"I was talking about you to some friends of ours last night."
"Oh yes?" I said, paranoia beginning to set in. "What about?"
"Well, I was using the illustration of putting your hand into a bucket of water and pulling it out. When your hand goes in the water moves up about it. What happens when you pull it out?"
"The water goes back to the way it was before," I replied, wondering what on earth it was about me that reminded her of a bucket of water.
"That's right. The water shows no sign of change. Many people move through life like that. Very few people make any lasting impact on a situation, I was telling my friends about how you were one of those people who had made a lasting impression on our work situation and the people you work with."
I was stunned.
For the past twelve months I had been working on a part-time basis in a government work rehabilitation unit, doing my best to be a shining light but feeling like a pencil torch with a flat battery.
I worked in an office full of avid "new-agers," surrounded by subliminal "energy" and "healing" tapes, room ionizers, crystals, new-age books, posters, philosophies and therapists, and the attitude that "if it works, use it." Chris was right in the middle of it all.
When I first met Chris, I was somewhat in awe of her. A core member of the "inner circle," Chris dressed with class, was extremely professional, sat on inter-departmental panels and had a typical social worker's view of Christianity; that is, if you evaluated why you held your Christian beliefs, you wouldn't hold them. And here she was saying I had made a lasting impression.
As I thought of Chris's words, I contemplated the goals I had set for myself when I began work.
One of my primary goals when starting work was to form genuine friendships with my fellow employees. While I saw this as the first step towards sharing my faith, I wanted it to be clear in my own mind and to my fellow employees that our friendships certainly did not hinge on their ultimate conversion.
Most of my fellow employees had many barriers against Christianity. Christians were seen as negative, unrealistic, boring "shalt riot's" who were totally unaccepting of the beliefs of others "less holy." In order to break down some of those barriers, I concentrated on being genuine and natural, ignoring the pre-existing group barriers and treating everyone the same.
A common comment that was fed back to me was that I could move freely between the subgroups where others couldn't. I also believe that taking a humble, ready-to-learn approach helped to defuse a lot of the stereotypical pictures my colleagues had of "know-it-all" Christians.
One of the most damaging things to a Christian's credibility is when actions don't follow words. To make any sort of impact on others, behavior needs to reflect beliefs, especially under pressure.
My decision not to swear was quickly noticed, but not really commented on by my fellow employees as being something different. My ability to go blindfolded through a team-building rope course without swearing, however, became a major topic of conversation . . . at work and at home! The team even discovered they could really enjoy a clean joke!
Take responsibility for your beliefs.
Many Christian clients had refused therapies offered to them because they conflicted with their conscience, but still expected their case managers to find them a cure without any tools. While making that good decision to stand up for their beliefs, many Christian clients had actually shed poor light on Christianity because they were not then taking responsibility for the fact that one of those therapies may have been their "cure."
As a Seventh-day Adventist Christian, I was unable to attend several training programs and staff incentives/rewards because of the Sabbath hours. I made it clear to the staff I was quite happy to do this rather than compromise my beliefs. The staff also knew I was turning down a lot of work which would have really helped us financially, rather than put my son into daycare with someone who I could not be sure would uphold my beliefs in Christian child-training.
Present your beliefs in a positive manner.
"But you can't be. You're so normal!"
This was the reaction of a fairly new staff member who had just finished berating Christians and then been told that not only was I a Christian, but a minister's wife as well!
Christianity needs to be presented as a credible and desirable option, emphasizing the benefits rather than the "shalt nots," and even presenting the "shalt nots" as a positive choice or a price worth paying rather than a millstone around the neck. "There is nothing appealing about a critical or negative Christian."
While it is important to express honesty regarding life's problems, it is also important to express confidence in a future that really matters and to demonstrate that Christianity works and gives practical help in achieving a fulfilling, complete life here and now.
Finally, thought-out reasoning for beliefs carries a lot more weight than standard Christian clichés.