o where do your children go to school?” a classmate in grad school asks.
“A private school—Seventh-day Adventist, actually. I’m Seventh-day Adventist,” I reply.
“Oh, yes, I had a friend back in the day who was Adventist.” I cringe, knowing what would come next. “Yeah, we hiked together through Yosemite one summer. She wasn’t allowed to use a blow-dryer on Saturday,” she says. And there it was.
“Oh, you’re Seventh-day Adventist,” my new Jewish friend says. “I dated an SDA guy. It made it pretty easy on Sabbath.” Well, that was slightly better. Sort of.
Over my life there have been many similar conversations with new friends who find out which church I belong to and ask the questions I dread hearing. “So you’re Adventist, right? You guys don’t _________, and you don’t _________, and you don’t eat __________, and you don’t __________, and you don’t drink _________, right?” Feel free to fill in the blanks.
And even in our own circles, there have been too many unhelpful statements that include the word “don’t”: “Don’t wear lipstick. You won’t go to heaven if you wear lipstick.” I heard that one from a friend who was told this at boarding academy. And in a beginners Sabbath school classroom a girl (now a grown woman and mother of three) recalls being extremely distressed at hearing the following: “Don’t misbehave now, because naughty children don’t go to heaven.”
Is this what we are really all about? Of course not. But how many “on the outside” know that?
You’ve likely been in similar situations. You tell someone you are Seventh-day Adventist, and either they know of us and start listing the “don’ts” we may be known for, or we are confused with another faith group—also defined by the “don’ts” they are known for. And I’ll be the first to fess up that in my younger days if someone at the neighborhood playground asked why I was unavailable on Saturday, my answer never explained things in a positive light. “Well, I won’t be here because we ‘don’t’ come here on Saturday. I can’t watch that cartoon with you because we ‘don’t’ watch cartoons on Saturday.” Forgive the childish answers, but how adept were any of us 5-year-olds at explaining adherence to the fourth commandment and knowing what the word “Advent” meant? Perhaps we’ve all been guilty of perpetuating the notion that our belief system is best defined by a running list of all the things we “don’t” do.
Aren’t you tired of that?
It’s time to flip the switch on being defined by all the things we don’t do, because you and I know that’s not who we really are. Do others know that?
I realize there are those among us who may find it enhances their spiritual walk to adhere to a clearly articulated list of behaviors and activities they choose to refrain from. But we need to remember that if our job is to impact people for Christ—to show them who He really is through the difference He makes in our lives—practicing a faith of “don’ts” says nothing.
Serve, listen to, understand, educate, and immerse yourself in people who need you—people who happily live well outside your comfort zone. Build up a broken person through the outpouring of Someone who lives within you. Put aside the lists and parameters that serve as a primary source of how you operate in this world, and let Jesus do the talking in any way He sees fit.
Don’t you want someone to say (and if they already have, I’m thrilled): “Oh, you’re a Seventh-day Adventist? You folks are the ones that do___________, and do__________, and you do live ____________, and you really helped ____________, and that made our lives better”?
Feel free to fill in those blanks here and in your daily lives with more Jesus and less “don’t.”
Wilona Karimabadi is an assistant editor of
Adventist Review and editor of
KidsView, Adventist Review's magazine for children. This article was published March 21, 2013.