On Labels (I’m a Christian. You’re an Atheist. Can we still be friends?)
I’m a Christian. You’re an Atheist. Can we still be friends?
It’s a question we shouldn’t have to ask, but we still do.
I’ve had friends over the years who’ve held a range of beliefs outside of my Christian faith—Islam, Hinduism, Animism, Judaism, Paganism, and no religious affiliation being a few among them. Some were Christians once and no longer follow that faith. Others are in the opposite situation; they didn’t subscribe to a faith early on, but now follow Jesus. I have family, co-workers from years back, leaders and mentors for whom I hold great respect—and though they may have a vastly different world view than mine, it never affected our ability to remain friends.
Faith is a hot-button issue, I know. And I assure you—I’m sweating bullets over this post.
I’ve never written anything like it. But maybe that’s why it’s on my heart. I’m far more safe, unaware, untouchable, and comfortable in my Jesus-following-box than ever stepping out to confront such a question. But after I’d sat across the table from… listened to… cried with… and looked deep in the eyes of a friend who holds one of those views, I had to reexamine my heart instead of hers.
She knows how seriously I take my faith in Jesus Christ. And now, I know how seriously she takes her belief in Atheism.
Will she still want to be friends with me?
I hope so. I need to believe so. And here’s why…
It’s a heart issue. Plain and simple?
We both have one.
Despite the way we vote in an election, despite to whom we pray and how we choose to live, we both have hearts. We care about each other. I’ve hugged her neck and she’s hugged mine. We’ve cried together. We’ve rejoiced over mutual blessings. We’ve had authentic conversations about my faith in Jesus. In fact, I recall the times she’s listened to what I had to say and was quite respectful. She even read my debut novel knowing that it had the underpinnings of Jesus woven into the story. I knew she held different beliefs than I did, but she read anyway. And that heart—the willingness to be open and love-struck and curious and hopeful as we ask about faith without fear of reproach—that’s been the springboard to loving each other where we are and in the end, sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ with a broken world.
Until we begin to see each other as more than a label… we’ll never be able to love as Christ does.
Be honest—when you look at my photo, what do you see?
A middle-class soccer mom. Blonde hair. Middle-American born and raised.
A woman who, as a Christian, just couldn’t have or love friends who are gay. Or Atheist. Or who have tattoos and blue hair. Or who are so bottomed-out in sin and pain that they’re not sure they’ll ever make it out of the mess they’re in. She couldn’t understand what it’s like to have a different perspective. Or a bank account that no matter how hard you try, you just can’t make it until payday. She couldn’t picture an upbringing outside of church. One in which her decisions and the environment in which she was reared had a big part in the women she’d become one day. One in which she was judged, rejected, abused or mistreated for some part of who she is.
Here’s a news flash… She’s more than what you see. She’s sinned. Made mistakes. Doubted her faith more than once. Learned how to receive the charity of others. Questioned and agonized over “Why, God?” when she saw others in the midst of the most gut-wrenching pain she’d ever seen. She’s blown-it more than once. That’s the Christ-follower in the photo. But here’s what you don’t see:
She has a favorite color…
People who care about her gave her a nickname. Do you know what it is?
She likes coffee from her favorite local shop. Writing. Reading. And loves her family and Jesus, more than anything.
She likes to laugh and though she claims to have a terrible voice, she sings hymns to her three little boys.
She’s a UofM fan by birth and a Fighting Irish fan by marriage.
She misses her Dad something fierce, and still can’t watch a father-daughter wedding dance without crying.
She has memories of times she’s stood by a grave and felt pain so deeply, that it physically hurt.
She’s made mistakes she regrets. She’d feel terrible if there was the slightest chance she’d hurt someone, and didn’t get the chance to make it right.
Hugs are important to her. Tears of someone who’s hurting? Even more important.
She likes to give gifts, ride roller coasters, visit Disney World, and watch every British drama she can get her hands on.
She’s of German, French, Welsh, English, and Native American (Cherokee) descent.
She’s protective of her mom.
Peonies are the most beautiful flowers she’s ever seen.
She thinks Mom is the best (but toughest) job she’s ever had.
How in the world would anyone know these things if they stopped at the face in the photo? Or at how she might vote? Or at American, woman, married, mom, straight, white, college-educated, or author? How could anyone learn about her heart if all they see is a fight when they look at her?
“But what of truth?”
I’ve heard that before.
We’ve got to stand on it and call sin what it is. I get it. Maybe more than you know. But I’m not interested in religion like I’m interested in Jesus. I’ll dig in to Scripture because it’s my life-blood. It’s truth and it’s who I am. It’s the air I breathe because I desperately want Jesus to be alive in me.
We must open our eyes; no one will see past the surface to the Jesus inside us unless we remove the lens of labels.
When I see my friend—my sweet, wonderful, beautiful friend who just happens to be an Atheist—I’m going to hug her. We’ll sit and talk. We’ll look into each other’s eyes and see the person behind the mask. We’ll share. We’ll peel off the labels and dig deep in the heart. She’s going to get my love, my respect, and my prayers that Jesus will one day move in her life. Because that’s what’s important.
She’s my friend, and friends are the family we get to choose in this life.
I choose the family of Jesus Christ over the labels of anything less.
In His beautiful love,