The first day I met him, he plopped down into my lap like we were old friends, talking about life and the various things that popped into his head. He wasn’t waiting for a reply from me, just narrating the day of a 6 year old boy. The next time I saw him, he grabbed my hand and hugged me hard, telling me how happy he was to see me. But this time was different. My little first grader from my Sunday school small group was smiling like a Cheshire cat and practically reverberating with excitement, but not uttering a word. After ten minutes, he sidled up next to me, cupping his hands around my ear and shared his news. ”I’m a Christian!” he whispered, in the same incredulous tone that he might say “I can fly”.
I laughed and whispered back, “I am too!” Delight lit up his face and he told me he wanted to be baptized. Pretty heady stuff for a first grade mind. I wondered why he whispered his news when his typical modus operandi was to yap and wiggle like a puppy with a new toy? But it dawned on me in a rare moment of clarity, that I don’t shout this news about myself either, my reasoning filtered through life experience about the perception of what people think when they hear the word Christian.
Even in the bible belt of the South, there is confusion between religion and faith. Christianity as a religion often is painted as holy rollers doling out hellfire and brimstone judgement. Andy Stanley recently made a great point in a sermon that ”Christians” often have a giant blind spot in self awareness, as we can quickly point out the speck in others eyes while a big old plank is in our own. I understand why resentment and mistrust has been a response to calling oneself a Christian, but it is far from the beauty I see in being a follower of Christ. For me, it is having a faith that is shaped by love and acceptance; living by grace, not rules. Jesus wasn’t about calling out people and shaming them for not being perfect. He hung out with the poor, the broken and the outcasts of society and valued them no less than Kings. He knows we are going to mess up again and again, and loves us anyway. That I can get on board with.
I think I know the reason my little friend whispered the words into my ear. It was not due to shame or fear, but awe. He was discovering something magical after all, that faith, love and grace are ours for the asking, and it doesn’t really matter if we shout it or whisper.
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