|Baggage Claim, by Eric Samuel Timm|
Sometimes I'm a little leery of people's conversion stories. It can so easily come across as ten pages of my terribly exciting former life and one sentence of how God rescued me.
For that reason (and several others), I've shied away from writing about "my terribly exciting former life" in too much detail. But here's what I can tell you:
I was raised in a family with no religious center, and I claimed atheism and/or agnosticism from an early age. When I left home at 17 for college, my belief system allowed for nothing beyond the physical world, and I made decisions consistent with that worldview.
I'll let you fill in the blanks there. Whatever you're imagining, you're probably not far off. (Hedonism is one logical outcome of the belief that nothing exists beyond the physical plane and people are soulless meatsacks. Though I probably wouldn't have phrased it that way.)
The experimentation of my freshman year taught me some important and painful lessons, and I entered my sophomore year with a little more caution and a few vague ideas about partying less. But my worldview was essentially unchanged.
Until... well, what happened next can't be explained outside the supernatural.
During the first few weeks of that fall semester, as I met new classmates, new coworkers, new neighbors in the dorm, I was astonished at how genuinely kind they were. I remember actually thinking to myself, "I'm meeting so many nice people this year!"
And one after another, I found out each one of these new friends was a Christian. And I started to feel surrounded.
Which meant there was Someone doing the surrounding.
That thought was completely new to me, and challenged my physical-plane-only worldview. (And it still gives me chills.) But I felt sure that a relationship with God would put other relationships at risk, and the fear of losing those other relationships stood between me and God.
Here's the thing: the Christians I met that fall didn't preach at me. They didn't beat me over the head (literally or metaphorically) with their Bibles. They were honest about their beliefs, and they answered my questions when I asked, and I know many of them were praying for me. But the most impressive characteristic was their acceptance of me, just as I was.
They didn't preach behavior change. In fact, they didn't preach belief change. Some told me their stories. Mostly, they just showed love to me. They lived lives consistent with their beliefs... despite the fact that I was living a life consistent with mine.
And God used their love to break down my resistance.
Years later, I ran across this quote from C.S. Lewis, talking of his own conversion:
In the Trinity term of 1929 I gave in, and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed; perhaps, that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England. I did not see then what is now the most shining and obvious thing: the divine humility which will accept a convert on even such terms.
If there's a take-away message from this whole story, I think it's this: Christians, we're called to love our neighbor, even if our neighbor is a godless atheist who couldn't care less about the message of salvation. (And if "godless atheist" isn't challenging enough, swap in whatever group really gets your hackles up.)
Don't take people's rejection of the gospel personally; keep showing love. (The parable linked to above gives a pretty good idea of what that looks like.) Let God use you to show His humility, and trust Him to do the work in people's hearts.
In the words of St. Francis, "Preach the gospel at all times; when necessary, use words."