When family members near and dear whom you have known all your life choose to walk a different path it is difficult. When they choose to pass judgement and issue attack for your divergence... it is down-right painful. How do you go from sharing a life loaded with memories of sibling fun or parental care or holiday frivolity to a soldier or army standing across from you poised to attack even though you have done nothing to provoke?
Simply: The Word of God
You see, I was born to an atheist and a Christian who wasn't walking out her faith at the time. Divorced when I was still a baby, I have no memory of my parents being united. All my memories contain step parents and opposing views. My childhood was rocked with disunity as I was used like a pawn for attack vs. attack. Who was the better parent? Who had the right answers? Even years into adulthood I wasn't clear on the debate!
The complexities of my families run so deep, I wrote a book to hash it all out. One that is off the site right now for editing. But the one constant was my grandma, a fire and brimstone Southern Baptist, she took me to church every chance she could. When I was 16 I "walked forward" accepted and got baptized. It was fire insurance. I was scared. By 18, married to my high school sweet heart and living 2000 miles from home, I walked away. I thumbed my nose at God and told him to get lost.
For 6 years I ran the other direction. Trying my hand at many forms of lost ways. Divorcing, remarrying, suffering and running. My family was still a roller coaster but at least I was still 'like them'. Generally accepted as 'normal' by societal standards. Then something interesting happened.... my mom re-dedicated her life to Christ. She started reading her bible, learning God's Word and, most of all, she started to change.
No longer was she needling me about life's past... instead she was encouraging me about life's future. We would talk for hours about her Hope. I would ask hard questions, jabbing questions, and she would patiently respond. Something happened... something changed inside of me I could not deny. Something that told me the answers were at the local non-denominational chapel so I went.
Within a year of showing up and sitting in the pews, God finally got through and I GOT IT. No longer seeking fire insurance, I surrendered to my NEED for a savior and my love of what He had done for me. I was sold-out, 100% born again and thirsty for the Word, anxious to share and ready to live, all-in.
Over the years my faith has grown and the roots have run deep. Storms have blown but I still stand strong.... and often stronger after each one. God has delivered me from so much and brought me to so much. My testimony fills that book down for repair! But then the rug really went out on how to walk in the midst of my relations.
The phone seemed to crackle as she said it, "I think I am gay". My step sister had decided to 'come out'. Another long story which is really not fully mine to tell, sums up with my dis-belief of her choice and my Christian understanding to what really was going on: This young, intelligent woman going to pre-med school to become a ministry doctor... someone who planned to help the inner-city sick and share the word of God as she went.... suddenly gets drawn into the life of secularism and lesbian ways. She was supported by an atheist step-dad and a non religious mom.... the family raved at her decision.
I didn't know what to do. I couldn't bring myself to condemn her, I loved her. Nor could I bring myself to fully accept her choice because I knew, I was positive of what God's Word said. How do you reconcile sinful living in someone you love so dearly? I sought answers and for what felt like forever, none would come. We talked sparingly, most of our conversations were frustrating as she preached a liberal agenda which called for legislation to increase her rights while diminishing mine. Common sense spoke up but always got shot down. I stand for Biblical marriage, the family stands by her and her right to 'love who she wants'. I wasn't trying to create an antithesis or argument. But like anyone who shares the weekend's party photos or latest tattoo or even their jaunt to Vegas.... I felt I wanted to share my heart, my Christ, and my belief that some things need to remain constant for the peace of a nation. I know this view isn't shared by all.
Modern ethics say: agree with me or become my enemy. No more opinions or ideas... simply conform or be persecuted. We use to live in a society where differences were respected even if not agreed on.
This is my plight. This is what caused me to make the difficult decision 5 years ago to remove myself from the line of fire.
It wasn't easy to step back from the people I love with so much of my heart. I don't condemn them, but I do consider them so different from myself it is difficult to do much more than check-in once in a great while. I mean them no ill will, but as the statement shared at the onset of this article articulates; they are not interested, in the least, in my lifestyle. I have to respect their choice whether or not I agree.
My husband was good to remind me of Matthew 10:14, the scripture graphic I shared on Facebook earlier this week:
This past week, after the heart-wrenching statement and phone conversation I had, I felt led to study this passage closer. I found something reassuring...
11 And whatever town or village you enter, find out who is worthy in it and stay there until you depart.
12 As you enter the house, greet it.
13 And if the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it, but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you.
14 And if anyone will not receive you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet when you leave that house or town.
