We were on a glorious walk in the Mercer Slough with a homeschooling group earlier this month. It was one of the rare days this year that the Puget Sound has actually dared to dress in the garment of spring. We saw ducks galore, dragonflies, hawks, butterflies and the crown-jewel of the nature walk -- a great blue heron. And Sadie found a friend. Katie was an adorable four-year-old, game for playing and exploring, but not prone to talking too much. In other words, a perfect foil for my loquacious daughter. Her mom and I followed behind, enjoying their camaraderie and making chit-chat.
All was going well. Then, out of the blue, my daughter queried in a booming voice, "So, what's the deal? Are you people Christians, or what?"
My heart fell a few stories and lodged itself in my knees, which promptly went squishy. Not only had Sadie asked the million dollar forbidden question in the most brazen and indelicate manner possible, but that question was met by uncomfortable silence all around. Oh dear. What do I say?
Sadie, who is never easily put off, spoke up again. "We're Christians. We know that Jesus is the Lord. How about you? Do you know that Jesus is Lord?"
I recovered my voice at last. "Sadie! That's not the right conversation to have right now. Why don't you and Katie see how far you can climb in that tree?" Luckily, the heaven-sent tree distracted Sister Sadie Semple McPherson from her revival meeting and the two girls scampered off.
Left alone with Katie's mom, I had two options: engage in a conversation about what just happened or pretend it never existed. Bold confessor of Christ that I am, I chose the latter. And I felt as wretched about that as I had felt embarrassed by Sadie's evangelism. What comes so easily -- if rather crudely -- for her is the most difficult subject in the world for me.
This was not the first time that Sadie's pointed questions and exuberant proclamations have brought the red to my cheek and the stammer to my voice. The last time she and I were in St. Louis visiting my parents, my father took us out to dinner. When Sadie and I said our quiet, unobtrusive grace over the food, it triggered a memory for my little exhorter. She looked across the table at her heathen ancestor and said, "Grandpa, why don't you and Nana believe that Jesus is the Lord -- that He died on a cross to save us from our sins?"
I wanted to crawl under the table.
My dad just laughed like the unrepentant pagan he is and said something to the effect that he was an old sinner and we should be glad that Nana (who is especially against Christianity) wasn't at dinner with us. I said, "Sadie! Don't bring up stuff like that over dinner!" Sadie piped down and ate some french fries, and the atmosphere of discomfort eventually dispelled. And yet, I felt wretched more from my own shortcomings than from Sadie's tactless inquiry.
She hears at church and at home that the most important, wonderful, joyous thing in the world is to know and love Jesus. And I believe it with all my heart. There is no greater gift than our reconciliation with the Holy King of Israel through the sacrifice of the Son's sinless blood. There is no greater hope than the hope we have in His resurrection and His promises. How strange it must seem to Sadie, then, that whenever she tries to express and share that good news, I immediately hush her up!
I fail miserably at the Great Commission every day. There are two reasons that I can think of -- and probably a few more that I don't want to admit. The first reason is that, as a former atheist (never a devout atheist, but more a resigned one), I can sort of imagine how annoying it must be to be bludgeoned with the Gospel when you're not at a place to hear it. Of course, this is where evangelistic tact comes in; planting the little seeds, adding a little fertilizer, pulling some weeds out are all steps that can be done by different believers working faithfully to bring in the Harvest -- then, when the time is right and the heart and mind are ready, it is the next worker who sees the reaping. I'm just mightily afraid that I'll be the one to add too much fertilizer. This is nonsense, of course. What an exaggerated sense of my own importance I must have to feel this way! As if the transformation of a soul could ever be sidelined by my clumsy overtures! When the Lord is working a miracle -- as the turning of any sinful heart inevitably is -- He is not about to let me mess it up. So, my first reason is obviously a paper tiger, and I need to get over myself.
The second reason may have a little more validity, but not much. Ever since I came to know the Truth, it has been such a holy, beautiful, living reality, that I have trouble talking about it. It is so real that it hurts me. Touching the perfection of the Creator does seem to cause pain in a way, doesn't it? Like when you see something in Nature that recalls the Garden, or a sweet, new baby that reminds us of the days before the Fall, or an act of human love that mirrors the Father's -- they all hurt. But it is a good pain, because it presses into our consciousness the fact that there is more in store than the ugliness, futility, and frivolity of the world -- that reconciliation has happened and its fruits are going to be even more palpable in eternity.
Since it hurts, I am afraid to talk about it -- especially to talk about it with someone who may ridicule and spurn the beauty. And yet, the very fact that it has transfigured my life so thoroughly that I cannot speak of it but tears and snot flow copiously could be the thing that makes a cynic stop and pay attention. Everyone created in His image wants to see His love working in a real way with real people; too often, all they see is a pre-packaged, nicely wrapped box of bland, happy religiosity. They really ought to come to my church -- where the "mess and mystery" is lived out daily and, if our pastor does not get choked up in the pulpit, it is a rare sermon, indeed. But, since I cannot bring everyone whom I encounter to my church, they need -- desperately -- to see it in me. Goodness, how I hate the idea of being that vulnerable! But, my Lord was vulnerable even to the point of death.
If Sadie can cultivate her enthusiasm for sharing the Gospel without learning to kowtow to the world's wisdom that makes topics like that verboten, she will be a strong witness for the Lord. After each of the two incidents I mentioned, I made an effort to instill upon Sadie a sense of propriety and timing, but she just looked at me with those big, deep eyes that seem so often to see things beyond the ken of a child of five and said, "But, Mom, people need to know that Jesus is Lord. They need to know it." And how can I argue with that? Maybe, in these late days, a few ruffled feathers, trod upon toes, and uncomfortable silences are a small price to pay for sharing with people the information that they are dying without: Jesus is Lord.