Christians as Real People
- Hännah Schlaudt Crosswalk.com Editorial Assistant
- 2009 9 Sep
As we compared notes on the various churches we had visited, my friend began to tell me about one she had attended for a while. "The folks there always ask how I'm doing, and seem to really mean it, but I never feel like I can actually tell anyone that my husband and I had a blow up in the car, that I don't want to have my quiet time today, and that I feel just horrible. It's as if I have to pretend I have it all together, or they'll judge me or something. I mean, they have it all together, as far as I can tell!"
She paused and then sighed, "It's like they're not real people. I need to know they're real people."
People are broken; we need Christ and his truth. But if Christians refuse or fail to be genuine with those who are thirsty, the Living Water is quenched, and they will look elsewhere for help. My friend's struggle at this church drove her to leave and look for fellowship elsewhere. She's not the only one I've known to abandon friendships with believers because they felt put off by fakely perfect Christians. The "Elsie Dinsmore" Christians unintentionally ostracize the "Anne Shirley" types, and God's truth is sold short.
Perhaps some of this is just misinterpretation of people, but I think it's deeper than that. I've been on an adventure this last year, trying to figure out what it means to be "real" and why that matters. I want to be a real person; I've been studying the most "real," grace-filled people I know, and I'm finding that it mostly comes down to two factors: humility and honesty.
Humility: "Do unto others . . ."
My mom's favorite correctional catchphrase is "Do unto others…" referencing Luke 6:31: "And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them" (ESV). Living this concept requires humility -- you're assuming that everyone else is either equal to you or of greater significance. Paul calls for the latter assumption in Philippians: "Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves" (Phil. 2:3, ESV). Anyone who practices this brand of humility is immediately engaging and wins the trust of those with whom they interact. A heart of humility overflows with concern for others first. This is always first the mark of a real person, one who loves Jesus enough to love others, even undesirables, first.
I heard a story once about Amy Carmichael where there was a disgusting, menial chore that had to be done, and Amy quietly took it on when others scorned it as beneath their dignity. Amy's humility was disarming, and those who had refused the task found themselves drawn to her example of selflessness. Ultimately, her humility was so winsome that these people were saved. I want to be humble enough that people see Jesus' love through me, as through a clear window - just like Amy.
If you're struggling with something, you're probably not going to want to ask the woman who seems perfect for help; you may be too proud or too shy. I would prefer to talk to someone who's struggled with this issue and overcome it. Real people seem to be those who are frank about their struggles, but only because they know this: God's grace overcomes weakness, and he receives glory when the believer testifies of her failings and his faithfulness. When a friend tells me of her struggles with sin, and how God is giving her grace in that area of her life, I know that she will be supportive and encourage me in truth if I ever walk a similar path.
I hope to "sin boldly" (as Luther suggests) so that grace is made more glorious in my life. This doesn't mean that I'm going to sin and abuse grace; this means that I'm not going to hide my sin and pretend that I have it all together when I don't. I'll ask for prayer and for help. As God meets me in my struggle, he will get the glory for turning things around in my heart, because anyone who knows me will see that it's not by my strength or willpower.
What Does a Humble, Honest Approach to People Look Like?
Some of the ways humility and honesty are applied by the "real" Christian person include:
Practicing honesty will also result in asking hard questions. If I'm being real, I won't hide behind trivialities but will ask myself and others hard questions that reveal what I'm believing and what my motives are. One of my friends is especially good at this. She asks things like: "Why are you assuming that? What are you believing about God right now that isn't true? Are you your own, or are you the Lord's? How can you extend grace in this situation?" The astounding thing about this very "real" girl is that she welcomes such questions being turned on herself. Another aspect of humility is being open to accountability, and her humble earnestness in following Christ has rendered her as a sharpening iron for everyone she meets as she stares truth in the face and asks thoughtful, probing questions.
When I make the effort to really listen to someone and ask the hard questions (gently), I'm not doing it to wrench the sordid details of their hearts for my own curiosity. It's a way I demonstrate that I really do hear what they're saying and that I care about how they're doing.
The humility of a real person not only allows for flaws to be seen and accepts the same in others, but is patient with weakness. When I'm fighting a sin, the battle usually is not going to be won overnight. I have to be patient with myself and not become as dismal as Eeyore when change isn't instantaneous. And I must extend that same grace to others. Sanctification is a lifelong process, fraught with repetition and ordinary problems. I've got to be willing to forgive over and over, as Christ has forgiven me. Instead of being irritated when my brother sins against me in the same way he did yesterday, I need to pray for him and trust that God is at work. Sometimes transformation occurs at an astounding rate, but I usually encounter the world of ordinary people with ordinary struggles. Grace is at work there too, but it's often much more subtle.
A real person is humble enough to laugh. Sadly, I'm discovering there is a population of Christians who believe it is terribly undignified to laugh. But people are odd, awkward, droll things, and there's a host of foibles that deserve a good laugh -- especially when I consider myself. If I find myself being persnickety about something small, I could choose to label it as mild obsessive-compulsive behavior in an effort to maintain my dignity. Or I could just laugh at my own silliness so I can move on to what really matters. Does it really matter that everything has to be just so, or that my sister caused me to be five minutes late because she had my hairbrush? Probably not. I want to have Jesus' eternal perspective and value what he values, not the silly things upon which I've been fixated. He's probably laughed politely at my pettiness -- maybe I should, too.
In the end, our testimony to the work of grace in our lives determines how those watching us are going to see God. If I'm pretending to be perfect, I shortchange my relationships as well as God's grace. He's not getting the glory he deserves, and those around me aren't getting the genuineness they deserve. If I belong to the Lord, I have to live in a way that illuminates that truth. Being a "real person" means laying down my pride and being vulnerable. It gets messy; but Jesus didn't come to the healthy, but to the sick. I'm broken on my own and whole by his great grace. Being real means letting that show until you can see how frail I am apart from my Savior's might.
Hännah Schlaudt is a student at Grove City College where she is the junior editor of The Quad Magazine. She may also be found climbing trees or standing on her head. Grace, light, and words intrigue her, and she wants to be like Amy Carmichael if she ever grows up.
Original publication date: September 16, 2009