That phone call you're dreading. Forgetting someone's name when they remember yours. Clearing the sink hole (you wouldn't believe how much foul-smelling gunk there is in there.) Spilling Ribena on someone's beautiful white shirt. Having to tell your friend that the goldfish you so confidently offered to babysit while they were on holiday died on you almost immediately.
Up there along with all these other squirm-inducers is the word 'witnessing.'
As Christians we often talk about how important a Christian witness is, as a church, as an individual, to your non believing friends and family etc...
But perhaps for you--as for me--that doesn't exactly equate to passing out tracts on the street and sharing your testimony every day. I'm afraid the reality of being a Christian witness, for most Christians, doesn't mean simply sharing the gospel. Sometimes you're not allowed to. Sometimes there's too much hostility or sensitivity. Sometimes it just isn't the right opportunity. Sometimes your relationship or friendship just isn't at that level yet when it can be discerned as sincerity instead of a threat.
And that's okay. Since we strive to be like Christ in all areas of our life--when we're in church singing hymns, when we're eating out, when we're on the bus, when we're in a meeting, when we're in our pajamas watching our favourite TV show...
One of the best ways you can witness is by not being afraid to apologize.
An apology is a rare phenemonem now. Remember as kids how your parent would drag you over to that annoying kid and watch you sternly until you ground out a "sorry"? Insincere much? Well, adults don't even do that. Even insincere apologies are rare. People prefer to pretend they've forgotten about it, or ignore what happened. (I'm not talking about people who chronically and automatically apologize for everything, whether it's cold coffee or you didn't like their shirt colour or that you didn't find that joke as funny as they did...that extreme warrants another whole post for itself.)
Situations where real apologies are needed, when someone has offended or hurt someone, when the two of you are strained and uncomfortable, if not downright hostile, around each other.
If--when everyone around you says it's okay, just pretend nothing happened, maybe she didn't hear you, anyway he's said nasty things about you too, who cares what they feel--you can bring yourself to apologize with courage and honesty and humility, with sincerity and kindness, showing grace where you didn't have to, showing humility when you did wrong, showing kindness when you could have responded with coldness--you have, just for that moment, taken others aback by demonstrating that there is an alternative, in Christ's love. In Christ's example.
I remember I first started thinking seriously about what it meant to be Christian because of the witness of my parents in their everyday, normal home life with us. Doctrine I knew in heaps. I thought I knew every single Bible story. I'd memorized the Shorter Catechism, okay (at one point, I could recite it so fast it almost sounded like rapping.) But what really made an impact on me wasn't so much all the good decisions, the wise words, the love from my parents, as when they apologized. When they had made a mistake, they apologized to us. When they lost their temper, they apologized. The mistake itself wasn't so important--as I got older, I realized that yes--drumroll--even parents made mistakes! The first stage of growing up.
But they were able to apologize. Humbly and honestly, without making excuses or grudging the apology, simply admitting they had done wrong and needed to be forgiven. This was something I couldn't have imagined bringing myself to do, what more if I put myself in their shoes as the parent, as the authority figure; didn't it, humanly speaking, logically speaking, undermine everything they'd been working for--earning their children's respect and obedience, showing their wisdom and authority--?
This was something I couldn't understand how they could bring themselves to do. Heck, as a teenager apologizing was something you hated having to do, and didn't see other people do. It was literally telling the world that you weren't the perfect image you tried so hard to convince others you were. That stuff hurt. Not in a glamorous way either--it hurt in the most embarrassing, unattractive way. I remember brainstorming glamorous injuries for my lead characters in so many of my stories; broken collarbones were a favourite, they were non-fatal and yet impressive enough (sorry nurses, I know I'm probably being idiotically ignorant and unrealistic here.) Well, apologizing was like giving your lead character diarrhoea in the middle of the climax. There is nothing glamorous and everything to dislike about it.
