I'll never forget one of the first spiritual conversations I had with someone outside of the church. I was volunteering as a respite worker to stay overnight in a maternity home for unwed mothers who wanted to keep their children instead of aborting them. This one mother was staying there, and she was a talker. She told me basically her whole life story. I barely got a word in edgewise, and actually, I didn't really want to. Her story was so far outside of my reality that it overwhelmed me and I had no idea what to say.
But I remember that in the course of that conversation, she started talking about her perceptions of Christians and the church. And she looked at me and said, "Hell? I'm not afraid of hell. I've been living in hell for years."
I was, of course speechless. Clearly it wasn't a time to talk about what eternal separation from God might actually be like. But she was saying something important to me about the message that had been communicated to her about what it meant to follow Christ.
In my own experience, growing up, I heard so many conversations about "eternal life." The focus was always on the eternal aspect of it - what would that life in heaven look like, wouldn't it be great to escape this life and go to glory, etc.
So I've been meditating on the story of Nicodemus and Jesus from John 3 as preparation for some storying that we're going to be doing in the next month or two. And after memorizing the passage and trying to get inside it, I went and read some commentaries on the passage. And the thing that struck me is that the "eternal life" that Jesus references could really be translated "life with the eternal One."
I know that I've talked about the idea of hope before and how void of hope the places that I walk and live really seem to be. What if the hope we have to offer is not just the idea of a someday perfect reality, but is something that starts now? What if it is about having relationship to and access to the Eternal One? What if that relationship with the Eternal One has the ability to change our lives now? Maybe not our circumstances, but the quality of the kind of life we live. What if that is the story we were telling people?
I know that, growing up, I heard that story too. But it was a fainter story. It was a story lived by my parents, sure. But it wasn't the message that the church as a whole was speaking.
It is the story that I've been living though. Life with the Eternal One is spectacular. It's filled with peace and joy and a deep, abiding knowledge of who I am and who I belong to. It's something that orders my steps and helps me to choose right paths. That is something that I want others to experience too. It's something I want others to have. It's so much of the motivation for the passion that I feel for walking with people in spiritual conversations and doing life with people outside of the church.