A Second Chance Is Still a Chance7:30 AM
“Don’t splash the poor gentleman.”
My daddy said it as the swamp of cousins cannon balled into the pool. I’d never met this poor gentleman before, but yesterday’s swimmers had reported that he came out to the motel pool, reading a holy book, resting in a lounge chair, and was probably Hindu. Just a couple days before, on fire after another Grandmamma-provided theological book, I was itching to grab a passerby by the collar and wildly cry out, “Don’t you want to know Jesus too?” When I heard about the mysterious pool-sitter, I immediately felt that urge again. Maybe I wouldn’t grab him by the collar, but I would strike up an innocent religious conversation.
Face to face, now, I wasn’t so sure.
I’m shy. People try to convince me otherwise, but I’m completely happy to smile at a distance and go on reading my book. I’m content being by myself; I graciously give you the same benefit of the doubt; and thus embarrassing conversations—for both of us—are avoided. If we’re sitting side-by-side in a doctor’s waiting room, I will smile pleasantly and pointedly not say anything. I don’t like striking up conversations about the weather—much less religion.
That, of course, does not mean I won’t answer questions put to me. I’m not anti-social; I can carry a conversation. I just don’t want to be the one to start it. I don’t want to wrongly presume that you like being asked questions of a seventeen-year-old girl who looks like she comes from some huge wacko religious family.
Which is why I shudder at the idea of street evangelism, knocking on doors out of the blue, shoving tracts into people’s cold hands. I know we have the truth, but they don’t know it. I don’t appreciate Jehovah’s witness telling me what to believe, however nicely dressed and polite. Why on earth would a high-up there secularist care to listen to my spiel?
But that too is a bunch of bunk—evangelism isn’t supposed to be peddling of puppies, after all. It isn’t a popularity contest. We’re not selling anything or garnering one’s vote. We’re proclaiming. We’re sharing. We’re witnessing to something we’ve seen, heard, looked at and touched—figuratively speaking.
I believe that. Still. My experience with real-live witnessing has been chasing down people in Walmart or meeting someone you’ve never laid eyes on with, “Hi! Are you a Christian? You sure? Absolutely positive?” The Gospel, I understand, is supposed to be by nature a stumbling block for religious and secular alike. But the Gospel-bearer—he’s supposed to be blameless, shining as a light, giving no cause of offense. Me, I’m terrified my light is broken.
This argument was running through my head full-force when I entered the pool area. I didn’t want to swim. I wanted to share the Gospel. I was determined that if he’d just look up at me, I’d smile brilliantly and confidently say, “Hi! How are you? I was wondering what book it was you’re reading?” And then somehow, the conversation would turn to Jesus and I could unpreachily tell him how much I love my Savior—and how much He loves me.
But I was petrified.
What if he’s mentally saying holy prayers and I’d offend him by talking? What if children are supposed to be seen and not heard in his culture? What if he doesn’t want to talk about his beliefs? What if he’s heard about Christianity before? What if he’s totally satisfied with his religion? What on earth do I do then? (Mainly I was wondering, What if his religion forbids talking to young women in swimsuits?)
And then I knew that the jig was up. There wasn’t any way I was going to be able to pretend I was suave and confident enough to give even the remotest hint of the Gospel, even if I did squeak out a hello.
Despite all my fears, I was terribly disappointed when he put on his loafers, picked up his little holy book and unlatched the pool gate.
“I’m sorry, God,” my heart pounded. “Next time. If someone shows me how. If someone asks me a question first. Come to think of it, if I had a second chance, I’d talk to this gentleman too. I’m sorry. Give me another chance and don’t cross me off Your list quite yet.”
The gentleman stopped, shut the gate and sat back down on his lounge chair.
“Oh, my goodness,” I was thinking. “Just kidding.”
I was vividly afraid. I was afraid of catching his eye and saying hello. I was afraid of not saying anything, and just keep on dangling my legs in the water, wishing and wanting. He was very pensive, not unkind-looking at all. He kept adjusting his shoes, adjusting his book, adjusting his position. I held my breath each time, in case it signaled his exit from the pool area and my palpable fear.
In that stretch of perhaps forty-five minutes, I wondered: Wouldn’t it be ridiculous if he was curious about me and my family—if he saw converts in the making too? Wouldn’t it be awful and ironic if he was searching his holy book, not because he believed it, but because he didn’t know what else to believe? Wouldn’t it be laughable if he was one of those mile-a-minute talkers who only needed a question to get started? Wouldn’t it be terrible if he really wanted the truth and I was too afraid to share it with him?
He adjusted his little holy book, shuffled over to the gate, unlatched it, and without a backwards glance disappeared into the motel.