Preparing for a Serious Spiritual Conversation

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Where is it written that two women have to have this talk at a coffee shop?

Seems like a rule. If you’re going to have a serious session of soul talk, you take it to a neighborhood café. I don’t know why, but there’s no time to wonder about it right now.

Today’s “Jesus over Java” conversation is with a young woman named Jen.

And to be honest, I’m a little nervous about this meeting.

Nerves come with the territory, of course, but I do know Jen is somewhat cynical. And while I recognize that the skeptical tone is, to some extent, the voice of our age, I’d rather just talk straight up, without the extra dab of attitude.

But that’s not something you can say in a conversation like this one.

We take people as they are, don’t we?

There’s a kind of spiritual geography to these encounters. I’m on one side of the table, with my worldview. Jen or whoever is on the opposite side. Between us is a frontier—represented by the table—over which we dialogue and negotiate. If I push too far over to her side and am too aggressive, too propositional, then she begins to build a wall. She goes on the defensive.

On the other hand, if I hang too far back in my world with my “live and let live” tendencies, no real questions will be raised. There will be no chance of spiritual transformation. I do have a way of wimping out, of pouring on so much unconditional acceptance that I obscure what Jesus asks every one of us: What is the ultimate truth? And will you orient your heart toward it no matter the cost? Whether we are willing to lean into this or not, as human beings, we can’t escape sensing Jesus’ pressing questions within us.

The table doesn’t come with a grid, like a football field. I have to be incredibly sensitive to my location on that frontier—between pushy and passive. And love and sincerity should count for something. In the frontier between us, we hope to find some common ground on which there can be true communication. And from there, I hope and pray that I can point beyond the two of us, beyond the room, beyond the physical world to a realm where faith begins.

And that little defense mechanism called cynicism can really block the view.

I think about other questions, too. (It’s strange where the mind will go in these moments.) I ponder, for example, the questions of free will and persuasion. The idea is for my friend to say at some point, “I choose to leave the old life behind and start a new life under the reign of God.” But my friend can and may decline that choice. Instinctively I will continue to reason and persuade. But again, where is the line that once crossed means it’s time to punt? When is it fourth down . . . when I must acknowledge God has given me many gifts but not the ability to change another’s mind?

As followers of Jesus, another gift we haven’t received is access to the end result. We speak, we reason, we share, we pray, and then we leave it to God. Sometimes it’s the hardest moment of faith, simply trusting that soul to heaven.

As I climb into my car, my head is spinning with nothing but ideas. Now I’m supposed to add some high-grade caffeine to that?

I sit for a moment with my hands on the wheel, then look at my hands and slowly pull them away. You take charge, Lord. Let me rest in the knowledge that You’ve got this. Help me do my simple part, which is to love my friend and trust in Your Spirit.

I’m thinking of Jen again as I turn the key in the ignition. She’s what we like to call a “spiritual explorer.” She isn’t a follower of Christ but is open for discussion of the subject. That’s what she’s been doing in a six-week group that has been meeting to explore our faith. And that’s what she’s agreed to do with me today.

Jen knows about the radical things Jesus claims for Himself and the equally radical ways He calls people to live. What else do I know about her? She has a tendency toward cynicism, but she is also thoughtful and respectful. The conventional wisdom is that she enjoys batting it all around, but she’s nowhere close to considering a serious commitment.

But the group leader disagrees. He watches Jen and feels that there’s more going on, that beneath her outward appearance—the little jokes, skepticism, “just here for the ride” act—there is a true, questing soul wanting to hear answers she can take hold of and trust. Going to a group was one thing; saying yes to a meeting with me, to go a little deeper, is something else entirely. Until she says no, it’s wise to pursue the possibility of yes.I talk to God, asking for wisdom to find the stance that’s just right for this dialogue. I ask Him to help me be myself rather than some cosmic sales representative.

Prayer helps, but it’s impossible not to feel a little antsy. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t be taking seriously what’s on the line here. This is a child of God who stands at a place of profound deliberation. It’s a huge calling for me. And even as much as God does the heavy lifting, it doesn’t mean I can’t screw things up. The stakes are so high, and if I didn’t acknowledge that, I would be spiritually reckless.

At this point the little voice inside says, Fine, but why keep stimulating your fears? Why set up camp in the field of doubt? Go home or go courageously. Take the leap or take a U-turn. If you choose faith, then use faith. It’s as simple as that.

I feel my right foot pressing down the gas pedal just a bit more.

When I arrive, Jen is waiting at a table, nursing a welcoming smile and an espresso. I grab my own beverage, sit down, make some polite conversation, and momentarily consider a little joke or something as a transition sentence—such as my observation about soul talk in coffee shops. But that would sound a little facile, a little rehearsed. Instead, I just relax and say, “Tell me about you. Why do you think you’ve come to this place?”

“You mean the coffee shop?”

I laugh. “No—well, that too! But mainly I mean this moment. This curiosity about Jesus that you’ve expressed.”

Her body language reads relaxed, which is a good sign. It suggests I must appear relaxed, too. Tension is infectious. I want Jen to see I’m not going to slam her with a King James Bible and demand the sinner’s prayer right here in front of the baked-goods display.

“Oh man,” she replies. “Where do I begin?”

And the story unfolds…

You’ve been reading from Talking about God: Honest Conversations About Spirituality. Discover refreshing portraits of natural, authentic, God-directed dialogues that protect the dignity of the people we love and lead them into life-changing conversations. Read more in Talking about God: Honest Conversations About Spirituality, by Steve & Cheri Saccone.

Click the book to ready chapter one.

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