest, that sharing the love of Christ is not necessary. My soul bears an interminable ache for the world to experience the utter relief of knowing God through Christ. For me to be quiet about where to find bread would dishonor my Lord and would deny the hungry food. No, it is neither of those things.
It is this: when I am myself, without a label, Christ in me lives to show forth his glory by his fingerprints upon me. My words may be necessary at some point, but the fragrance of Christ had better be apparent without them. Otherwise, perhaps I am not my true self at all.