In the days and weeks after my mother-in-law’s funeral, there was one question still nagging on my mind: Had I done enough to show her the Savior’s love?
She had heard the Gospel many, many times over the years I had known her and had even come to church dozens of times where the Gospel was clearly preached. Yet, this woman remained closed to the Person and message of Christ. Could we have done more?
Our faith was a sore spot that only became more magnified after our children were born, as we began raising them quite differently from the ways my husband and I were each raised. We were both first generation Christians, saved in our late teens or early 20s. Over the years, there were disagreements and even arguments about matters rooted in our faith. Looking into my own soul, I knew honestly that I was not always the Christian example I should have been. I knew I had responded in the flesh more than a few times.
A friend came over to check on us and see how we were doing following our loss, and in the understatement of the century, she observed, “Family is the hardest mission field of all.”
Some people fear God calling them off to the foreign mission field. Some fear God asking them to go into the remote jungles of Africa or to a dangerous spot within the 10/40 window, where practicing Christianity openly is illegal. Some fear God asking them to give all of their money for the poor. Some worry that, should they surrender to the Lord, He will ask them to sacrifice more than they feel able to sacrifice for Him. Many fear sharing their faith, because the thought of talking to strangers is intimidating, whereas some of us strike up conversations with strangers in check-out lines quite naturally.
I’ve come to see the hardest commandment of Christ, of all of His “hard sayings,” is the commandment He gave to the demon-possessed man He had healed at Gadera. After the man, who had been living among the tombs and cutting himself, was delivered and saved by our Lord, he wanted to go with Christ and follow Him wherever Jesus went.
Jesus Christ had other plans.
He told the man, “No, I want you to go home to your friends and family, and tell them all that I’ve done for you” (Mark 5:19).
Sometimes I wonder if this man’s heart sank the way mine did at the thought of going back home again.
At first, it seemed pretty easy and logical. After I learned about the amazing grace available through Jesus for me, I was telling everyone. Surely my family would be happy to see that I had ended my destructive drinking habits and had gotten myself on the right path. Surely they’d rejoice at the fact that I could finally sleep peacefully at night. Why wouldn’t they also take advantage of this free gift of salvation?
The reality of sharing what God had done and was doing in my life proved to be not quite so simple as my naive new-Christian view originally assumed.
After spending just over a year living overseas following my conversion while backpacking around Europe, I returned home to some very bewildered parents. While living in Europe, I had gone on several short-term missions trips, and I had helped with church planting projects. I had personally led several to Christ during street witnessing. I had been able to share the Gospel with a good friend of mine from Denmark and see her also trust Christ.
The problem is, my family knew me. They raised me. By declaring myself a sinner who needed a Savior, they felt unintentional condemnation from me for my upbringing. When I talked about my former alcohol problem, they were defensive about their own drinking. When I talked about my public profession and baptism, they reminded me I was baptized as an infant, though we rarely went to church after that. When I talked of becoming a Christian, my confused family defensively asked, “But you’ve always been a Christian. Are you saying that I’m not a Christian?” Sharing my testimony of how Christ saved me and is changing me made them argue with me as to what was so bad about how I was living (and how they were still living) that I needed to be changed.
Witnessing to total strangers on the street, I learned, was initially a little bit more intimidating yet easier in the long run because there’s no personal history to work through. There’s very little personal risk. If someone rejects my message, I haven’t created a rift in a vital relationship, and I’ve not caused that person to resent me personally. They clearly are rejecting the message of Christ and not necessarily rejecting it because of their personal history with the messenger.
Sharing my faith with my family and those friends whose lives I once shared was more like delicate surgery. Say the wrong thing, and a door may close forever, and a friendship may end. Family and friends were more easily offended, I discovered. Many negative parts of my old life that I was turning from, they were still engaged in, and defensive about my rejection of those bad habits they still practiced.
As a baby Christian still trying to make a break from destructive habits that once had ensnared me, being around the same people with whom I once engaged in those habits made me uneasy, too. I loved my friends and family, but I didn’t like the way my old self seemed to re-emerge when I was around them. I was thankful to finally be free from alcoholism, and time spent with family members who were rarely without a beer in hand caused an internal battle within my own heart in my early Christian walk. There was much conflict between my love for family, and my commitment to live a life free from the yokes of bondage which once held me prisoner.
Frequently, the nice Christian guys I would meet would run for the hills soon after meeting my family, such that I stopped letting any potential mates find their way to family get-togethers too soon into a relationship. Most of them were apologetic, but admitted that the biggest issue for them was regarding the potential future grandparents of any future children. I hadn’t given that issue much thought at the time, but after my own children came along, it did become a huge issue.
I finally met a great Christian guy who was also saved as an adult, with a somewhat off-the-wall family. One set of our parents nearly didn’t allow us to get married, because they wouldn’t give the blessing on our marriage until we had lived together at least a year. Thankfully, after hearing the reason for withholding their blessing, our pastor married us anyway.
Our married lives as new, first-generation Christians involved not only the normal challenge of learning to work together as a couple, blending two different people together into one new family. We also had the added challenge of learning to strike a balance of loving our families, but honoring the Lord in areas where they may disagree with us. For many in our families, our faith represented the very thing that drove a wedge between us and them. We’ve had to continually learn how to build bridges while standing for our faith and helping our families see what Christ has done for us.
One of the biggest challenges, for me, has been the long-term commitment and faithfulness required in being a witness to our family members. I, like many people, tend to like immediate results, or at least results that don’t span years, if not decades.
However, the Lord has reminded me over and over again that my job isn’t to make them choose Him, but to simply keep sharing, with my life and my words, about the hope found in Christ alone. Any fruit that comes about is up to Him.
People can choose to reject or accept the message of Jesus Christ, but our own responsibility is found in being faithful to share the message with them as clearly as possible. This is true whether we have five minutes on a subway to share with someone or 20 years’ worth of family get-togethers to be a consistent witness.
All of the missions trips I’ve been on over the years, even into dangerous areas, have been easy by comparison to the hardest mission field of all: family.
Copyright 2010 Kimberly Eddy. All rights reserved. International copyright secured.