15 Truly, I say to you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah than for that town.
We can try to reach out. We should never give up in our prayers for the lost, especially the ones we love. But God's timing is the key. HE knows whom he calls and when he calls them. We can't understand when or why but we can pray and we can reach when we are led to (no beating over the head with our Bible). At the end of the day, though, if the house determines it is not interested in the hope we share, we need to let our peace return to us. We need to respect their choice, just as we desire them to respect ours. Christ has given us peace and we need to claim it. We need to walk away and let them be.
Jesus knew the path before us would not be easy. He predicted not just people of our towns would persecute us but also family and loved ones. This is why, among his final words to the disciples, he tells them this:
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.
- John 14:27
And then He closes his pre-game speech to them with this awesome statement:
I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”
Whether talking with my gay sister or the multitude of Atheist and Agnostic family members, I don't talk to their sin. I speak to their humanity and I testify of my hope. Sometimes it means I go for weeks and months without talking to them... mainly because we don't have a whole lot to say. It isn't personal, it is simply walking out John 10 which reminds us to reach out but don't sell out and kick the dust off our feet so we can go to the next 'house' which might be ready for the hope we share. Jesus encourages us to hold onto our hope and peace. He helps us to realize WE are not judgement day, God is. HE overcame the world, we are over-comers through Him. What DID Jesus do in these situations with loved ones?
While he was still speaking to the people, behold, his mother and his brothers stood outside, asking to speak to him. But he replied to the man who told him, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.”
- Matthew 12:46-50
His mother, most certainly, wasn't an atheist or agnostic... though we do know at least one of his brothers didn't buy into the whole "Christ" thing until later on. BUT, many scholars believe they were trying to pull him away for rest. They were trying to help him and in their concern they weren't seeing the greater picture of what he was doing right then. He was about his Father's business. When we are Born Again, we should be about our Father's business and guess what? We inherent MORE family to share life with! They may not be the ones we chased for a game of tag when we were little or crawled into their lap when we were scared as a child. But they are a NEW family, just like we are made NEW in Christ and they are the ones who share our passion for God. With our brothers and sisters and mothers and fathers in Christ, we will find the most unity.
I'm not saying dis-own your secular family. Just walk forward realizing you CAN love them but their approval is not what you seek... your peace is not in them. Your peace and approval comes from the Lord.
My grand advice... my steeped experience... the Word of God which has given me most hope?
Peace in Jesus.
You have the ability to claim the power of peace. Like the words of Elanor Roosevelt who said, "No one can make you feel inferior without your permission", I believe the same to be true with our faith. NO ONE can take your peace without your permission.
It is OK to walk with hope and peace when the people around you are falling apart.
It is OK to have joy because you have a future when those around you carry nothing but sadness and bitterness.
It is OK to believe the Truth of God's Word when people around you want to argue it is a lie
It is OK to stand on your testimony when someone wants to 'explain' it away or argue the facts.
It is OK to NOT argue, after all, we are not called to 'argue', we are called to bare witness, and let the fight go. To let someone walk the path they have chosen even when your deepest desire is to see them walk alongside yourself.
It is OK to be different, to be made fun of, to be ridiculed, misunderstood, and even ostracized because our family and our future is not here. This place is temporary... we are sojourners, just passing through.
It is OK to love and be kind to family members who don't believe what you believe. I learned that my best response to my sister.... was to love her and show her kindness. I don't have to accept her lifestyle to be concerned about her and be kind to her. Secularists don't understand this. They want to believe that Christian's stance against abortion and gay marriage and other main-stream ideas is the same as rejection, judging and condemnation... but it is not.
Remember: our first century brothers and sisters of the faith faced the same challenges when they refused to bow before and offer sacrifices to the false gods. They faced this when they rescued cast-away infants and cared for the sick and dieing of a fallen society. Secular historians were perplexed by these Christ followers and their kind hearts and different ways... walking among pagans but not pagan. Persecuted but not giving up. THEY STOOD OUT. We should too.
It is OK to stand out... as a matter of fact, if you don't stand out you should ask yourself... am I actually sold out for Christ. Standing out is synonymous with our faith. Not because we are bad different... but because we are good different.
We love when the world says hate.
We give when the world says take or keep.
We help others when the world says help yourself.
We share hope when the world shares hopelessness.
It IS possible to serve the world, to live in the world, without loosing your self or your faith.
But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you.
Since we have the same spirit of faith according to what has been written, “I believed, and so I spoke,” we also believe, and so we also speak, knowing that he who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us with you into his presence. For it is all for your sake, so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God.
So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.
- 2 Corinthians 4:7-18
Life in a fallen world... and especially a fallen family... isn't easy. I have walked out these principles EVEN in a house with a husband who did not share my faith for 10 years. It CAN be done. STAY in the Word of God. Fix your eyes on Him. Don't give up. Don't loose hope. CLING to the giver of hope. YOU CAN DO IT!!