And that, I slowly realized, was what dying to yourself meant. The Bible kept using that phrase and I always felt it a bit extreme, like those Taiwanese soap operas where every slap or punch or kick is replayed five times from different angles, in slow-mo...when you try to convince your mom it's bad enough to warrant skipping school for the day--"I feel like I'm dying! Serious, mom! "
Apologizing in today's culture--where appearances are so important, where insecurity and the pursuit of glamour and popularity are so prevalent--is like dying. Shooting yourself in the foot, as some worldly-wise people would doubtless say. "You're just showing that you're soft, and that they can treat you like a doormat! Even if you did make some mistakes, so did they, and if you apologize, they're going to assume it means you're accepting responsibility for everything, and they'll happily treat you as if you're responsible for their mistakes--they're never going to face up to what they did wrong--"
But that's why it can make all the more impact. I saw this (below) on Pinterest and found it very moving for that same reason. It's so rare when someone is brave enough to apologize, humbly and honestly and sincerely. Especially if you are put in a position where one's 'face' is important. The next time you face an opportunity to apologize, don't just forget conveniently about it or get away with a cup of coffee or an awkward shoulder pat. It feels like dying, but as John 12:24 reminds us, death can be the start of something new--something far greater--something far more alive.
Next to King David, Nehemiah is my favourite Bible character.
Somehow the rare first person narrative voice (ooh this echoes finals and all the essays I've been writing) really made me connect with him. As you read the book of Nehemiah you find yourself identifying with and rooting for this tough, purposeful, hard-working, incredibly brave man (even if you discern a kind of no-nonsense personality and intensity that probably wouldn't make him the most fun person to have around; but then. Nehemiah's life work didn't exactly encourage cheerfulness and jokes. And I suppose you couldn't become the king's cupbearer without having plenty of nasty palace politics and intrigues to depress you along the way.)
I love how he could come straight from the luxury of palace life, the inactivity of a job that was basically just being the guinea pig for someone's food and drink, and waiting on the king with bated breath, to the roughness of life among the ruins of a city trying to rebuild itself, and taking command of a whole race and culture of displaced, aimless people. Not everyone can transition so rapidly and effectively between such different worlds. Clearly Nehemiah was one of those steady, secure people who remained the same under changing circumstances.
Towards the end of chapter 5 there's this interesting bit where he tells about the demands he could have made on the people in his official position as governor, and how instead he footed the expense of feeding all the people working for him. He doesn't brag about it. In fact one of the most striking things to me about Nehemiah's record is how matter-of-fact he is about everything--the good and bad. He states it in a straightforward, factual manner and then moves on. The way we write in our diary, not bothering to explain or take pains that it should come across in a particular way; versus the way we tell it to a friend, when we get a lot more self-conscious and self-involved. It reflects the way he addresses God directly, making the whole book seem like a personal, direct account to God, rather than a historical record that he was aware people might be reading still hundreds of years later. I think that's one of the reasons the book of Nehemiah fascinated me so much when I first read it--it came across as a direct, personal, honest account to God; a private dialogue between Nehemiah and his God. That's how he sounded like when he concluded chapter 5 with
"Remember me, my God, for good, according to all that I have done for this people."
Similar to verse 15's "...but I did not do so, because of the fear of God."
I appreciated the reminder that that's the way we ought to live as Christians. Our generosity, our kindness, should be based simply and completely on our fear of God. Not based on expectations that others will give us approval or support in return, have it reflect well on us. Simply because we know that God is real, and we actively live out that knowledge, applying it in our respective roles and positions, as Nehemiah did in his--both as a cupbearer and governor. Even when it requires sacrifice; perhaps of what we could rightfully have demanded, but forfeit out of empathy for others. Simply doing what we know is right, in being a trailblazer even when it seems impossible, when it seems too hard. Nehemiah risked his life, dedicated his life to fulfilling what seemed an impossible dream to the other Jews in their scattered and disempowered state.
What he did right, and the wrong he didn't do--both stemmed from the same reason.
Simply because we fear God. Whatever that may mean for you and I in our respective contexts today.
a small voice
Ci thinks some of God's greatest blessings to mankind are