As a Christian, I have been taught to be a witness for God and Jesus. I was a very shy little girl and I can remember hearing my preacher talk about witnessing in church and being terrified because I knew that I could never go up to someone and just start talking about Christ. I have always had a close relationship with God and I ask Him to expand my territory for His good every day, but going up to strangers and talking to them about their deepest, personal beliefs seemed invasive rather than loving.
Instead, I decided to try to be kind. I talked to God about it, and I felt like He approved.
My junior year in college I was approached while reading a book on campus. The person handed me a Gideon’s Bible and told me that I should consider reading this text instead. I had been reading my Bible since I was able to read. This made me feel like I must have looked like some big sinner, sitting there all alone on the steps of my performing arts building reading a book about Modern Dance pioneers. From where I sat, this person was in judgment of me and I didn’t understand why. Was it because I was interested in the arts? Did my clothes seem unholy? Or did I just look like someone who doesn’t know or love Jesus yet? And more importantly, is she a “better” Christian than me because she gives out Bibles to strangers?
And so began my adventures in feeling like an inadequate Christian in the deep south.
And here’s the thing: if I, a southerner with heavy Christian roots who was raised in church and can quote every word of the Lord’s prayer and belt out at least three verses of Amazing Grace, find it hard to live here and not feel judged by fellow Christians, how must my brothers and sisters who were not so lucky to have been surrounded by the power of prayer and gratitude for all of God’s blessings their whole life be feeling?
I was not so naive as to believe that opening a yoga studio in the Bible Belt would not put my faith up for debate. I have lost students when their pastor told them not to meditate at my studio because the only time they need to be sitting in silence should be in prayer. I understood and asked them to let him know that I am happy to discuss my beliefs on meditation anytime. (I believe prayer is our chance to talk to God, while meditation is our chance to listen. Without meditation, I feel our relationship is unbalanced.)
I have had a mean and nasty old man (yeah, that’s just my opinion) write a seething letting to the local paper calling me a Pagan because I appreciate nature and breathing and practicing poses that have been around for thousands of years on God’s green earth. I wept and prayed for my children’s protection from people like that and became afraid one time that he was behind me in line at the grocery store. Ridiculous, yes, but that was the actual result of one man’s witness to me.
And just last week one of my students was accosted on the street as she walked into my studio. This woman wanted to know if I worship idols and said she would not step foot in a place like mine now that she has “found the Lord”. My friend, a devout Christian, was physically shaking. All in the name of being a witness for Jesus?
These acts made me feel alienated and deflated and unloved. They made me want to hide. They actually made me want to move. Was this God’s hand at work on me? I’m not sure, but what I think God wanted me to learn from all of this is to have pride in my faith and how I choose to practice and share it. I share it by trying to help people feel better inside by offering them a time and space to relax and take care of themselves; to help them see that there’s nothing wrong with their bodies or their minds or this very moment. My gifts from God are a love of dance and yoga and moving this body I was blessed to carry through my life here. The way I use my gifts is to teach with peace, love, kindness, compassion, understanding, hope, a soothing voice and a smile. Just before I teach each class, I ask God to use me to help every person in the room get something they need. I witness in a whisper and I know God loves me.