I was walking through Walmart one day this summer when I noticed I was avoiding eye contact with people. Since I’m normally fascinated with people, I couldn’t understand what was going on! I started watching how I interacted with the general public in other ways, and I was horrified. I realized that much as I wanted to engage, I tended to avoid initiating interaction. Whether out of fear of not knowing what to say, not wanting to bother people, not being sure how to engage, or deciding I didn’t have the time, I was running errands and doing everyday life trying not to intrude on people. I’ve been watching the Christians around me, and I’m noticing that this is a common problem. In an age of political, technological, and social upheaval, Anabaptists are still the “silent in the land.” Why are we so quiet, and why do we not engage freely with those around us?
The cultural mentality these days doesn’t help, either. Americans are self-focused. Every time we pick up our phones, open our computers, or power on any of our devices, we isolate ourselves in our own little worlds. Even when surrounded by people, we detach ourselves from interaction and remove our presence from relationships around us. We are our number one priority. We don’t trust people until they prove themselves to us, and sometimes rightfully so, because we expect them to hurt us. We look out for ourselves and protect ourselves at all costs.
How devastating to our culture! We isolate ourselves, trust no one, and take care of ourselves above all else. No wonder we have such a hard time communicating with people who are different than us! The overwhelming mantra of the world today tells us to “find your inner star” and to “be-YOU-tiful” in an extreme attempt to find our worth in our individuality. In a culture of people who just don’t need each other, how can Christians keep communicating, developing relationships, and spreading the truth about Jesus – that He is the only way? How can we overcome the mentality of our culture? I’ve become convinced that there is a very simple answer to this rather complicated question: we are to be approachable, in our attitudes, relationships, and lifestyle.
Approachable in attitude
Anabaptist people have been given a unique ability in the world today we often see as a hindrance. Anabaptists stand out. We are so different from the people around us! We look different, we act differently, we do relationships differently, and we live differently. Instead of being a hindrance, this is an incredible gift! In a world of people seeking to find their own truth, a restful spirit of assurance in Christ is incredibly attractive. The light of Christ can shine through us in ways that it can not if we blend in and disappear in the crowd.
If we grasp this opportunity, count it a blessing, and use it as a tool, we welcome people asking us why we wear that “thing” on our heads, or what the deal is with the “outfits.” I love when people ask me about my veiling. I get excited as I explain it. I want people to ask. How can we communicate to the people around us that we welcome the interaction?
Be approachable. Tuck away your phone. Intentionally make eye contact instead of looking away. Smile. Joke with your cashier, admire the baby ahead of you, say thank you, good morning, goodbye, compliment, appreciate, and communicate. Even seemingly meaningless interactions give people you interact with the assurance that they can talk to you or others about your faith without offending you or risking being made to feel like an idiot by your snobbish holiness. I was shocked to find that this is a common misconception about conservative Anabaptists. Apparently, we’re snobs who think we’re better than everyone else.
Snobs don’t hobnob.
Hobnob actively, purposefully, and joyfully.
Approachable in relationship
I’ve known several people in my life who are remarkably refreshing. I feel a freedom with them to be honest and to really talk about what I’m going through, because I know they won’t judge me or reject me. I trust them, and I know they don’t become that way accidentally. They’re intentionally at rest, they listen, they know they’re not always right, and they’ve stayed soft and open. They’re approachable.
Learn to be at rest. The peace and trust Christians find in Christ’s faithful care stands in stark contrast with the world around them. People at rest ultimately have confidence in God’s provision in their lives, even when they temporarily doubt it. They have marvelous peace about them. It’s as if their spirits are relaxed. Learn to consciously rest in your trust in God. This can also mean being quiet – instead of mindlessly filling minutes, take time to literally be silent. I think God really wants us to sit before Him in silence, without pushing our agendas or demanding immediate answers. When you do this, the people around you start to feel a freedom from you – you subconsciously stop needing to fill the silence or stay busy. One person who did this for me recently was one of my Mom’s cousins. Bonnie sat down on the lawn beside me and just sat there with me. We didn’t say much, but it was remarkably calming. I felt no pressure to make conversation or to entertain her. Eventually, we did start talking, and I found myself talking about some of the hard things I’ve been facing lately. She didn’t even respond much. She was simply a presence, and I felt valued.
Listen. One thing that fascinates me about Jesus is that He knew when to say nothing. Just listen and truly value what people have to say. Simply being a presence in someone’s life is so powerful. Value what people say and believe, even if you might not agree. Listen without formulating a response.
Consider the fact that you may be wrong in some areas of life, theology, and application. Don’t dismiss others’ opinions or beliefs. Treat their opinions with respect, and remember that other people won’t give your belief in Jesus much credibility if they feel like you’ve dismissed what they believe without waiting around to hear their hearts. Admit your failings, especially to yourself, and stay honest about what God has done for you and who you are because of Him. See everything through the lens of who God is.
Keep your heart and mind soft and uncynical. Don’t build walls to keep people from touching you to protect yourself from being hurt. Allow yourself to be hurt! Learn to turn the other cheek. Give your “rights” to Jesus, and live in the freedom of not needing to desperately defend and protect yourself. Learn to trust that God will walk with you through the hurts that will come instead of trying to bubble wrap yourself against pain.
Approachable in lifestyle
Just a few weeks ago, I was going through airport security when a security agent stopped me and asked about the way I was dressed. I beamed and explained to him that I dress the way I do to draw people to Christ inside me instead of my outward appearance. I was so overjoyed, because in that moment, being approachable was the last thing on my mind. I’ve purposely thought about it in public enough that it apparently became a habit, and, hopefully, a lifestyle.
That day in Walmart and the months after have drastically changed how I run errands, relate to waiters and cashiers, and view the people around me. I’m still missing opportunity after opportunity because I chicken out or get distracted, but I’m learning to relax – I’m learning to hobnob. It’s time for the “silent in the land” to stop being silent. It’s time for us to engage. It’s time for us to be approachable: in our attitude, relationships, and lifestyle.
|Danielle Mast lives with her family in Seneca, South Carolina. She is the oldest of five, going on eight, as her family waits for their adoption process to be completed. She loves learning, good conversations, blow pops, fall, and rain. Her everyday goal is to live purposefully, fully satisfied in Christ, as she endeavors to learn to wait. In the future, she dreams of using a cotton candy machine, being more actively involved in mission work, and writing a really good piece of poetry. Danielle’s passion is to see those around her inspired to reach their full potential in Christ.|