Have you ever seen an armadillo? I don't think we have many of them in Michigan, but they're little mammals that have a hard, leathery exterior. When attacked or in danger, they might roll up into a tiny ball, their hard exterior pointing outward for all the world to see. You can't have any sort of relationship with an armadillo that's all rolled up.
I'm sorry to say that, when it comes to my recent relationships with my non-believing friends, I've been much more like an armadillo then, say, a furry little chinchilla.
I've been investing in some relationships for a long time now. I've spent countless hours answering questions, challenging people, and just sharing life with them. Recently, I've been noticing that for those relationships where I'm really emotionally invested, I'm taking there statements about faith or Christians personally and feeling like I have to explain or defend. Instead of listening or asking them questions, I've been trying to share my side of the story. It's important for me to be heard and understood. It's important for me to share my point of view, especially when the other party is misinterpreting me or criticizing my beliefs. It's even worse when I feel like they're criticizing my character.
But in this type of situation, I think that defensiveness is always a mistake. I think that I need to be quick to apologize and quick to hear what the other person is saying. I need to ask more questions and invite more information, not prove why the other person is wrong about me or about my faith.
Over the years that I've been sharing, I've never seen that my defensiveness (of myself or of God's character) lead to someone's salvation. Not once. What I have seen work is engaging others relationally and introducing them to Jesus over a long period of time. I've seen my vulnerability and apologies invite further vulnerability and honest questions from others. I've seen God use my brokenness to show his own power and grace and mercy to invite other people in.
What about you? Are you an armadillo evangelist? Do you spend more time defending yourself, your beliefs, and God than listening to others? How might the dynamics of your relationships change if you open yourself up to hear the hearts of the people around you? How might you better be able to pray for and care for them as people?