Henry's Question

Henry's Question

The question suddenly crashed through the conversation. “Why are you a Christian, Sarah?” Henry asked. The others turned to look at me. There was a silence as they all waited for my reply.

I had graduated from high school only a year before and was living in Detroit for the summer to do mission work with an organization called Youthworks. I felt young and unsure of myself, but excited to be reaching out to the people of Detroit struggling with very real issues of poverty, violence, and racial tension. Through a program called Street Team, we hired a group of inner city high-schoolers to provide them with much needed job experience. The program also aimed to share the gospel, something the teens needed much more desperately than the minimum wage salary they made working for us around the city. I was given the awesome opportunity to be a witness to these teens as I worked side by side with them every day that summer. Yet when Henry’s question came, I floundered.

That afternoon stands clear and sharp in my memory. It was just another normal day of work, washing windows in a school, until the weight of the question dropped through our idle chatter. Henry was probably the shortest kid on our crew. Fourteen years old, impish and cheeky, he was always goofing off or wandering away absently when he was supposed to be working. It was hard to ever take him seriously, much less get him to listen. Always an entertainer, he would make up stories about his past for us, pretending he came from somewhere other than Detroit. The question was all the more surprising because it came from Henry. Did this goof-off really care? But why would he have asked if there wasn’t something in him that was interested?

Yet to my shame, I floundered when the question came. “Why are you a Christian, Sarah?” My mind jumbled frantically for words. “Well, um,” I started, unsure of myself. “My parents were Christians, and I was raised as a Christian, and…” I trailed off. Before I could collect my thoughts enough to continue, the conversation was off again, running in a different direction. I’d had that one split second opening to share. In hesitating, I had failed. Failed miserably, and I knew it.

I should have had a great answer, but in the moment no words had come. The question has haunted me ever since, an amazing opportunity that I let slip through my fingers because I wasn’t ready. Henry didn’t need superficial, circumstantial answers about Christianity. What did it matter to him that I was raised in a Christian family? That didn’t mean anything to him. Instead, Henry needed to be pointed to the living God, available to all regardless of their circumstances. Surrounded by violence and pain and poverty in Detroit, he needed to hear the truth of the overflowing hope and life Jesus brings. But I had been unable to give him a real answer.

“Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.” Once upon a time, I memorized that verse from 1 Peter 3, but the message didn’t quite hit home. I thought I knew why I was a Christian, but was I really ready, ever prepared and on my guard, to tell anyone who asked me? Apparently not, and as a Christian, that is unacceptable, because the world around us needs real answers. It needs them desperately, like we need the air we breathe.

That moment when Henry asked the question taught me a lesson. I realized that I needed to grapple with the real reason for my Christianity and consider if I am actually ready to put it into words for anyone who asks. That reason should be ready on my lips, ready in my actions, ready to shout to the world the life-giving truth that I know. So often it is not. So often I fail, and feel myself floundering and unsure again. Even now as I write, I still struggle to find exact words as I look back over the course of my life to explain why I am a Christian.

It started with the realization of that crushing truth that try as I might, I couldn’t make my life perfect in this unhappy, messy world. As failure and my consistent inability to make things right became increasingly inescapable, I longed for something more, some truth and beauty that transcended the despair of this lonely, failing world. Then I looked to Jesus, and He offered me what I had been lacking. In Him, my constant failures did not matter. His victory had conquered my inability and set things right by His all-encompassing grace that washed away my inadequacies. In Him, I found hope with the knowledge that this world does not have the final word, but someday in heaven I will fully know and enjoy His perfect truth and beauty. Jesus’ love for me worked its way into my heart to chase out the fear that had for so long held me captive. Why am I a Christian? I choose Christianity because the alternative is to despair and die, and I cannot exist without hope.  

I wish that I could relive that moment when Henry asked the question, to tell him the real reason why instead of banking on a superficial explanation. I know I never can. However, I can live each day seeing it as a new opportunity to show my hope to those around me and to be ready to tell them the reason why. In Jesus, my failure is wiped out, and I am given grace to stand and try again. I can only pray that I live every moment in a way that shouts to the world the “why” of my life. And if ever the question is so directly asked of me again, maybe I’ll be ready to find the words to give a real answer.

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Sarah is a wife and full time mom to three of the world's cutest kiddos. She grew up in Ann Arbor, Michigan, studied at the University of Michigan (go Blue!), but now lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan where she and her husband help lead an intentional Christian community group and serve with University Christian Outreach. In what spare time she can find, Sarah enjoys experimental cooking, gardening, playing Scrabble, being outside, and reading good children's literature. 

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