Being a Christian in an Atheists' World
by Sarah Catherine Straw
I tried to stay composed as my stomach dropped to the floor and I held back the urge to get up and run from the room. You can rest assured if I had been able to make my legs move, I would have run and I wouldn't have stopped outside the classroom...I would have run outside of the building, down the street, out of town – who knows when and where I would have stopped.
It felt like hours passed but, in reality, it was probably only a second or two....regardless the silence was deafening. A pen dropping to the floor sounded like the loudest cymbal crash I had ever heard.
One of my professors takes attendance by asking us thought provoking questions and then when he calls out our name we are supposed to answer them (a much fancier version of simply saying “here!” when called). Today's question: what piece of literature or writing has most impacted and shaped our moral values?
“To Kill a Mockingbird.”
“The Catcher and the Rye”
The stares of the entire class cut through me like shards of glass – I felt as if I were naked in front of a crowd—exposed, vulnerable, terrified. I had contemplated not saying it. I almost changed my answer to something that was more like other people's responses. But at the last minute, something in my gut told me, “Don't let Satan win this one! He wants you to stay quiet and not be proud of the woman you are in Christ.”
My professor slowly and with a hint of what sounded like skepticism, “Hmm...interesting., Any book of the bible in particular?”
My mind went blank and I couldn't even think straight so I blurted out the first one that came to mind, “Ephesians.”
“Oh wow, very interesting.” and then he turned to the rest of the classroom, “Has anyone in here read any of the New Testament.”
I raised my hand and glanced around – sure that others would follow suite.
There are 17 other students in my class.
I was the only one who raised a hand...cue the massive urge to flee the scene.
This is just one of many examples where I've found myself surrounded by a crowd of people who don't believe in Christianity. When I was younger, it was much more difficult to decipher those who were Christians from those who weren't – primarily because I wasn't as outspoken about my faith and so I never faced direct conflict involving my beliefs. When I was in middle school and high school it was so much easier to fit in with the crowd than it was to stand out. There were some times where I knew that the people around me were doing and/or saying things they shouldn't and not only did I do nothing, occasionally I even joined in.
Sometimes our faith, which typically has wonderful powers of connection, can actually make us feel isolated and alone. In a world that has become so heavily dominated by a luke-warm Christian mentality or even worse, atheism, it can be difficult to know how to love others, where to set boundaries, and how we can stand strong in our faith in the midst of unbelievers.
I don't pretend to have all the answers as to how to best love others – especially those who aren't Christian. But I do believe it's possible.
I believe that the key to loving anyone else – especially those who aren't believers, is to always remember that God is the ultimate judge. We are not. We are called to love, not to judge. We are called to speak truth, not slander others based on their beliefs (or lack thereof). We are called to forgive because Christ died so we could be forgiven and washed clean. We are called to lead others to Christ, not to run from them and leave them isolated and alone.
We have been given a huge responsibility and gift within our classrooms, churches, homes, and communities – we know the truth of the gospel. We are blessed to know and believe the good news! Our responsibility is to walk in that truth, not to shy away from it or keep it hidden. We are to walk in the truth, speak the truth, and act in ways that will lead others towards the truth. Many people we encounter in our lives believe that God doesn't exist simply because they have never had access to the same knowledge and resources that we have. Maybe they don't live in a Christian home, maybe they aren't members of a church, maybe their friends don't believe and so they have kept quiet just so they can fit in with the crowd. By speaking and acting in the truth and being shining lights for God's glory, we have the power and capability to offer them renewed hope and to expose them to the mercy and grace of our Savior.
That being said, there are a few exceptions. Proverbs 4:23 says: “Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.”
It is vital that, above all else, we put our relationship with the Lord first and foremost in our life. If reaching out to others or trying to share the Lord with our friends at school or within the community becomes detrimental to our own spiritual wellbeing, we need to know how to set boundaries around who and what we will allow to have influence over our lives.
“Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.”
There's an old saying my mom used to tell me, “You are who you hang out with.” Which means that, the friends and people you spend the majority of your time with will likely be the type of person you become. No matter how hard we try to maintain our values, no matter how solid our beliefs are – if we spend time around people who don't share our same morals and values, then we will eventually falter and weaken in our own beliefs.
So, how can we love others and lead them to Christ all while protecting our own faith?
In order to help others, you must first help yourself.
- You don't have to have the bible memorized or be able to argue deep biblical issues in order to have a dramatic impact on non-Christian people in your life. If you don't feel as though you have solid footing in biblical understanding, you can still have a monumental impact on others just by acting as the hands and feet of Christ. Speak love, be kind, be honest and truthful, be responsible and respectful, etc. Forgive easily, show grace and mercy to others. These are amazing things and even just doing these things will have other people saying, “Wow, there is something special about her. What's different?”
- Make sure that if you are spending time and energy pouring into the lives of others, you have someone who is pouring into you. You can't pour from an empty cup. Investing in other people takes a lot of time and energy. You also need someone to invest in you. Be sure to find a mentor or a solid group of Christian friends who can help to rejuvenate your faith when you're also trying to pour into the lives of other people (both Christian and non-Christian).
- Trust your gut. It's okay to be friends with non-Christians, but be sure you're always checking in with your intuition and your Christian values. We can love others well and still have strict boundaries as to what types of things we allow to influence our lives and how much time we choose to spend investing in people. If something doesn't serve you, you are allowed to walk away. Often times, walking away is the harder of the options presented, but it's important to put your own faith first in your life. You are the only one who can know where you are at in your relationship with Christ. Be your own advocate!
- Allow the Word to be your solid footing. When in doubt – check in with your bible! The bible was written so that we could grow and develop a deeper understanding of the story of Christ. It is His gift to us and we must spend time investing in it and learning from it. If you find yourself in a situation where you're not sure what to do, what to say, or how to behave – check in with the Word and get God's take on the matter!
There are no concrete right and wrong answers when it comes to loving others in our lives. We will encounter many toxic relationships with both Christian and non-Christian individuals. Our primary job is to protect our own faith, but we are also called to love others and to invest in their lives. It's important to remember that we are called to act, speak, and live like Jesus did in order to best love others and lead them to a grace-filled relationship with Christ. It's vital that as we pour into the lives of others, we also have other people who are willing to pour into our lives. It's so crucial to have a strong Christian support system as we embark on the journey of trusting our guts and living our lives in this world that is ever in need of God's saving grace!
Go out into the world, love and invest in others, find those who will invest in you, trust your gut, set solid boundaries, and stand strong on the foundation of the Word!
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, 'Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?' Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
― Marianne Williamson