Did any of you guys do the D.A.R.E. program when you were kids? It was this drug education program for elementary students that taught kids about saying no to drugs. It had me believing I would have to say no kind of a lot. Like drugs were literally everywhere, at every turn, every kid had them, and wanted me to have them too.
I feel the same way about defending my faith. I read all these books and articles talking about arming yourself for when your faith is challenged, and what to say to those people. Like it’s going to happen at every turn. Every time I go to the store, or walk through a park, someone is going to leap out at me and ask me why I’m a Christian. And by God, I need to be ready with a thoughtful, but somehow not canned or previously prepared answer. Because there are souls on the line, can I get an amen? LOL.
Sorry, I couldn’t help it. I just find the whole defending my faith thing a bit overblown. In my entire life, I’ve only had to do it once. One time. And I’m sure there will be more, especially as I write more in the Christian vein, and expose myself to other people more and more. But that’s okay. For now, it’s happened once. In nearly thirty-eight years.
Now, that’s not to say you shouldn’t be prepared in some way. But, frankly if you’re deeply rooted in your faith, you won’t need to prepare. You’ll just be confident, and undefensive (totally a word Microsoft spell checker. Leave me alone.) when challenged. It will happen naturally, and you’ll be able to meet your challenger where they are.
Now, for clarification, I’d like to say that being told I’m going to hell happens more frequently than I care to admit. That’s different. That isn’t a challenge of my faith. It’s a declaration of fact for that other person.
When someone truly challenges your faith, they’re trying to get you to their side, whatever that may be. Or, at least talk you out of your beliefs. When someone straight up sends you to hell, that’s just condemnation right there. Ain’t nobody got time for that.
The one and only time in my life my faith was challenged, I wasn’t prepared for it at all. But in hind sight, I think I handled it well, given the circumstances. At the time, I felt like a total doofus. But you usually are at twenty-eight years old. Barely considered an adult, and definitely not feeling like an adult, I was wildly ill-equipped to defend anything, let alone my faith.
I wasn’t attending church regularly at the time. But, that doesn’t mean I wasn’t a believer. I’d just finished my first novel, The Blackout. It’s a terribly written fiction book about a solar flare that knocks out all the power everywhere. A husband and wife are on different sides of the country when it happens, and they have to find their way back to each other. I remember being quite proud of it at the time. And really, writing a novel is an accomplishment, so I suppose I should overlook what I didn’t know then that would’ve made the book better. LOL.
At any rate, I’d brought paperbacks to my writing group to give to the people who’d helped critique a few pages in the book’s early stages. One of them, an older gentleman that I respected deeply because of his life experience, how well traveled he was, and the fact that he was a lot smarter than me, read the acknowledgements at the back of the book, probably looking for his own name. No shame in that.
I’ve written over twenty-five fiction books so far. And in each one the acknowledgements start largely the same. My very first book was no different. It went:
“First, I would like to thank God. I know that sounds cheesy and cliché, but we’ve been given so many blessings lately I can’t help but feel awed and grateful.”
I went on to thank my husband, parents, team, friends, and yes the writer’s group. But I always start with God. With each book, I got a little more thoughtful about it, a little less awkward, but the sentiment is still there. Even from the beginning.
So, this huge, sixty-something bearded, British man opened my book and read that first paragraph and scoffed.
“You really believe that?” he demanded.
“What?” I asked, like some dewy-eyed schoolgirl.
“That God gave you the words for this book? That somehow He is due credit for your hard work?”
It was then I remembered this man was an atheist. But not an angry atheist. Just an atheist. He liked debate and engage in intelligent, sometimes passionate, conversation. So, I held my ground.
“Yes, I do.” I’m pretty sure that’s all I said. He nodded his head and finished reading the dedication with nothing more to add. The others in the group shifted uncomfortably and someone found where the group was mentioned and they all whooped, lightening the mood considerably. And just like that, the moment was over. The one and only time in my whole life (so far) I had to defend my faith.
That night, I went home wondering what more I could’ve said. How I could’ve better handled the situation. I felt dumb, to be honest. “Yes, I do,” was all I could come up with to talk about the love of Jesus and how blessed I’d been to have the time, and resources to pursue a dream I’d had since I was in third grade? Idiot.
I could’ve said all that and more. But as time passes, I realize for that particular man, and that particular moment in front of a dozen other people, all older than me, all more experienced than me in nearly every aspect of life, “yes, I do” was enough. I’d stood my ground, and he respected that. I wasn’t going to change his mind, and he somehow knew he wouldn’t change mine. He had his beliefs, and I had mine. Because they were different didn’t mean we couldn’t show love toward each other through respectful conversation. And that was my biggest takeaway years later when I realized I hadn’t failed.
He’d challenged me, and I’d leaned on my faith to withstand his challenge. He knew what I believed, and if he thought about it later, that was on him. I’d done what I needed to do respectfully. I hadn’t made Jesus look bad (a massive accomplishment, thank you very much) by getting defensive, or arguing with my challenger. I’d accepted his words, and he’d accepted mine.
Respectful conversation is such a lost art nowadays. (Yes, I said nowadays, no I’m not eighty. Deal.) God forbid you disagree with someone’s opinion on a hot button issue. You obviously don’t support their life choices, and think they’re a monster so you can’t possibly be friends. Wait, what? Things escalate so quickly I can’t keep up. I have no idea what to say/do that won’t offend someone, so I often opt to say nothing. (As a side note, if you haven’t read Brant Hansen’s Unoffendable, I HIGHLY recommend it. Life-changing book right there.)
Anyway, I’ve gotten off topic. The point was, having a respectful exchange when you defend your faith is possible. If someone challenges you, there’s no need to get defensive. And there’s no need to feel like a failure if you didn’t change their mind. That isn’t your job. It’s His.
I’ve lost touch with my old writers group. Having a kid will do that to ya. Because of that, I have no idea if they even still meet, or how many of them are still able to go. The age gap was legit you guys. A lot of them had fifty or more years on me. But it was so cool to be around that much life, ya know? So many years lived in that room.
I don’t know if my British friend still goes, or if I impacted him in any way. He impacted me. And in the end, that’s probably just as good.
So, when someone asks me, “You really believe that?” I can proudly say, “Yes, I do.” And so should you.
*Have you ever had to defend your faith? How did it go? What advice would you give to your future self if you had to do it again? *