Open Letter to My Non-Christian Family and Friends
Dear family and friends,
I am sorry. I have failed you. Time and time again I have let you down. I have not cared for you as I should. I have been selfish, putting my own comfort ahead of your well-being. Even now, I’m choosing the easy route, typing this out rather than saying it directly to you.
Please forgive me.
I know it seems strange that I became a Christian, that I attend church every Sunday, that I teach our children God’s Word, that I believe in God’s creation of the earth in seven days thousands of years ago, rather than millions. I know it probably seems like I was brainwashed, that I drank some bad koolaid, or something. I know the eye rolls and the sighs that probably happen behind my back, because I used to do those same things and think all these negative things about Christian friends back when I was an atheist.
Thing is, it’s not about my being right. We Christians don’t go around all high and mighty, because we want to gloat and rub others’ face in their condemnation. Most of us don’t, anyway.
Here, let’s look at it this way. Maybe this can better illustrate what I’m trying to explain…
We are all, from the time we’re conceived, trapped in a river.
Please, bear with me. The analogy may not be perfect, but I think it works.
See, that river has a strong current, one we can’t escape on our own, one that — if unchecked — will eventually sweep us over a massive waterfall where we will die a slow, agonizing, painful death. Yes, I told you it’s not perfect… shhhh.
That current? That’s sin — original sin we are born into ever since Adam and Eve stepped into that proverbial river and mucked everything up.
They may have gotten us into this mess, but God does desire all of us to be saved. He is a merciful and loving God who wants to rescue us from the undertow. But our God is also a God of order and laws which forbid unholy people from having eternal life with Him. His answer: Jesus. Jesus — pure, Holy, both God and Man — came to take our place, to pay our debt, to go over that waterfall for us so we wouldn’t have to, to clothe us in His holiness so we could one day stand before God the Father and be presented as Holy and Clean and have eternal life with Him — something we don’t deserve, but a gift He freely gives us.
Back to that river…
See, we’re stuck in that current, fairly unaware that anything’s wrong. We’re enjoying the scenery, marveling at nature and life, pondering what might be coming around the bend. We can’t save ourselves. In fact, more often than not we don’t even realize there’s anything we need to be saved from. So we float along, blissfully unaware — or semi blissfully, perhaps.
Until one day God throws us a life preserver — His Word. Holy Scripture. Life-giving, faith-creating Truth. We don’t ask Him for it — remember, we don’t even realize we need to request it — He throws it to us in His own time. For some, that life preserver hits them squarely. They hear the Word, which creates faith in Christ Jesus, and they are saved from hurtling over the edge. Others may initially be caught by the preserver, faith is bestowed, but then the river loosens their grip until they’re convinced to let go, leaving their faith and salvation behind. Still others insist they don’t need that life preserver at all and knock it away when it’s thrown to them, resolute in their belief that they can either save themselves from the current or that the edge up ahead doesn’t actually exist or won’t be that bad.
So what does this all mean for you and me?
In life, we’re all floating along together. We aren’t segregated into Christians and non. We are all in the same river, working together, serving one another, laughing and talking and living together. Those in the life preservers are still in that river… that undertow still nips at us now and then, as much as we’d prefer to believe it didn’t. We look around at those going without the life preserver, and we worry. We ache. We pray.
And all too often, that’s all we do.
We don’t want to point out our life preserver that’s protecting us from eternal pain and agony. We don’t want you to think of us as gloating and boastful of what we have that you don’t. We, too often, want to pretend like our life preserver is invisible, or perhaps that it’s just as good as your ability to tread water. (It’s not.)
We are so wrapped up in making the ride down the river pleasant for all of us, not wanting to spend the little time we have fighting, arguing, or making things awkward between us. So we smile and nod. We hide our life preserver from you, and if we let it show ever, we quickly cover it up so it won’t dare offend you.
But all the while, we wish we could share it with you.
We wish we could somehow take ours and create an identical one for you from it, but we can’t. Not really. God does allow us to throw life preservers to you, by sharing His Word with you and inviting you to church to hear it. We pray to God that He would throw you a line, and that it would take hold to save you. But we can’t hold onto that life preserver for you. We can’t force it around your neck. We can’t keep the undertow from convincing you to let go of it once we’ve handed it to you.
And unfortunately, we so often simply give up and stop trying to help.
We get called bigots, because we dare believe the life preserver God has given us does save and that the current of sin that surrounds us all is a problem to be overcome. We’re told to be more open minded and encourage our friends and family to keep treading water, because it’s their choice; to not raise our children in a life preserver, because we should want them to grab a hold of it on their own when they’re ready; to live and let live — you know, until we all come to that edge of death we will all face.
We get asked how we Christians could bear to believe in something that would condemn those we love — our mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, grandparents, dear friends — to hell simply for not having a life preserver of faith? How can we on one hand claim to love you while on the other believing that you’re damned to hell for not having faith in Christ?
If we didn’t believe that life preserver was the key to salvation — if we didn’t believe that faith in Christ crucified, died, and raised was the key to eternal life — why would we be in the life preserver at all?
What is the point of faith in Christ crucified for our sins, if we turn around and shrug, saying “but you know, you do you… I’m sure your way is just as good… whatever floats your boat.” If that’s our response, then do we really have a faith in Christ, in that life preserver? Or do we see it as a mere fashion accessory and Jesus as just a good swimmer we can learn from?
So here I am, cowardly writing to you using a silly analogy in an awful attempt to share my faith with you, to help you understand that I’m not sitting there in my life preserver laughing at how you’re doomed, or sticking out my tongue at you while singing “nanee-nanee-boo-boo”, or looking down at you for not having what I have.
I want to throw a life preserver to you, because I love you, and like God, I desire you to be saved, too. Unfortunately, I’m selfish, and in the end I chicken out and fail to share God’s Word with you, because I’d rather smile and nod and chat about the weather or that new recipe we liked or the shoes I think would look good on you, all the while praying and pleading with God for your soul to be saved.
I’m sorry I don’t love you as I should. Please forgive me. And if I throw a life preserver your way…don’t dodge it.
Penny Bost Schrum
Vanessa, this is so powerful! Thank you for giving such a vivid picture, for writing so passionately. I read it with a lump in my throat, my eyes moist, both identifying with the “chickening out” and recalling so many lost opportunities in my own life, and also with gratefulness and wonderment at the power of the written word. Scripture, of course — power, indeed! But your words are powerful, too. The beauty of words on a page is that they can be returned to, pondered, savored, “inwardly digested.” May your words indeed be a life preserver for others, as they have been an encouragement to me!
Thanks for taking the time to write this, Vanessa. There were several points reading where I was close to tears, because I know that deep burden that comes along with deep love and wanting our loved ones to be saved from the doom that awaits. God does not wish for anyone to perish, but for all to come to a knowledge of His Son. So he gives us time, and opportunities, and courage through his Spirit, to spread the Word while we still can.