Tis the season for many things. Lights, cookies, and inviting people to church. I think we generally have the blinking bulbs and chocolate chips down to an art, but the last idea tends to frighten a great many people. Sweaty palms, breaking voice, fearing rejection, chickening out at the last minute - most of us understand these stressful symptoms of attempting to bring others into the fold. But we can leave those fears behind us. The truth is that the invitation begins a long time before we ever "pop the question."
Accept People For Who They Are
Anyone who knows me knows I am LDS and have never had a drink of alcohol in my life. Often people fear that I will look down on them for drinking or living riotously. Here is the transcript of a conversation between myself and the one of the most riotous cousins I have in my enormous arsenal of family.
Him: "I have to get a shot before I start my new job."
Me: "What kind of shot?"
Him: "Shot of vodka."
Me: *Chuckling* "No, seriously. What kind of shot?"
Him: *Emphatically* "A shot of vodka!"
Me: *Laughing in earnest now*. "Seriously..."
Him: *Explains about an inoculation shot necessary for his job.*
I know some well meaning church goers who would scowl at the mention of a devil's drink in their presence. Actually, I find I cannot go to visit my relatives on the east coast for three days without finding myself in a bar at some point. They know better than to offer me alcohol, and I have never rebuked them for getting sloshed in my presence. If anything, I laugh at their antics. It's a balance of mutual respect. And it teaches them that they are firstly human beings to me and not just minions to be brainwashed into attending my church. We have basically come to the understanding that yes, going to church is the higher road, I am right to take it, and they are invited to join me. But no pressure. We're still friends.
Hello, my Name is Michelle and I am a Religious Nutcase
It's basically written on my sleeve. I often find people approaching me and asking me questions about my faith when I have absolutely no recollection of telling them I was Mormon. I am not ashamed of my religion, and speak of it freely as I would anything else that I love. A person probably cannot have a full conversation with me without realizing that my passion for religion is very strong. I recklessly bear my testimony in the most bizarre situations whenever I feel so impressed. I recall doing so with a woman I barely knew. She looked at me strangely and rather stiffened. I noted her coldness and discomfort and decided to help her feel better. Later, in another conversation with her and her ex mother-in-law, I brought up the subject of religion again, quite calmly calling myself a complete religious nut, but that is okay because at least I'm a harmless nut. She laughed and since then has slowly learned that I will not join her in speaking ill of those people she dislikes, simply because I choose not to speak ill of anyone. Nothing personal, just what I feel a Christian ought to do. I think she's learned to live with it. Most people learn to brush things like that off and remind themselves, "That's just Michelle. She's just like that with everyone."
Handle it With Grace
My life has generally resembled a mix between a violent war and the most bizarre soap opera of all time. Beyond having extreme post traumatic stress, however, I generally handle insanity with calm. Much of this is due to experience and practice.
A friend of mine had requested I fill her in on the latest in my life and after having laden her with more gossip than human beings should ever have to handle, she remarked, "You are handling this very well...clearly that is because of your faith." I agreed.
Sometimes the manner in which we react to trial and temptation will be the highest indication of our faith in God and also in His almighty power to make troubles lighter on our shoulders. When others see such things, it often acts as a powerful missionary tool that we did not necessarily intend to employ. As the saying goes, "Preach every day and every hour continually, and when necessary, use words."
Come One, Come All!
I think we often fear that missionary work and inviting people to church has to involve a face to face, one on one confrontation. Not so. The Book of Mormon cites a man who exclaims, in essence "Oh that I had a the voice of an angel and could preach repentance to all the world!" What would he have given to have had a Facebook account!? A status is a completely valid invitation. I recently had a woman invite me to her Christmas Eve gathering at her church via events on Facebook. That is a valid invitation, and I appreciate the thought.
Swallow the Rejection
Yes, we may be rejected. In fact, we probably will be at some point. Get used to it. I have been so many times. Do we hide in a corner and cry? No. Hopefully we invited someone about whom we truly care and who we honestly want as a friend. What do we do? Continue being a friend. I was fairly recently rejected in an invitation by a lady I respect very much. She proved cold and uncomfortable around me for a while. My move? I warmed up more, not as a missionary but just as a friend. I joked with her about getting drunk. I showed her that her rejection of my invite didn't matter and that my interest in her as a person was stronger than merely wanting to get her into church. Eventually she relaxed and our relationship is stronger than ever.