Feeble Knees

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

On Baby Christians and Decoys

Anyone who's made a decision to follow Christ can tell their own story about what it was like to be a "baby Christian". The days and weeks immediately following "conversion" or "rebirth" are marked by great joy, a sense of wonder, and tremendous zeal to tell others about what has just happened in one's life. In many ways it truly is akin to becoming sighted for the first time after a lifetime of blindness - and we are eager to share what we have learned with everyone we meet.

I'm fascinated with a phenomenon that seems to occur in many Christians' early stages, one that has potentially a potentially devastating impact on one's walk and witness, not to mention one's close personal relationships. It is the phenomenon of the well-placed decoy.

It's happened again, to someone I know, and I saw it coming from the beginning. It happened to me, It's happened to other Christians I know. Today I'm wondering what it is that makes this such a ready trap and why more of us don't recognize it for what it is. And why doesn't the church talk more about it?

The decoy is the one person you will meet, usually very soon after your own conversion, who is the only one who has any interest in hearing what you have to say about Jesus. Your family isn't interested, and they think you've gone off your nut. Your friends are weirded out by all your God talk and wish you would just can it. But out of the ether, suddenly there's this new person who waltzes into your life - usually in some sorry state or another - who can't get enough of everything you have to say. After so much rejection and negative reaction from everyone else in your life, this person seems heaven-sent. God MUST want you to share His love with this person, right?

This individual becomes a sort of pet project for you. You spend more time with him or her. You go out of your way to do Christian things to help this poor downtrodden soul in his or her plight. You pat yourself on the back and start counting the days until they too see the light and come to Christ because of your bold witness to them and your kind, Christlike, loving deeds.

In the meantime, something interesting happens. You begin avoiding your family and friends who criticize or question your faith. You spend more time with your pet mission project, a fact that is lost on nobody in your immediate circle of friends and family. All the while, you find yourself becoming more entangled with your mission project person's life and trials. You fret about his or her lost job, failed relationship or family problems. You spend hours praying with them and for them, and still more hours counseling and cajoling them to turn to God. You invest more and more of yourself, believing this is what God would have you to do.

Much to your consternation, it begins to appear that your pet's problems are going from bad to worse, and you can't understand it. Why isn't God helping him/her? Perhaps the person has told you they are seeking God, that they ARE praying, but in the meantime s/he is also making some pretty bad decisions and doing things s/he ought not, despite your countless hours of counseling and good advice. Your days and nights are spent fretting over your pet project, and you begin to wonder why God would put this person in your life and then seemingly not answer your prayers for him or her.

Almost nothing good ever comes of the relationship. All you get out of it is a clinging vine who brings you turmoil, trouble and heartache - and guess what, they never get "saved". Even if they do eventually confess Christ, their actions almost never back up their confession - they remained unchanged, unrepentant and continue to bring upheaval and confusion everywhere they go.

If this has happened to you, you my friend have a decoy, a bona fide tar baby expertly designed to trip you up, weaken your faith, and often put a wedge between you and those closest to you. If you're lucky, you'll only fall for it once, and it won't take you long to figure out what's going on. If you're dense like me, it'll take getting burned a few times before you begin to spot such person a mile way.

Someone close to me is still all tangled up with her tar baby. It's hurt her relationships with her family, who are, as a result, not very enamored with the changes that have happened in her life since she became a Christian. It's a terrible shame because they need her right now more than her tar baby decoy does, but she doesn't see it. She can't see how the many manifold distractions created by the decoy are keeping her entangled and missing many rich opportunities to minister to and share God's love with her own flesh and blood.

Sadly it's a classic textbook case. But for the moment there seems to be no way to tell her what's really going on, that's she's expending all this energy barking up the wrong tree.

God will work it out in time, yes, and she will learn the truth eventually. Still, it hurts sometimes to see someone else make the same mistakes you've already made. I just hope she snaps out of it quicker than I ever did.
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