My friend Nicole, who blogs at A Reader's Rumination, once again linked me to a meditation on Boundless that reminded me of something I wanted to share.
Disclaimer: While I'm hardly the best example of living a Christ-filled life, I do try to be a good person, and I do think that behavior is the best witness of all if you want to share Christ (or anything else) with someone. Being at peace will draw others who naturally want to know how you manage it. I find my strength in my husband and my friends more than in God directly, but I appreciate His work in others' lives and I wanted to share how my own experience with finding joy fed into someone else's interpretation of me (and made me an inadvertent witness to the gospel):
I had a horrible headache the other day. My sinus headaches come and go, and they're not so much painful as disorienting, making it harder to focus and making my entire head feel stuffy. But I was at work, and work is customer service - focusing on someone else's needs, doing what I can to make them happy. I tried my best to get through the day with a smile for my own sake as well as everyone else's.
It surprised me that I managed it at all, and I was worried that I was coming across as fake, too cheerful or too forced at times because it was all I could do to keep smiling if I stopped to think about my headache. I found two things: first, if I focused on the customer and not on the pounding in my head, the pain wasn't so bad. Second, if I stopped complaining and started focusing on little joys, like making a good connection with someone, finding the perfect shade of lipstick for her to wear at a wedding or successfully teaching a new makeup technique, I didn't seem fake at all. Even if my smile felt forced to me, the women I waited on saw someone genuinely focused on their needs. They smiled more, too. They complimented my customer service. It didn't take away the pain of the headache but it did reinforce that my attitude was more important than my physical presence. Anyone could have helped them pick a lipstick, but not everyone could have done it with a good attitude.
The last compliment I got was from a profusely thankful woman who told me that I was not only a good salesperson but clearly a good person overall, and as I was closing the sale she leaned over the counter and asked conspiratorially: "Are you a Christian?". She took me by surprise. I didn't think I gave off a Christian vibe, with my bright purple nail polish and complete lack of religious jewelry... but I guess it was my attitude that she found Christian-like.
I'm not sure if I lied when I said "yes". I don't read the Bible much and I don't fear God (I do love our creator, whether he/she/it is the ideal of a Christian god or not). I don't attend a Christian church (or any church at all). I have friends who do those things, which might make me a Christian by association if nothing else. But I think in the larger sense of the word - a "follower of Christ", not someone who attends a certain church or reads a certain book - that I am in fact Christian. I try to live by a moral code which includes many of Christ's teachings - love and kindness toward others, appreciation of the many good things I am given, and reflection on the nature of God and the lessons of the Bible. I appreciate Christ's story for what it tells us about Him and about ourselves. And I'm trying to live up to His example not because I'm told to but because it's a good example for everyone, Christian or not. I don't think Christ complained much, and He kept working even if people didn't always show appreciation for His work.
Compliments are rare in the service industries and it's easy to get bitter and gripe and moan about your headache, the poor pay, the long hours on your feet and the seemingly distant attitudes of management. Co-workers often feed into the negativity, supporting complaints with listening ears and complaints of their own. I know a few who are so negative that you can almost see the cloud they've hung over their heads like a warning sign: There's no sunshine in my life! Stay away!. Most of them claim to be Christians. Few of them realize what their poor attitude says about their commitment to Christ. I think my customer was one of the few who understood what an attitude can say.
I probably wouldn't have lost the sale if I had said "No." She might have been surprised, but I don't think it would have caused an uproar. It isn't very Christ-like to lie, even when you're unsure of the answer. I could have said "I'm not sure." I don't think I would have offended her. I don't know why I said "yes". Maybe to feel like I belonged to her group of "good people", maybe because sharing religious beliefs is not something I expected to be doing between sales on a very busy day. It was easier to say yes than explain my complicated stance on religion and religious labels.
Looking back, I think that if she takes away my behavior as a good example of what Christian behavior should be, it won't have done any harm. After all, aren't we supposed to find joy in life? Aren't we supposed to celebrate our being and the little miracles and accomplishments of each day? If Christians are supposed to follow Christ's example, we need to be doing a lot more loving and a lot less declaring of war. Christ never led nor fought in a holy war even against the least of his enemies. Even the money-lenders and vendors in the temple were not hated, only admonished and the animals driven out*. He did not complain about them later to his friends. He did not let his suffering get in the way of his love, his joy, his peace. Neither should we.
Question of the day: Are you a Christian? Or are you Christ-like?
*Here's a good reference with a discussion of the Cleansing of the Temple and its symbolic language, which indicates less violence than readers might originally see in the story: Christian Think Tank