Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Zippo vs. Blowtorch

When I was 3 years old, I sang this song in Sunday School:
This little light of mine, I'm going to let it shine.
Hide it under a bushel? NO! I'm going to let it shine.
Don't let Satan blow it out! I'm going to let it shine.
Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.
I don't know if I could define "bushel" even now, but the message of the song is still burned in my memory: be an example to others and share your faith with people who don't believe.

“Sharing your faith” is a loaded phrase. It’s not like sharing your lunch, or sharing a funny story. When it’s FAITH you’re sharing, things take a drastic turn for the serious. I’ve heard a lot of church-folk use this phrase casually, but the implication when it’s said among Christians is anything but casual. Kind of like “sharing” the Heimlich maneuver with a choking person: “this is going to be uncomfortable for us both, but you’ll thank me later.”

This kind of sharing was a big deal for me when I started attending community college. I was 16, still a high school student, fresh out of home school. It was the first secular setting I'd spent any time in. The same month I started college, my church launched an evangelism campaign that included a media blitz, literature to distribute, training, scripts, and all kinds of impetus to go into the community and save souls.

I believed (and still do) that it was a helpful endeavor, like a search and rescue mission. But in my immaturity and wide-eyed paranoia outside my protective Christian bubble, I obsessed over making every conversation an opportunity. I didn't want to take my salvation for granted, nor deny anyone else assurance about eternity simply by staying silent. But, oh, did it wreak havoc on my conscience. I interpreted every impulse or nudge to speak up as conviction direct from God. It was miserable. "This little light" became an obsession.

In my art class that first quarter, we were allowed to bring CDs to play while we painted. A classmate played an Alannis Morriset album (I was horrified and though I didn't understand any of the lyrics, they all sounded angry). I brought a Jars of Clay mix tape and watched the classroom for signs of recognition or softening.

One art assignment was to find interesting textures around campus. In the library, I used my charcoal crayon and newsprint to transfer the texture of flooring tiles where they formed a "T." I held it up to show my classmate. "Look, a cross!"

I gave the Four Spiritual Laws booklet to another classmate, with some stalker-ish (but sincere) explanation that I wanted him to be truly happy.

On New Year's Eve that winter, I had a panic attack while visualizing another classmate going to hell. I’d never had a conversation with her, but I had her phone number from a class get-together she organized. I called her at midnight. Thankfully, she didn't answer, and by the time I saw her again on campus, the compulsion had passed and I said nothing.

The list of examples goes on.

When I transferred to University three years later, I started attending a campus church that met in a lecture hall. Those of us interested in getting together with a smaller group of peers were divided by dorm into Bible study groups for a second weekly meeting. Our group leader also met with us individually. The focus of the campus group was relationships, built within the three weekly scheduled gatherings. But the relationships were flimsy at best. I started to feel like a number rather than someone these peers actually wanted to hang out with. I felt like a project. It was the opposite of what I was looking for. I began to realize what it felt like to be on the receiving end of sharing.

I'm not consumed anymore by missed opportunities to share. I don't advertise my theological preferences on T-shirts or bumper stickers. Instead, I find myself drawn to subtle expressions of faith in others. People who are sincere capture my attention. Honest admission of struggle (instead of pretending everything is OK) is refreshing. A sense of humor is always appealing. Evidence that someones life has been improved by a relationship with God is more compelling than a speech.

I've stopped shining spotlights into the eyes of everyone I meet. Now I look for fireflies instead.


  1. Good stuff Emily. Good stuff. Loved the last line especially. Very inspiring. Love you!

  2. I love you. I am always amazed at how similar we are. Reading through old college journals for writing inspiration has been so eye opening to how naive I was. I had those same panic attacks of "I have to save this person TODAY!" I cringe to think about it today...