Close up of a small wooden cross made from twigs lying on the pages of an open Bible where the pages are from John's gospel and the account of Jesus' passion.

The fear that I will never penetrate the hard-heartedness of my fellow Christians

(Not all of them, obviously.)

For the last four weeks I’ve been writing about my biggest fears and I think today’s will be the last one in this series. 

Some time later Paul said to Barnabas, ‘Let us go back and visit the believers in all the towns where we preached the word of the Lord and see how they are doing.’ Barnabas wanted to take John, also called Mark, with them, but Paul did not think it wise to take him, because he had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not continued with them in the work. They had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company.

Acts 15:36–39, NIVUK

It has not escaped my notice that all five fears are personal and particular to me. Each one is a partial product of my faith and, in particular, my expectations of myself to be an agent of change in the world. So, while they each appear individualistic and self-focused on the surface, they all bely my feeling of responsibility towards the rest of the world. 

I also wonder if the focus on myself reflects my other fundamental beliefs that (1) it’s not on me to save the world, and (2) ultimately, God will sort everything out. And you know what? That’s not a bad headspace to be in. 

So what’s today’s fear about? I guess I should start by explaining what I mean by this “hard-heartedness”. I have various experiences, but one in particular stands out. 

I was in a Bible study looking at Romans 8 where it says that God “condemned sin in the flesh.” The person leading the group asked a question about how bad sin was. So I piped up saying that, in many ways, the cross showed what sin was capable of and how awful sin is in its fulness – because the crucifixion of God’s sinless son is easily the greatest injustice sin has ever achieved. 

Reader, I promise you, I was not trying to be controversial. I was trying to contribute to the discussion by highlighting what I thought would be obvious to everyone present: that the crucifixion of Jesus was an act of injustice (by the world/humanity, against God). 

Something I said evidently rubbed the wrong way for the person leading the study. Because he asserted very, very strongly that the death of Jesus was just. Now, I know why he said this. I know what his underlying theology is and how it makes sense in his head – and how he is far from alone. This event doesn’t stick in my memory because of the theology, but because of the cognitive dissonance. 

I cannot fathom how he could not recognise the point that I had tried to make in good faith. 

And it’s this rigidity of thought that weighs me down. It leaves me angry, frustrated and tired. My fear is that there is nothing I will ever be able to do about it.

Now in one sense, this isn’t something I can change. Only the Holy Spirit can. But the fear persists that whatever I do to try and facilitate the Holy Spirit’s work, I’ll either be ineffectual or burn out. 

Being on the receiving end of stubbornness, even seeing it from a safe distance, takes a heavy toll. I’ve lost confidence in apologetics, in education, in silent witness, in gentle protest, in angry protest, in argument, in anything, everything! In my head, nothing can persuade people away from hardness of opinion.

And I know that’s not entirely true. Conversations are a way that people see new perspectives and change their minds. But the fear is that I’ll either be too soft and easy-going, or too harsh and off-putting, or too abstract, or inaccessible, or niche, or… whatever. 

I started blogging in 2015 in the belief that words matter and hold power. I haven’t completely given up on that, but now I do have a mountain of scepticism about whether my words and my writing can make any kind of dent on the hardness of some people’s hearts. And I don’t know what to do about that.

In many ways, starting Faith in Grey Places was a retreat from that effort. It’s been a space where I’ve been able to write contemplatively about the spiritual things that I love, without the constant fear that I’ll provoke conflict.

And I’m acutely conscious that this series, and this post in particular, could be considered departures from the brief. Part of me is sorry about that, but all of me knows that this is just where I’m at right now — and maybe I’m not the only one. 

It’s not that my other poems and sketches have been written in some fluffy world of denial. I could look back over my archives and point out the ways they witness to how I’ve wrestled with these fears. What these last few weeks have done is allow me to examine them directly, and see their shape more clearly. 

And what do they all do? They shut me down. They stop me praying, writing, daring, enjoying, anticipating. 

I’m not sure what there is to say next. I know this isn’t what God wants for me, but I also know that these fears come from experiences and the realities of the world as it is. But I also know that I don’t have to live with these fears interfering with my life. 

Help me to see myself as you see me.
Help me to trust you with my fears.
Help me to hope in you for all my crumpled dreams.
Help me to see you in the work and words of others.
Help me to joy in you as I go about my daring.
Help me to find grounded rest in your promises.
I’ve not let go. Don’t let go of me. 
Be boundless in strength and kindness.
In the name of Jesus, the Christ King,
Whose truth and majesty will enfold the whole earth,

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