Out of the corner of my eye I see a flash of white. There it is! The elusive neighborhood albino squirrel had just darted up a tree outside my window. Since the winter snow had fallen and blanketed our backyard, I hadn’t seen our little friend as much. I had missed his fluffy white tail and little pink nose. He finally blended in with the world around him.
This was not the case last June when I first noticed him scampering across our weathered wooden fence. I had to look twice to figure out what the little fur-ball was. With a backyard full of oak trees, there is always an abundance of squirrels, but I had never seen an albino one before.
His milky white body and big bushy tail stuck out like a solitary marshmallow in a giant mug of hot chocolate against the brown and green of the trees and grass he frolicked in. Once I realized what I was looking at, I couldn’t help but smile. What a fun and unexpected surprise.
Throughout the summer and fall, the boys and I enjoyed pointing out our new “outside pet” to one another. My oldest came up with a variety of names for the squirrel. None of them actually stuck, but we had fun coming up with them nonetheless.
Our neighborhood was obviously his playground, and he hopped from yard to yard and tree to tree as if he owned them all. He played with the other squirrels in the yard, as they scurried and chased one another up and down the trees and bounded through the grass. They seemed to revel in the thrill of the chase.
I’ve always enjoyed watching the birds and squirrels out in our yard, but the thing I loved about this little guy is the fact that he stood out. He was unique. He didn’t blend in with the rest, but he was still part of the gang.
He reminded me of a truth from scripture that I sometimes fail to live out as well as I should. You see, in many ways, I am supposed to be just like that atypical little rodent. As a Christian, I’m supposed to be different.
When I say different, I’m not talking about a superficial, outward appearance kind of different. There are some who believe that as a religious woman I should never cut my hair or set foot outside of my house in anything but a skirt that goes down to my ankles. I don’t ascribe to these ideas and it’s not because I’m against dressing modestly. I try to be mindful of how I present myself to the world around me. I reserve my “sexiest attire” for my husband’s eyes only. But if wearing a long dress is what makes a Christian woman modest and different from the world around her, then we have big problems, because I absolutely do not believe that this is what Jesus had in mind. In case you are wondering, I don’t own any skirts that go down to my ankles!
Being different is also not about some legalistic behavioral rules and restrictions. When I was working as a youth pastor, I remember looking at some curriculum that called for us to use “spotted cubes.” Spotted cubes? I didn’t even know what that meant until someone explained to me that the curriculum was calling for dice. DICE! Because obviously good Christians would never play with dice, or go to the movies or have a beer. By the way, I’m pretty sure that Jesus enjoyed a glass of wine on occasion, and let’s be real about the fact that it probably wasn’t just grape juice!
Am I advocating that Christians should throw all their hard-earned money away on lottery tickets and gambling, watch horror movies and get drunk? Absolutely not! As should be the case with everything in life, we should use discernment with our entertainment and beverage choices. We should think about if our actions could be harmful to ourselves or the people around us. And weigh if our life choices draw us closer to God or away from him? But being different is so much more than some external outward behaviors.
When Jesus called us to be different, he wasn’t instructing us to live a life defined by rules and a bunch of “NO’s!” Sadly, Christians are often defined by what people perceive we “can’t do” or what we “stand against,” instead of what we stand for.
Jesus wasn’t calling us to be weird and completely separate from the world around us. Rather, he called us to engage with the world and to truly love the people that we come into contact with. And when I say love people, I am not just talking about the people who think and act and look just like us, anyone can love them. He commanded us to love everyone else! Even the people who seem to be dead set against everything we believe in.
In Matthew 5:43-48, Jesus tells us this: “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
Jesus was all about the Love. In fact, he said that loving God and loving others were the two greatest things we could do. All the other Commandments and the teachings of the prophets could be fulfilled if we did those two things well. (Matthew 22:26-30).
One of the things I appreciate about Jesus is that he actually did those things well. Jesus practiced what he preached. He wasn’t afraid to love the unlovely. It was, and still is, one of the things that made him such a compelling example. Unlike the other religious leaders of his day, Jesus was willing to reach out to the people in society that everyone else tried to ignore. He cared about the poor, the sick, the lonely, and forgotten. In a time when ritual cleanliness was of the utmost importance and in many ways had become the substitute for spiritual purity, Jesus was willing to reach out and touch the people considered physically and spiritually unclean. In doing so, they were healed and set free from their previously shameful social status.
But he didn’t stop there. Jesus was not only a healer, he was also a friend. He was willing to build relationships and associate with people who were just plain messed up. So much so, that he was criticized by the religious establishment for his bad habit of hanging out with the “sinners.” For example, he struck up a conversation with a “loose” Samaritan woman by a well, ate dinner with a notorious tax collecting thief, and defended a woman caught in adultery. And then there was his band of uneducated and very common men (and a few faithful women) whom he allowed to be his closest disciples and friends.
Though perfect, Jesus chose to hang out with “sinners.” It was the uptight, self-righteous religious leaders that he was the hardest on. Not because he didn’t care for them, but because they should have known better. Sadly, God’s grace and mercy and love was manifested before their eyes and instead of embracing it, they chose to crucify it. They acknowledged Gods’ commandment to love our neighbors. But the kind of love Jesus modeled was too dangerous. It was too messy. It could throw the natural order out of balance. So it had to be contained.
The question I have to ask myself is this: Do I live a contained life? Am I an ordinary gray squirrel when Jesus has called me to be an extraordinary white one?
If I’m honest, with myself, I fear that too often I am not extraordinary. Too often I blend in with the rest. Why? Because it’s easier. It’s a lot less work to stay in my own little bubble, with the people I’m comfortable with. It’s more convenient to think the way I have always thought and surround myself with people who think the same way too. It takes less time and effort and emotional energy to concern myself with things that pertain to me and my family and close friends, then to look beyond my personal connections. It’s easier to avoid what appears to be messy and complicated and out of my comfort zone.
As previously mentioned, for a couple of months it seemed as if our special outside pet had disappeared. He started to blend in with the wintry world around him, until the day he hopped up on the thick dark trunk of one of our towering oak trees. His unmistakable bright white coat was revealed once more. My little albino friend, an illustration from my heavenly Father, reminds me that I have some intentional work to do in my own heart and mind to make sure that I am not blending in with the world around me.
The truth is that if my heart doesn’t ache for the lost, hurting, lonely, and marginalized people in our society, then there is something amiss in my heart. And if I’m not willing to reach out and share the love of Christ in my words, actions, deeds, and with my wallet, with people outside of my personal friend circle, then I’m not living out my calling as a Christian.
Furthermore, if all my friends look and think and act just like me, then I am not different enough. And if I can’t have a civil conversation about politics, religion, sexuality, and the state of our society with people who have different opinions from me, then there is a problem with me, not the people I am conversing with.
Jesus was different. He stood out. Not because of how he looked, or because he was the best at following a bunch of religious rules. Jesus stood out because he BROKE the rules! He stood up to the status quo. He expanded the expectations of what a true follower of God looks like. Religious rituals and “sacrifices” are meaningless unless they are done out of a motivation of love. 1 John 4:8 tells us that God is love. If God is love, then his followers should reflect this.
As a follower of Jesus, I need to be different. He called his disciples to be light in a dark world and to be salt (or add flavor) to the blandness that exists all around. In order to do this I need to be intentional about choosing to live out God’s love and compassion for all people, not just the ones I’m comfortable around. How do I live out God’s love? I live it out with kind words, respectful thoughts, and positive actions/good deeds. (Matthew 5:13-16)
Thanks for the reminder little furry friend! I’m ready to once again commit my heart and mind and life to greater things. How about the rest of you?