The other day, my husband, Zac, and I went into a retail store and were greeted by an associate. I recognized the associate as someone I used to go to church with years ago. Someone close to my age, with whom I’d spent many years sitting next to in our small little church.
But he had changed.
He was now a she.
I could tell my friend recognized me but didn’t think I would recognize him —her — or was afraid I would. My friend helped me around the store with hands shaking almost uncontrollably the entire time.
My friend was afraid.
Afraid of what I might say if I realized who was helping me.
Afraid of seeing the shocked Christian look of horror on my face.
Afraid of my judgment or God-knows-what Bible verses I just might hurl.
Afraid of being shamed.
And it broke my heart.
So I decided to end the torment and break the silence. I looked up with a big smile and said, “Hey! I know you!”
My friend stood back a bit and sheepishly admitted I was right. I smiled even bigger and said, “It’s so good to see you!”
We talked for a while — a long while actually. I asked about her family, parents, siblings and where she was living. She showed me pictures of family, and we laughed and talked about everyone we used to know. Before I left, I hugged my friend. More than once.
It was more like two friends catching up than about a judgment fest.
I left that store with a pit in my stomach, and not for reasons you may think. My heart was aching because of what the Church has done to people.
Here’s the Deal.
The more time you spend with Jesus, the more you can’t help but start to act like Him. And, guess what? He loves the sick. The poor. The religious. The sinner. He loves them all. And not with the kind of love that says, “I’ll love you but never talk to you because I disapprove of your behavior.”
Jesus wasn’t intimidated by sin, or by behavior society frowned upon. (Remember the adulterer-stoning thing?) Yeah, this is the guy we are supposed to be acting like.
If I’m going to love like Jesus, then I don’t have the right to be uncomfortable. I can’t just walk away and ignore. I don’t have the right to think that I’m better than anyone else because my sin or my issue is kept hidden behind some false religious exterior. If I am going to follow Jesus, I can’t be afraid to walk beside you and learn your story. To feel your burdens as though they were my own. To really listen.
When we left the store, Zac looked at me and said, “How did you do that?!”
I was like, “Do what?”
“You were so normal! Didn’t you feel uncomfortable at all?”
I’ll tell you what I told him: All I felt was love. Like, literally, that’s all.
The more I walk with Jesus, the more normal and consistent it is becoming for me to look someone in the eye and see what others don’t. Nothing mattered to me more in that moment than loving my friend. It’s like all of the crazy love, mercy, joy and kindness that Jesus has poured into me was ready, like a freaking freight train, to come barreling out of me. I saw a person. With a soul. With a story. A person I knew as a friend. Someone whom I cared about.
That’s it. Just simply love.
I can’t help but think what a different world this could be if we decided to really get to know Jesus. Like for real. Like at home, in the car, on the phone — just get to KNOW Him. Because when you get to know Him, you begin to become like Him. In the most natural, organic way. It isn’t forced. It isn’t difficult. It just becomes your normal. The I-am-recklessly-in-love-with-Jesus normal!
We need more Jesus normal. More conversations and fewer judgmental gossip (“prayer”) sessions. More open arms and less closed circles. More eye-to-eye contact and less recited speeches. More people willing to serve, to be humble and admit they are not perfect either.
We are broken and we need healing. When we finally come to the end of ourselves, humbly — that’s where Jesus can begin.
So, here I am, completely imperfect, completely in need of Jesus to do His thing in me every single moment of every single day. And completely convinced that He was and still is the ONLY answer to our brokenness. Whatever it looks like.
Anna McCarthy is an author, blogger and speaker from Kansas City, Missouri. She and her husband, Zac, have four kids and are youth directors in their local church. She blogs about her journey of following Jesus at JustAJesusFollower.com.