AM I A GOOD CHRISTIAN?
“But I thought you were a good Christian!”, I half-joked as I responded to someone openly talking about his sex life in a group. “I’m a Christian, just not a good one. I know I have a lot to answer to God for, when I see Him” he grinned as he walked away from me.
So what does it really mean to be a ‘good Christian’?
In my own life, born and raised Catholic, I must admit this question has been personally daunting. On the other hand, being single has only complicated it further. Much to the chagrin of my family, the only men I fall for happen to be former Catholics, who do not attend Church anymore. Does this mean they are not good Christians? As you can see, the answer is not that straightforward.
Staying on track
It is no secret that we often find ourselves inadvertently forming opinions of those we encounter based on whether they go to Church or how they dress or if they like us. I realize much of those habits are borne out of how we were raised, what our experiences with Christian friends entailed and eventually, the influence of our peers.
“But the truth is, we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23), and hence every one of us is in need of God’s mercy, regardless of our upbringing. All too often, we tend to pat ourselves on the back when we overcome our personal battles but isn’t the bigger war about how we live our lives? Isn’t it about how we see ourselves? Remarkably, being Christian is not some subscription to moral legalism. It is a relationship with God. Do we lead people to God or away from God?
Sometimes the only Christian around is YOU. How others see you is what they may perceive Christians to be.
One of the “battles” I overcame in recent years, was opting out of a Vegas trip with a bunch of my friends from graduate university. I was really tempted to go, as these were a fun bunch and we all got along well. However, I knew the itinerary would include strip clubs and of course, rounds of the most popular gambling establishments. I am not being self-aggrandizing, but that was not my idea of fun. “Oh come on Jolin, we won’t force you. You can wait outside the strip club and hold up a ‘Jesus hates strip clubs’ sign” they quipped as I declined their invitation yet again.
As much as I would have loved to enjoy the fun things Vegas had to offer, I knew that going there alone would tempt me to do things I was not keen on doing. I have a hard time saying no. Turning down that trip was honestly a significant event that helped me overcome that weakness. I did judge them initially, but looking back I realized that my battle had not been with them, but with myself. I alone was responsible for staying on track in my walk with Christ. Judging them for their actions and choices would have only caused me more resentment and frustration.
Living by example
I have lived away from my family for most of my life now. From secular schools to secular friends, my squad was anything but the ‘Christian’ one I had hoped it would be. Yet I cannot deny the lessons I learnt from being with them. Those are unchanging and have shaped my understanding of empathy.
When I watched the ‘Chosen’ series, I was awakened to a side of Jesus I hadn’t known. He was so ordinary, so human. I had initially falsely envied Him for not going through the struggles of having to explain to Hindus, Muslims, atheists, and agnostics how He was the way, the truth, and the life. I had always had half-discussions/half-arguments with my secular friends, and my competitive nature often led to some of those becoming really heated. But through the Chosen series, I learnt that evangelization had more to do with the heart than my words or even my works. How did I relate? Did I see the human before me? Jesus was like that – He paused to see the human before Him.
Growing in my faith however has helped me rein in my propensity to try to make conversion projects out of people. I understand now that it is easier to speak with the intent to understand the other better – not to argue but to empathize.
Faith begins with dialogue, not with being preachy. Everyone has their own story to tell, and invalidating their story is not how Jesus modeled a Christian way of living for us.
Contrary to our culture of constant sensory stimulation and distraction, the more we learn the art of listening, the more we find ourselves on that same broken road that Jesus took, seeking the lost while reminding them that all is not lost for them.
Power of empathy
Jesus taught us that being a “good Christian” is not meant to be easy. We are called to step out of our comfort zones to be a light in this world. Remember that “Catholic” means universal – every race, every skin colour, every background – needs to hear the all-inclusive truth that Jesus came for the whole world, that He came for the sick, the broken and the lost. I now listen better and try to meet my non-believing loved ones where they are at. I empathize more and constantly remind myself that we all have sinned but that we all have received his undeserving mercy. It is enough for all of us.
As for the former Catholics who have left the Church, well, He still loves them. At the end of the day, I now know better that it is my heart that needs conversion first. In 2021, I pray that I try to live and love as Jesus did, and that the Holy Spirit will work through my combativeness, lack of patience, and stubbornness notwithstanding. Right now, my prayer to Him is: Take me as I am, Lord, and use me for Your will.
And for all you who are reading, I pray that your hearts may learn to love as He did too, to look at others not as “others”, but as sacred lives, worthy of His mercy and worthy of your empathy. In the end, we are good, only because God is.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jolin Rodrigues is a final-year PhD student in Biomedical Engineering in Louisiana, USA. When she’s not breaking new ground in neuroscience research (“At least, I hope I do!”), she enjoys connecting with people over food and faith. Moving to the US certainly opened ways to the Catholic faith and brought along with it candid conversations on Christ with fellow students from different denominations. She hopes to traverse the globe someday – immersing herself in new cultures, sampling gastronomic delights and simply doing ‘life’.