Many Christians, myself included, have people in our lives whom we love, people who are not living a Christian life. This can be one of the most painful aspects of being a Christian: seeing our loved ones live a life in which Jesus is not recognized or appreciated. It may be our spouse, our child, our parent, our sibling, our friend who is living this way. As Christians, we want so very much for our loved ones to come to know and appreciate Jesus, and learn from him, so that Jesus can transform and save them. One temptation is to try to force things: to challenge the person, to badger them, to push them, to “call them out”, in the hopes that they can be made to see how good Jesus is, and how much he can help them. But this almost never works. Instead, by badgering, we end up pushing them even farther away from Jesus.
While pushing and calling out people towards Jesus has never been a very good strategy for convincing them to love and appreciate him, it is a particularly poor strategy today, when almost everyone has full access to an entire Internet full of material that caters to every opinion. Even some of the most basic factual things are called into question because sites on the internet create fine-sounding arguments in favor of any number of alternative theories, some with very little merit and truth to them. These sites argue not only for the theory itself, but claim that powerful forces are suppressing the truth about it. Such a theory is called a conspiracy theory. Conspiracy theories are essentially unfalsifiable, because every piece of evidence that is not in support of the theory is considered by the conspiracist to be evidence of the conspiracy. What this means for Christians is that there is always plenty of material on the Internet to support someone believing whatever they want. Unless someone has a firm commitment to seeking out and embracing the truth, they will pick their own “truth” and find any number of things online to defend it. We cannot defeat this: there is not time and energy enough to out-output the Internet.
What to do, then? One way forward was lived by Elisabeth Leseur, a married French woman who lived in Paris in the late 19th and early 20th century. A devout Catholic, she was married to Felix, an atheist, who tolerated her faith only to a point, and mocked and badgered her for it. She pursued her faith quietly, privately. A highly educated and intelligent person, she read widely, both the secularist works her husband gave her to read, and Christian works. “Above all, she read and re-read the New Testament, the Gospels, the Acts, the Epistles; she never passed a day without meditating upon some passage from it”. [Elisabeth Leseur, My Spirit Rejoices (Manchester NH: Sophia Institute Press, 1996), 14.] Elisabeth prayed for Felix, deeply and persistently, and though she was in poor health for much of her life, she used her suffering as a sort of sacrifice and prayer for him. She died of cancer in 1914, but before her passing, she wrote for him a testament about her faith. After her death, Felix found her writings. He writes, “After Elisabeth’s death, when everything seemed to collapse around me, I came upon the Spiritual Testament she had written out for me, and… I found her Journal too. I threw myself into the reading of them; I read and re-read them, and a revolution took place in my whole moral being. I understood the celestial beauty of her soul and that she had accepted all her suffering and offered it – and even offered her very self in sacrifice – chiefly for my conversion.” [Leseur, My Spirit Rejoices, 32.] Felix became a Christian in 1915, and in 1923, a Catholic priest.
Elisabeth did not push or badger Felix to become a Christian; quite the contrary, it was he who badgered her. Instead, she read the New Testament, prayed and quietly sacrificed for her husband. It was not until after she died that her husband was converted. It is Jesus, then, not us, who does the work. After all, Jesus loves those we love even more than we ourselves love them: he died on the cross for them. Our job is not to make others accept Jesus, our job is to learn about Jesus ourselves, and love him, praying and reading the New Testament as Elisabeth did, all the while praying for those whom the Lord has entrusted to us. The actual saving of those we love will not come from us, it will come from Jesus. He is the one who saves.