Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Talking the talk: walking the walk

At dinner last night my daughter asked if I believed that all of my mother's family are in Heaven now. I said "Yes". She recalled how she felt when she went into the room at the funeral home where Mum was laid out after her body was brought there while Rachel was still at school. She remembered how she felt jealous that her Grammy was with Jesus, and she was still here on earth. And yet she had never really heard Grammy talk about her faith. She knew that she was a serious Anglican, and had attended the same church for 60 years, and was much beloved by people there. And she knew that my sister and I had had some good chats with Mum in the weeks before she died.

I spoke of the term "inarticulate faith" that I have sometimes heard others use to label Christians who have spent all their lives in churches where they say the liturgy and pray the general confession every Sunday but may never have been led through the Sinner's prayer, or taught the Four Spiritual Laws. I recalled the many stages of my watching over my mother's life through all my years as a Christian. It had often hurt me that she didn't really understand my motives for being a missionary, that she had difficulty seeing me as someone qualitatively different in my life after I grew in a serious way as a Christian. I had come to see that as part of Mum's story, and not about me, but it had still hurt. It had still made it hard to overcome the barriers with Mum to talk with her about Jesus, and encourage her to look forward to being with Him.

But Mum's debilitating cancer and her growing dependence on my sister and me in her last year of life changed a lot of that. I sang hymns to her, prayed with her at times with her request, and I was with her when she died. I could write many stories of the joys and sorrows of life with my mother. But what I am getting at here is that I never did pray the Sinner's prayer with her, or go over issues about her salvation in the way that some other evangelicals might have urged me to do. I knew her too well. She had seen a lot of people who talked the talk and didn't walk the walk, and for many years I think she often lumped me with them. But in her dying days she was glad of everything we did for her, including our prayers, and those she knew came from others.

Mum never appeared to sort out a lot of stuff spiritually or have a deep assurance of her salvation in the way that I do. She didn't seem to find a great joy in her faith in the way that I do. But I believe, just as I know so surely that she is with the Lord, that she had a real, often inarticulate, faith that was there for her deep deep down. I saw her face when she received communion, I felt the humbleness in her spirit as she knelt in church, even though I could be wounded by her sharp tongue soon after. But so much of this may be conjecture and assumption. What is known only to God is what really matters and mattered then.

Something similar was going on with her family too. I remember her mother, my Grammy, asking me to read the 23rd Psalm to her after I had tied her shoes in her nineties. I remembered praying with my aunt, her sister, in her final years, and finding an eagerness to have more assurance of faith. I remember the well worn Bible in my uncle's personal effects returned after his untimely death at the battle of Vimy Ridge. I remember the assurance given to me about my father when I sent someone to visit him in hospital and talk about spiritual things. That discerning prayerful person told me that Dad had been sleeping at the time he dropped in, but he felt the Lord impress upon his spirit that my father did know the Lord, and that I should relax.

Yes, there was a lot of unbelief around in my mainline churched family. Yes, we didn't talk the talk a lot in our family at home or in the extended family. Yes, my father's father was a wonderful Christian Anglican bishop. He definitely both talked the talk and walked the walk. My cousin said of him that when he walked in the room the air changed. And he christened me and all my cousins as infants. His mantle rests upon us. There was faith, and there was lack of faith in our family. Only God knows how much of both.

What I am trying to say is that God knows our hearts, and those of others. We are not the judges of faith, or talking or walking the Christian life. Yes, it's great when there is openness and reality that is clear to all, carried with gentleness and fervour. But what really counts is what is going on inside. Many of us, and especially my family, are and were introverts, despite lives of public service. Questions of faith are intimate. Neither I nor any Christian has the right to barge into people's lives and inflict harsh questions upon them. Our job is to be close to the Lord ourselves and wait for His instructions about each person we meet. And sometimes, especially with family members, those instructions are to relax, to rest in Him, and trust that He knows the whole story, and that is what matters.

2 Timothy 2:19: The Lord knows those who are his.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hi Meg,
You're right that we don't know what goes on in the heart of others. One thing we forget these days is that our parent's generation was one steeped in a Christian culture. It was part of what they did -- the Lord's Prayer was said every morning in school, as one example, the Bible was sworn on in court, etc.

In the face of an increasingly secular culture, I believe that (we) Christians have tended to over-speak faith in an effort to convince others that we are different. I have tons of devout Catholic friends who've never uttered the Sinner's prayer, and yet they consider themselves sinners redeemed only by the grace of God, and walk with Jesus as a brother.

As a man acts, so shall you judge him. It sounds to me like you're pretty safe telling your kids that their grandma is with Jesus :)

Alex

Angcat said...

Hi Meg,
Just a few days ago I read a devotion from Watchman Nee in "A Table in the Wilderness".
He spoke of the thief on the cross and how he never said the sinners prayer, not did Jesus ask him to. But in his recognition of Who Jesus was, he was redeemed.
There were no special words, but a believing heart that uttered all it knew how.
I keep hearing more people speak of this these days.
God bless you.

Meg said...

I had no idea until last night that I would write this post. It just flowed out of me, but it felt like it was years in the making. I am blessed that I could utter it in such a public way, and have it bless others. I appreciate both your points, very much indeed, and agree with you. What a relief that we can come down from out seats of judgment and put Christ there instead. And how important to remember that all our words will judge us.

The Sheepcat said...

God bless you, Meg, for your humility. A beautiful reflection.