“I’ve never met a Christian I liked!” declared Seamus* to the rest of us at his table. I frowned at him quizzically. Personally, I had no problem with Christians; my thing was sheer indifference. I just couldn’t relate to their fervor.
By the end of the year, however, the unexpected had happened: I had gone from indifferent to fervent. Yikes!
Indeed! It was amazing, and with it came healing, joy, and a very real experience of God; but it left me in a strange place: I was now a lone Christian in a friendship group of atheists. Seamus was one of those friends, along with his wife.
I know 'couple friends' are something to be thankful for … but … mm … it hasn’t been roses. Let’s just say that while Seamus’s wife is extremely easy-going, Seamus himself is not a tactful man, and he is convinced Christianity is untrue. This combination of traits is not easy for me. If I was atheist, of course I would enjoy Seamus’s verbosity, but I’m not.
“Do you hear this, Ann”, he recently cackled as I fetched him a beer, “People who believe in Jesus are crazy.”
I wanted to give him a smack.
“How on earth do I handle him?” I asked God. “He’s so ANNOYING!”
Over and over I battled feelings of offense at this guy who was supposed to be my friend. Quite honestly, I wanted to leave the friendship but (oh dear!) God seemed to want me to stay. Stay, and live these words:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you… For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not the tax collectors do the same?” (Matt 5:43-44, 46, NKJV)
I’ve only just noticed how pragmatic those words are: ‘Bless’, ‘do good’, and ‘pray for’. You don’t need to feel love to do this, you just take baby steps. And so that’s what I did, baby step by baby step. It’s been four years now.
Today, I can happily say Seamus and I remain friends. God has put other believing people in my life, but this friendship with him is, perhaps, particularly special. It’s special because it’s a friendship surviving on love.
Bless. Pray for. Do good to him.
More recently, that love has got me thinking about what my responsibilities are as Seamus’s friend. How do I carry the gospel? He is my friend, not my spouse, so is ‘winning without words’ still applicable? Or should I be more aggressive?
As if in answer, I stumbled across a wonderful book about how skeptics convert. You may find it as interesting as I did – especially if you live right in the heart of skeptic-land.
The book is called ‘I once was lost: What post-modern skeptics taught us about their path to Jesus’. The authors, Don Everts and Doug Schaupp, interviewed numerous adult converts and found that there is a common series of thresholds that skeptics have to cross when faced with faith. What’s more, these thresholds seem to be crossed in the same order by those who do convert.
I’m guessing there are spouses in our community who are sitting at any of these five thresholds. In fact, the authors argue that someone can sit at any given threshold for years. Too right – I myself sat somewhere between the first and the second for the first 38 years of my life.
The thresholds are:
(1) Learn to trust a Christian
(2) Move from complacent to curious
(3) Become willing to make changes to your life
(4) Become an active seeker of God, and
(5) Step into the Kingdom.
It’s possible my friend Seamus is only just crossing threshold one – trusting a Christian. Perhaps I’m the one he’ll finally bring himself to… like?! And then perhaps I can finally use words. For now, the Holy Spirit seems to tell me to stay wordless until He tells me otherwise.
How about you? How have you handled others (besides your spouse) who struggle with your faith? And how do we witness to those who are staunchly opposed? I look forward to hearing your insights!
*Seamus is a real person, but I’ve changed his name