My kids scrambled over the single piece of playground equipment, filling the air with sounds of make-believe.
“There’s a fire! Come on! Let’s go put it out!” “Back to the station! Up the ladder!”
I sat on the edge of the playground area guarding the snacks and water bottles, and posting a peaceful picture to Instagram, hoping the depiction would rub off on my soul. I certainly wasn’t at peace.
It had been the kids’ idea to walk/ride their scooters to the park. I humored them because it was a nice day and we needed to be out and doing something instead of letting the overwhelming feelings of life cloud us.
Truthfully, I was hoping the adventure would distract them enough so I could have a few minutes of inner solitude to sort through all my fears and worries. I was grateful to discover we had the playground to ourselves.
So, there I sat, trying to find peace, occasionally checking social media on my phone while the kids played.
The solitude didn’t last long.
A dad and daughter walked up, and the girl, younger than my two, jumped off the little bike she was riding and joined in the fun.
The introvert in me silently prayed the man would ignore me.
“How’s it going?” he said, as he took a seat on a bench nearby.
I mumbled a reply that might have been friendly. I put my phone away so I wouldn’t appear rude. We both watched our kids from opposite sides of the park in silence. The kids soon came over for a snack, so I pulled out a bag of pretzel crackers and a container of dried cranberries and offered them the choice. The little girl looked at us, and even though I’m not always comfortable talking to strangers, I called across the park to her dad.
“Is it okay if she has some of these pretzel crackers?”
His face showed surprise.
“Yeah, if you want to give her some, that’s fine. It’s up to you.”
I offered, and the little girl took one then spit it out. I wrapped it in a tissue until we could find a garbage can. Then the kids were back to the playground, leaving me with the uneaten snacks.
I glanced at the dad who was smoking a cigarette now and checking his phone, and I thought about days past when I would have called this a perfect Opportunity (capital “O” intended) to share the Gospel.
Back when I was a new believer and part of a strongly evangelical, highly conservative church, I was trained for times like this.
I was taught that every person we met was a sinner in need of Jesus, and every chance encounter was a chance to rescue someone from the pit of Hell. And to not “make the most of every opportunity” (Colossians 4:5) was to risk that person’s eternal fate. After all, they could walk away from our chance meeting and get hit by a car and then how would I feel if I hadn’t shared the Gospel?
I lived most of my 20s thinking I was a failure when it came to evangelism. I’m an introvert, so talking to people I know is sometimes a stretch, much less starting conversations about Jesus with strangers. I would walk away from “divine appointments,” as they were called, feeling guilty and like God was surely disappointed with me. After all, hadn’t I just denied Christ before men? (Matthew 10:33)
And the times I did try to work Jesus into the conversation ended up awkward and sounded unnatural. But I thought that’s what it meant to be faithful—to steer a conversation toward Jesus even if it didn’t really fit the circumstances. I’d done my duty, even if nothing ever came of it. My conscience was clear whether the person ever came to know the Lord or not.
So I thought.
That day at the park, though, I didn’t say a word about Jesus. I let my kids play longer than intended, and I encouraged them to ask the girl’s name. I offered what little food we had. And I felt like Jesus was near.
When it was time to leave, the kids told their new friend good-bye. I offered a friendly, “Have a nice day” to the man, who countered with a “Hey, thanks for sharing those things with her!”
And I walked away with more gratitude and peace than I had when we arrived at the park.
I didn’t try to save his soul because I don’t know if that’s what he needed right at that moment. We all need saving again and again and again, even if we already know that Jesus has rescued us, but sometimes we just need someone to acknowledge our existence. To reach across the divide that often separates us and say, “I see you.” To model sharing instead of greed.
Those things–kindness, inclusion, sharing—are as much a part of the Gospel as the words we might say about heaven, hell, sin and salvation.
Please, don’t misunderstand. I have a high regard for those who are able to preach the Good News from street corners and platforms and pulpits and draw people to the Lord. And I desperately want people to know about the love of God that changes lives, about the kingdom that brings hope and restoration.
But I’m learning that God does not need me to save someone’s soul. That’s too much pressure, and I would fail more than I would succeed. He needs me to love people. To show them the Gospel through my actions. And yes, sometimes, to speak words of life and healing.
I didn’t try to save that man’s soul, and oddly enough, I don’t feel guilty about it.
I’ve imagined how it would have played out if I’d witnessed to him instead of just being friendly, and while it’s possible he might have walked away thinking more about Jesus, it’s also possible he might have walked away thinking I was just one more religious nut who didn’t really care about him.
I wouldn’t blame him. I’m a Christian and I sometimes wonder the same thing.
I don’t know if I’ll ever see him again, but I hope he walked away that day thinking maybe there’s still some good in this world.
That, too, bears witness to God.
Lisa Bartelt is a child of the flatlands fulfilling her dream of living near the mountains. She loves reading, writing and listening to stories—true ones, made-up ones and the ones in between— preferably with a cup of coffee in hand. Wife, mom of two, writer, ordinary girl, Lisa blogs about books, faith, family and the unexpected turns of life at Living Echoes (http://lmbartelt.wordpress.