My son, Elijah, has a heart as big as the moon, and he wears it on his sleeve for anyone to delight in or to carelessly crack in two. In Chicago we had neighbor boys who made sport of his innocence, luring Elijah out to play a game of hide and seek only to leave him counting and then searching for the playmates who had snickered and scattered away with no intention of returning. Needless to say, their cruelty was infuriating, and I warned Elijah not to go out when they called him. “But why, mom? I don’t care if they only play for a little bit.” And his pleading eyes, lonely eyes, begged me to give the boys another chance.
Elijah and Priscilla were out riding bikes on the sidewalk one afternoon, while I nursed the baby, keeping my eagle eye on their every move from the front steps. Immediately, upon hearing the sound of laughter, adolescent boy laughter as ominous as dark clouds before a storm, I tensed up. My son’s trusting face brightened at the possibility of playing with anyone besides his own sister, and as the boys neared our house Elijah ran to meet them, talking incessantly I assumed about Star Wars, his current obsession. From my post I glared at them, daring these kids to cross me by teasing my son. As they all came closer, I was surprised to hear the actual one-way conversation, differing vastly from six-year-old musings on Darth Vadar. “Do you guys know Jesus?” Elijah was asking. “You should know Him! He loves you. Jesus is your Savior.” I just couldn’t take it, them rolling their eyes and exchanging knowing glances. “That’s enough Elijah,” I called out sternly, “Come on inside.”
It is said that the Emperor Nero tied Christians to a stake, and burned them like torches for the amusement of his party guests. I wish I could say that such accounts brought me courage, but truth be told, these violent depictions tend to leave me nauseous and sad. What is worse is that the tears welling up as I read about Saints enduring brutality and torture for the sake of their faith are, quite honestly, tears of despair. They are tears for myself, tears of fear, tears of weakness and shame. I try to picture it: me in front of a ruthless ruler who is demanding an answer to the simple question, “To whom do you pledge your allegiance?” And I look around me, greedily, at all of the accumulated things and plans competing for that prestigious honor. With so much at stake, with so much to lose, no wonder I am very afraid.
My full belly, warm bed, and opportunities for success are jewels I wear guiltily, feeling garish in front of those so unadorned. I assume of course, with pity, that these gaudy gems are everyone’s desire - like a child relishing a lollipop might feel sorry for his poor parents who must dine on only wine and roasted lamb. But those who have lost everything have nothing left to lose, so they run, sprint, and race for the finish line unencumbered by fear or the weights of this world, pulling and luring and dividing allegiances between earth and heaven. I, on the other hand, must move slowly and cautiously so as not to misplace or have stolen even one of my precious gems, so heavily and precariously fastened around my neck. Here, in my utopia of an existence, it is my intellect, my possessions, and my reputation on the line rather than my flesh, so pale and tender. What I haven’t lost, as of yet, keeps me paralyzed with trepidation.
I am scared to put my dollars in the candle box at Church because I might want them later for coffee. I am scared to approach my lonely neighbor because she may need more from me than I feel up to giving. I am scared to abandon our efforts toward attaining a comfortable lifestyle because I really, really like to be comfortable. I am scared to love boldly, or to support with zeal the tenets of my faith that have become irrelevant and unenlightened in a culture where the word “no” is synonymous with stupidity. I am scared of the rolling eyes and exchanging glances. But mostly, I am afraid of standing side-by-side with faithful martyrs in front of God and His heavenly hosts, stuttering my way through a lame explanation while weeping and groaning with regret.
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.” Blessed are they who untangle themselves from time-wasting, self-protecting, soul-crushing fear, and run and run with freedom. Blessed are they who could never be confused for anything or anyone but a follower of Jesus Christ. Blessed are they who impress upon their children the importance of being uncompromising witnesses to the Gospel. Blessed am I for not being denied despite hiding my offering money, ignoring my needy neighbor, and chastising my evangelizing son. May I be so fortunate for the opportunity to express my gratitude through sacrifice, to carry my cross with conviction.
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