"Wow!" the Walmart greeter exclaimed, glancing over my receipt to make sure I had paid for the items threatening to topple off my scandalously full cart. "That's quite the load," she persisted. Really, I just wanted to go home.
It was President's Day, and my family was waiting for me at home. "Well, I have a husband and six kids," I chuckled, hoping to taper off the conversation and make my exit. After all, it was a holiday, and I'd already spent five hours at the office and (unbeknown to Mrs. Greeter) made a full-cart run through Costco.
"Wow! Really? Six kids? You must be shopping all the time!"
Right, hence the two carts full today, I thought. Which is why I really want to go home so I can enjoy hauling it all in and putting it away (insert sarcastic tone).
Then the clincher. "I just can't imagine how you do it," she said, in apparent disbelief.
That's when it happened. I choked on the words. I knew what I should say. The words were right there, but I just couldn't get them out. In a couple of seemingly eternal seconds, my mind raced through three or four witty responses and a couple of sarcastic answers, just for style. Thankfully, the Holy Spirit intervened, and after a brief pause, I instead said what was real and right—the response of my heart.
"By the grace of God." Taking a deep breath, I managed a feeble smile, thanked Mrs. Greeter, and made my way out the door.
Now why in the world was that so hard?
A Gentle Defense
First Peter 3:15–17 makes it pretty clear:
But in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God's will, than for doing evil.
On any given day, as we "work out our own salvation with fear and trembling" (Phil. 2:12), believers have the opportunity to interact with people who may never see the inside of a church building. The working out of our salvation mentioned in the verse above happens through reading the Word and studying, yes. But it also occurs as we endeavor to live our lives in obedience to Christ and for God's glory.
When we're at home with our families, most believers are committed to exercising this obedience, and it's hard! We do it, though, because we know, for instance, that if we're parents we are responsible for our testimony before our children. What's more, we have a strong desire for them to "taste and see that the LORD is good" (Ps. 34:8)!
But as a busy mom, in public I often just want to be anonymous—to escape for a couple of hours, and frankly, not talk to anyone. But the cashier, the greeter, the teller, the bus driver . . . these are people, eternal souls, and we have only a brief moment to impact them for the cause of Christ. We may not have an hour to give, but when they ask, shouldn't we have a couple of seconds to give them our gentle, joyful defense?
When we encounter public opportunities to share the reason for our hope, we have a chance to practice "Apologetics 101." In fact, "reason" from 1 Peter 3:15 is actually apologia in the original Greek text. So in fact, every believer is commanded to be an apologist of sorts!
I've been thinking about why I tend to pass by these opportunities. If you struggle with this, as I do, maybe these will ring true to you:
Of course, having a super-sized family isn't an indicator of holiness, just one of the areas in which my family, in particular, looks kind of goofy to the outside world. Hopefully, as believers we are also distinguishing ourselves with our conduct, our love for others, our words, and more. The comments we attract as a result of being "different" should not be looked on with scorn but as an opportunity to express gratitude to our Lord and to put Him on display before others.
- Instead of sharing the reason for my hope, I'd rather shoot off a funnier, smarter, wittier (and faster) comeback. Publicly expressing thankfulness to the Lord for my circumstances probably won't win me the 2016 "Witty Award" or save me any time, but if there's any chance it might draw someone to Christ, isn't it a precious alternative?
- We'd rather have the pity party. Honestly, when I'm lumbering through town, completely exhausted with a half a dozen children in tow and some well-meaning stranger unloads, "I don't know how you do it," I'm kind of inclined to take the opportunity to have a pity party. But what kind of a testimony is, "Yes, Jesus says take up your cross and follow Me. I did, and I'm really pretty miserable!" The Christian life is hard, no question. Regardless, our first response, even to difficulties and trials, should be praise (James 1:2)!
- Our lives as believers (should) look remarkably different from the world, and sometimes we just want to blend in. But for a variety of reasons, we can't help but stand out! Last week, my husband and I walked into a restaurant with three other Christian couples and some of their children. Our party was composed of eight adults and eleven youngsters, and upon seeing all of the kids the waitress peered around the corner and could be heard repeating the phrase, "Oh no, oh no," over and over. (Imagine her reaction if we had shared with her that our group was actually missing ten children who were left at home for various reasons!)
Moving Forward, Embracing Your Cart
Looking over the three excuses listed above, it becomes clear that the root of each is self-focus and that ugly, pesky pride.
I want people to like me.
I want people to feel sorry for me.
I want to be like everybody else.
But sisters, God has not called us to be applauded or pitied or anonymous. He has called us to be ambassadors (2 Cor. 5:20), and He has told us that it won't be easy (1 Peter 3:16–17). As we move forward, here are two strategies we can employ as we represent Christ in the grocery store, at the ballgame, on the airplane, or wherever our week finds us:
- We can guard what we say. We have just a few brief moments to interact with those outside our narrow circles. Let's bring glory to God with what we say in those moments.
- We can guard what they see. I'm not talking about being fake or putting up a front. We have the power to guard our countenance to make sure that our outward expression is accurately reflecting the joy that comes from knowing Christ. This is our visible opportunity to share the reason for our hope!
So friends, as John Piper might say, "Don't waste your cart!" What opportunities might you have this week to share the reason for your hope? When that inevitable question comes, what response might you prepare in advance to avoid the temptation to self-glorify?