I want you to do something that will feel silly: Get in front of a mirror, your phone, tablet—whatever—and look at yourself for thirty seconds. Try it. Stare into your own face and start counting.
One. Two. Three …
It’s harder than it should be, isn’t it?
If you even made it to ten, I now have a question for you: What did you see?
I have struggled with this piece more than just about anything I’ve ever written. Pages have been passionately bled out onto the keyboard and then summarily wiped away as I’ve tried to sort through a hurricane of thoughts and emotions. I’ve spent days wrestling with what should have been a pretty easy writing task. However, this one has not been easy.
I pray that my heart and hands be well-guided, that my humble inadequacies not diminish the message.
Okay. Here we go …
Through a mutual friend, I recently learned about a 9-year-old’s question to her mother. Imagine this scene:
“Mommy,” the young girl whispers. She lightly brushes her mother’s pillow-tossed hair away from her face with sympathetic fingers. “Mommy, are you awake?”
The mother stirs and finds her daughter peering at her. The little girl’s innocent, often-curious eyes are filled with something else this morning. Is that confusion? Fear?
“What’s broken?” the mother wonders. When it comes to children, parents know the playbook changes day-by-day, moment-by-moment, and the mother realizes that she’s not yet awake enough to navigate these uncharted waters. She lifts the covers and pulls her daughter close to her. The delicate figure snuggles into position as mother wraps the child into her arms and kisses the top of her head.
“Can we pretend to be Muslim?”
The mother’s eyes pop open as her brow knits into deep furrows. “Honey, why would you say such a thing?”
“Because,” the child’s voice chokes, “I don’t want to die.”
How does that story make you feel? Does it anger you? Sadden you? Sicken you? Does the age or gender of the child matter? Does it make a difference where this story takes place—America, Africa, Iraq?
“What’s broken?” the mother wonders.
As I said, I have wrestled to the point of exhaustion with this story. It has haunted the corners of my heart. I’ve created, recreated, and manipulated this scene in countless ways as I’ve tried to unravel the deepest parts of my own soul. I’ve struggled in prayer over this scenario, asking, “What am I feeling here? What should I be feeling? Father, what are you trying to get me to see? Where is your heart in this?”
Admitting my struggle, I have another confession to make: this exchange didn’t happen as I presented it. I changed a small detail. In truth, it was a 9-year-old Muslim girl who woke up in her American home and asked her mother if they could pretend to be Christian … “Because I don’t want to die.”
Does that wrinkle change how you feel about the story? Should it?
As a Christian and a parent, I’ll admit that I prefer my fictional adaptation. The story as it actually happened is somehow less comfortable for me. The true version leaves me even more heartbroken and angry to realize that my faith—a movement of love and compassion—has been diabolically twisted into something that could bring fear into the heart of a child. ANY child! Friends, this grieves me to no end, and I pray that it horrifies you as well.
How have we fallen so far?
This is a little girl we’re talking about here. A 9-year-old child growing up in America. In fear. The age shouldn’t matter. The gender shouldn’t matter. The religion shouldn’t matter. But for most of us, these details do change how we feel about the suffering of others, how we see their situation, and how we see ourselves.
Do you see what I see?
Go back to that person in the mirror. Again, I ask you, what do you see?
Sometimes we need the help of others to see what we often overlook, so I’ll tell you what I see in you. My friend, I see a person with an incredible power. I see an individual with a good heart who—through the tiniest, seemingly-insignificant actions—has the ability to shed light and love into a fearful, hurting world. I see a person who realizes that with every interaction (whether in the check-out line or when posting that sarcastic zinger on social media), your force is unleashed into the world, creating a ripple effect that will eventually reach the heart of a 9-year-old little girl.
I have many dear friends on different faith journeys, and I’m often humbled by their incredible, loving hearts. We Christians like to believe that we’ve cornered the market on love. Meanwhile, there’s a little girl out there who wants to pretend to be like me, but not because of that love. It’s because of fear. For my Christian friends, I hope you are haunted by that reality. If you’re not, then that 9-year-old child may be wiser than we want to admit. Maybe she’s right. Perhaps we should encourage her to start acting like a Christian.
She’ll fit right in with the rest of us who are only pretending.
I hope I see something better the next time I look in the mirror. I pray that we all do.