Thursday, October 4, 2007

People I (Leisha) wish I could apologize to

Rick's sermon this past Sunday was about how sometimes I am the biggest obstacle to the presentation of the Gospel. (I am using the pronoun "I" in a general sense...Rick did not preach about how Leisha is the biggest obstacle to the Gospel...although, to be honest, sometimes I feel like that could be the case.) He talked about how it is impossible for us to represent the Gospel when we don't really practice Jesus being the Way, the Truth, the Life.

I grew up fully immersed in the conservative Christian culture, and was very fully trained in evangelism from an early age. Most of that training happened in interactions with strangers, because my world was totally and completely devoid of people who were not believers in Jesus. I have gone door-to-door in the neighborhoods around my church, I have wandered the boardwalk at the beach searching for that foolish person who would agree to take my short survey that worked into a presentation of the Gospel, and I have shared my testimony countless times in gatherings of all believers (sometimes embellishing slightly to make it more interesting). For all that training, however, I was completely unprepared for my first actual spiritual conversations with people who were hurting.

It started when I was 16 years old. My first job was in the children's department of JCPenney at Washington Square. I worked with a cast of women, most of them a couple of years older than me, and a few of them many years older than me. Over the course of the year that I worked there, several of those women stand out in my mind. They are the witnesses to my utter failure to connect to the Gospel in a relational way in my own life, and therefore in their lives. One of my co-workers was a woman who, in retrospect, probably had a drug problem. She was thinking of leaving her husband and two-year-old daughter for a male friend of hers. She would frequently talk to me, an unmarried, never dated, 16-year-old virgin, about the problems in her marriage. Another young woman confided her personal and professional anxiety and struggle with depression. One of the older women in my department spent several hours discussing her worries for her son, who was a few years older than me. Then there was the girl who, after deciding to keep her pregnancy, was abandoned by her boyfriend, and faced the impending hurdle of single motherhood alone. Each of those conversations and relationships make my personal Wall of Regrets because of the opportunity I had to speak peace and comfort to them, to represent and present the love of Christ, to speak of the transformative power of the Gospel, and I just couldn't do it because I didn't have a relational experience with God...only a knowledge-based understanding of the Christian faith. In fact, I was so disconnected with their struggles that all I knew to do was invite two of my co-workers, one of whom was the pregnant girl, to my youth group, where I made them sit in the front row with me, in all her nine-month-along glory.

That was one of those moments that I cringe to remember. One of those moments that I allow to prevent me from engaging people with the Gospel - I was and am such a poor representative of Christ. I was challenged and encouraged by Rick's message that I have the story of how I experience Christ and His power, and that's enough.

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