It's an interesting time we're living in, even within the Christian sphere. A time where everyone is to be accepted for who they are, what they do, how they live, and the choices they make. Nobody is ever to be made to feel they've done wrong and very little is off limits.
Unless, of course, you don't play by the rules in the way each person, or group of persons, interprets them. If you have a view of your own, or strong convictions (even if they're Biblical) everyone cries foul. But why?
What are we so afraid of?
Have we really gotten so soft that we can't stand for somebody to think differently than we do? Have we gone so far to the left or to the right that we've forgotten people really are allowed to travel that narrow path down the middle? Does someone having a different view really cause us to feel threatened?
Or has someone, somewhere, convinced us that we're supposed to feel threatened by an opposing view?
It's really quite a confusing time for young people who have no idea what they're supposed to think or believe because the church is spewing the same language and ideas as that which is coming from the world at large. Really, can't we do better? Can't we send a more unified message that envelopes all the goodness of inclusivity without the exclusiveness of it?
Because there's more than one way to do almost everything. God has allowed room for individuality without crossing the line into sin. The problem is, we've tried so hard as a collective society to erase the line, that few people even know it exists anymore.
I live as a missionary in Thailand and one day I stood in my kitchen peeling a potato. A Thai friend was working alongside me and she laughed at the way I was doing it. You see, I pull the knife toward me as I peel while it's far more common in Thailand to move the knife away from your body when peeling a vegetable. Does that mean my way is right and hers is wrong, or vice versa? Not even a little bit. And since the Bible doesn't speak much on the exact topic of how to use a knife when preparing supper, there's room for each of us to do it our own way.
Another example of living cross-culturally is that as Americans we wave and hug while Thai people tend to stick to the wai (slight bow of the head with hands pressed together). It's totally possible for us to read the room and understand when allowing our cultural norm to have it's way is acceptable and when it's more appropriate to stick with the Thai way. Neither is wrong and both are completely appropriate, as long as nobody is forced into an uncomfortable situation. Somebody who doesn't want to be touched, shouldn't be touched. Those are boundaries and boundaries are healthy. But there's room for a hug, even in Thailand. And now, when we visit America we find ourselves unintentionally greeting people with the wai, and nobody at all is harmed by the mistake.
But what about when we have different views within the same culture? Like views on how to spend our time, or our money. Views on whether college is necessary or learning a trade is useful. Ideas on how many kids is too many or how soon after marriage a baby should enter the picture. Family planning, vaccination, appropriate ages for dating or getting married. How many trigger words and phrases can I pack in one paragraph, right? I'll stop just short of dragging politics into this because Satan has made sure everything is politicized these days.
What amazes me is how much contention surrounds each of these topics. Whatever happened to the concept of allowing each person to live their own God-directed life? Have we forgotten that the Holy Spirit has plenty of room, within His own Biblical standard, to speak to each of us differently? It's by His design that we're unique beings living unique lives. We don't have to agree with each other on everything (or even most things) to live in unity ... so long as Christ remains the center and we don't get caught up in the peripherals.
This week a friend confided that there have been times during our friendship when she's been concerned enough about decisions we were making to pray specifically about them. But she said she'd almost never felt compelled to tell me she was concerned, because she trusts my connection with Christ and understands the way He leads her isn't going to look the same as the way He leads us. We can be on vastly different paths and still both be walking within the will of God.
How novel an idea is that? Her words were a reminder to me that all is not lost in this battle for reason in an unreasonable world.
My friend gave me an example of something we'd encountered and allowed here in the mission field and she'd been concerned about how it was impacting our young American sons. Rather than confronting me, she prayed for our family, trusting that God was speaking to us and we were trying hard to listen. During the course of our conversation, I shared some things that confirmed for her that God had, indeed, been speaking to us on the very same topic and we'd made changes and adjustments as a result. What a gift to have friends who are praying through their concern for us and choosing to be sensitive to when God asks them to speak up and when He asks them to be still.
Because there's definitely a time and a place, as Christians, to gently and lovingly (even if sometimes firmly) speak up about something that's truly doing harm to the name and character of Christ. And when done so in the right Spirit, we're far more likely to have a good result. I've had things brought to my attention before with the utmost kindness and care and I was able to see where I was wrong almost instantly. This has, in fact, happened a number of times just since we've been here in Thailand.
But in a general, more generic, sense we'd all benefit from surrendering our hold on the lives of other people. If we'd set down the weight of trying to make their choices look like ours, we'd have so much less burden to bear.
There's nothing whatsoever to fear about other people not doing things the way we do them. There is, however, much to fear about attempting to be the conscience of another.
It couldn't hurt to pinky promise that we'll give each other more room to be guided by the Spirit from now on.