Note: I’ve been talking about evangelism around here, sharing my personal stories. You can find my introduction to the subject here.
In my last post, I shared my humiliating and disastrous attempt to convert my sweet friend Marie, which resulted in a shattered friendship. Today I’m continuing with another story.
I wrote this several years ago on my embarrassing old blog, and thought it would be fun to repost it. I mention this only to highlight that you might notice my writing style is different, and I’m probably even less evangelical than I was when I wrote this.
I never tried to convert another person to Christianity after the incident with Marie.
Okay, I only tried to convert one other person. But she didn’t mind because she was actually interested in my faith. She was taking philosophy with me in the same semester that I was taking sociology with Marie. So I was evangelizing them both simultaneously. I thought I was doing pretty good with this other girl, too, until she dropped out of the class before I got a chance to lead her to Christ. She never responded to any of my emails.
So that was that. I ditched that form of evangelism almost as quickly as I had picked it up. It clearly wasn’t working for me.
The fact that I gave up “evangelism” in the traditional sense, though, doesn’t mean I stopped talking about God. Far from it.
But after I gave up on conventional evangelism, my conversations about God were different. They just sort of happened spontaneously. They were natural and organic and never premeditated.
And I lost the whole idea that I was a spiritual teacher seeking disciples. I was a twenty-year old kid, for goodness sakes. I was just some girl in university who believed in God and liked to talk about him if people were interested.
And lots of people were, it turned out.
A year or two after Project Marie fell through, I took a summer art class at the university. I was getting married in a few months and wanted to decrease my upcoming semester’s workload by doing a class during the break. In art class I met a remarkable woman whom I’ll call Wendy.
I have met few human beings in my life as beautiful as Wendy. She was sweet and honest, with a personality that was as warm and golden as her hair and her amber complexion. She had a younger brother with a developmental disability whom she absolutely adored and about whom she talked with refreshing fondness. As a result, she was extremely sympathetic to all people with disabilities and loved hearing their stories.
She was a generous and friendly individual, and she struck up a conversation with me on the first day of class as we were setting up our easels. When she found out where I lived she suggested that we carpool to school. So, for the rest of the summer, I got to drive back and forth with her every day in her parents’ big white Expedition, talking about music, boys, family, and art. She would play her country music really loud and keep the windows down, and then yell over the roar of the wind about how she loved the singer’s voice or how she wanted to collect paintings for a gallery some day.
I don’t even remember ever mentioning that I was a Christian. I never do anymore. It seems people can just tell, or maybe I let it slip without realizing it. But on our last day of class, as we were heading home for the last time down the highway with the wind roaring in our ears and Rascal Flatts serenading us over the speakers, she yelled to me, “So . . . why do you believe in God?”
I explained to her, as best as I could, that God just made sense to me, and helped me to make sense of the world. I explained that I was pretty sure that Jesus was God. I explained how I believed the Gospels were accurate historical documents and that I found Jesus a pretty compelling deity. Wendy said that she wasn’t really convinced but she would probably remain open to the possibility that God existed. We drifted on to another conversation topic, and shortly after that we arrived at her house. I got into my car and exchanged warm goodbyes, and I gave her an invitation to my wedding before I drove off.
We didn’t ever talk about God explicitly again, but we continued to hang out every once in a while. She even came to my wedding, looking like a goddess in a short white dress, and danced with all the people with special needs, including my autistic brother-in-law. I visited her a couple of times at her place until she moved to another province to do another degree.
As with Marie, I never succeeded in converting her; but that was no longer my mission. And neither did I turn her off from God or church. I figure that’s gotta count for something.
I loved this new way of talking about God.
I loved being asked about my faith, and being able to talk about it openly without any pressure to change the person who was asking. I realized that I had no control over whether or not Wendy wanted to know Jesus, and that was okay. That wasn’t my responsibility. I was available to her if she ever did want to know more, and I’m sure she knew it. I didn’t have to give her a weird, “I’m available to talk if you ever want to come to Christ” spiel. That was already apparent.
My job was simply to continue loving God and living in relationship with him, and to make friends and to be open to talking about God with them if they were interested. And if they simply weren’t? There was nothing I could really do about that.
After that summer, I was often surprised to find myself in the middle of a conversation about heaven with a friend over lunch or a chatting about prayer while walking to the library. I was surprised to find how naturally – and frequently – it occurred. People — particularly atheists — loved talking and hearing about God, as long as I wasn’t giving them a sermon.
And it never felt weird. It was just as natural as talking about our weekends or our boyfriends or the authors we were reading. I simply shared some of my own young thoughts and experiences when the subject came up. And my friends seemed to value them.
I never had to intentionally steer the conversation in that direction if it wasn’t going there. God came up on his own accord.
Using this approach, I also had plenty of time to get to know my friends first before diving into God stuff – to learn what kinds of things they found interesting or exciting.
I also found I was never nervous about talking about God anymore – my friends cherished my views and often found them intriguing. What was there to be nervous about? We were equals; we were both spiritual seekers, even if we had come to different conclusions about the universe. I had no responsibility but to be loving, open, honest, and thoughtful.
This is the form of evangelism I have embraced since the failed Convert Marie Project, and I have had no shortage of conversations about God since then.
Lighthouse image from Rene Gonzalez.