In early 2010, Jesus decided to annoy the mess out of me by getting his hands on one of my closest friends. One week she was partying and engaging in all kinds of godless banter with me, and the next she was shopping for Bibles and acting like Mother Teresa. The change in her behavior left me speechless (a rarity!) for some time. But as we ate dinner together one evening, I finally asked her, “Did you get God-happy?” That was my snide way of asking if she had become a Christian. She chuckled and said, “If that’s what you want to call it, then yeah . . . I am God-happy.” She then went on to tell me about this recent encounter of hers with Jesus. Though I was certain she had lost her mind, I nodded and smiled as she shared how deeply he had affected her life. I really was happy she was happy. I didn’t understand why she needed religion to attain that happiness, but hey—whatever works.
In the weeks following, I poked fun at her newfound churchliness, but I wasn’t abrasive—not at first, anyway. I had not a smidgen of interest in religion, but I wasn’t some militant atheist who made it my life’s mission to attack the beliefs of others. If you felt like you needed to get you a lil’ Jesus on Sunday, more power to you—just don’t make me feel like Adolf Hitler if I don’t want to join you. Besides, I really thought my friend’s religiosity would fizzle out. Living in the Bible Belt, I had seen my fair share of people get excited about God and church and what not. After a few months of holy rolling, they always simmered down. I figured she would go through a similar process. She would balance out a bit and realize not everything had to be about Jesus.
But she didn’t . . . she got worse.
I vividly remember the day I realized the seriousness of her Jesus-freakness. A girl we both knew posted on Facebook about how grateful she was God helped her make the college tennis team. With a mixture of humor and annoyance, I commented: “Honey, Jesus had nothing to do with you making the tennis team. You worked hard for months; that’s why you made it!” With disapproval written all over her face, my newly Christian friend asked me to delete the comment, insisting that God did help this girl make the tennis team. Seriously? No—no he didn’t. Jesus did not jump out of heaven and meet this girl on the courts at 7am every morning to practice. She set her mind to something, and she accomplished it because she was willing to do what it took. I deleted the comment to appease my friend, but at that moment the reality of her craziness became undeletable. She was in deep—real deep. I didn’t know if she would ever fully recover from all this religious brainwashing.
As time ticked forward, Christianity consumed every aspect of my friend’s life. I would ask her to hang out, and she couldn’t because she would be downtown serving homeless people with her dorky church friends. She would express dissatisfaction with her job, and I would tell her to resign, but she wouldn’t because she felt like Jesus wanted her there. I couldn’t even enjoy my dinner without her weirding me out across the table, closing her eyes and praying silently before she ate. I mean, come on! Your whole life didn’t have to be about J.C. (my preferred name for him, back then)!
Her faith really began to grind my nerves . . . and I didn’t hide it. I became increasingly hostile to her face. I told inappropriate jokes about Jesus. I criticized her pathetic Christian friends. I made great effort to regularly rub my “sinfulness” in her face. I constantly tried to tempt her to “sin”—to go out with me to clubs and get drunk, etc. I was intentionally offensive and abrasive, thinking maybe I could wear her down. I thought if I just pressed hard enough, she would begin to see how ludicrous all of this was and start acting like a normal human being again.
But she didn’t . . . she got worse.
My friend continued to love Jesus more and more, despite my best efforts. And what was even more shocking to me was that she continued to be my friend. Crazy, right? If I had been in her shoes, I would have kicked me to the curb a long time ago! She didn’t, though. When I pushed her buttons, she remained calm. When I mocked her faith, she didn’t retaliate. When I tried to stir up an argument about her beliefs, she responded in gentleness. One day, I asked her straight up if she thought I was going to burn in hell forever because I was gay. Her response was one I didn’t see coming: “Matt, I don’t know why God has allowed you to experience these feelings. But I do know that everyone is tempted to do things the Bible calls sinful. And with all my heart, I believe the Bible is true. Though I will always love you no matter what, I do believe the life you are living is sinful. But I don’t think you will go to hell for being attracted to guys—I think you will go to hell for not accepting Jesus as your Savior and refusing to surrender your desires to him.” I didn’t even know how to respond to that kind of . . . non-judgmentalism? She was truthful, but kind. Firm, but gentle.
I would have never admitted it at the time, but my friend’s expression of Christianity was refreshing. The way she walked out her faith was so sincere. She believed Jesus loved her despite her crappiness, so she loved others despite their crappiness. She believed Jesus was a friend to sinners, so she was a friend to sinners. And though I would have never admitted this either, the way she lived her life was piquing my interest in her God. I remember praying to him two or three times in the months leading up to my conversion. They were all “Hey, I don’t know if you’re real. And because you might not be real, you probably can’t hear this. But just in case you are up there, I just wanted to say I might be interested. Okay, bye!” kind of prayers, but they were significant. Something inside of me was shifting. My heart was softening. Jesus was getting his hands on me.
And he was doing it through the steadfast love of my friend.
After nearly a year of enduring the war I waged against her faith, my friend rejoiced with tears as I began to cling to Jesus alongside her. God opened my eyes to see what she had been seeing all along: the irresistible beauty of Jesus. Though he wasn’t tangible, he satisfied my heart more than any tangible person or thing ever had. He was so merciful, so powerful, so gentle, so righteous, so wonderful, so perfect. In what felt like the blink of an eye, I became just like my God-happy friend. I was a joyful prisoner of Jesus Christ.
You do see how integral my friend was in my conversion, don’t you? Through her patient love and refusal to silence her faith, I was continually exposed to bits and pieces of the gospel and eventually transformed by it. Every time she endured my mockery, I got a glimpse of Jesus. Every time she shared the truth in love, I got a glimpse of Jesus. Every time I deserved nothing but her rejection and she continued to stand by me, I got a glimpse of Jesus. She embodied the gospel.
If you have a friend like the pre-Jesus Matt Moore, I beg you: 1) don’t silence your faith when you are around them, and 2) love them with the kind of unshakeable love with which my friend loved me. Don’t lash out in anger when they push your buttons. Don’t cut them out of your life when they degrade and offend you. You have no idea what kind of enlightening work God might do in their dark heart through your commitment to love them without condition.