There I was, sitting in the artist’s chair, nervously awaiting my first tattoo. We had spent plenty of time (I thought) discussing exactly what I wanted. The artist had come highly recommended and he knew what I was hoping for. The fact that he never drew up a stencil didn’t even bother me, because I felt confident that we were on the same page.
The chair faced a mirror, so I could see what was going on. This artist definitely understood that I was nervous and needed to be aware of the whole process.
Then the needle started buzzing.
And I watched in the mirror as it came closer to my lips.
In a not so smooth motion (because tattoos are apparently not quick), he began to permanently draw a word, in a beautifully large font, across my lips. He started, just above my top lip, forming the grand ovaled loop that makes the cursive letter “J,” and continued the line as the curve moved downward beneath my lower lip on the same side.
I watched, a little shocked, as he kept going. Was this actually what I had asked for? A face tattoo? I can’t remember now what exactly we discussed in detail but he seemed to have a pretty good understanding… I guess I trust him…
The next letters, all lower case now and considerably smaller, were tattooed above my upper lip. It didn’t look like something I would have wanted. But I went in confident. It was too late to back out now.
I began thinking of all the consequences this new ink might have on my day-to-day life.
I’m almost definitely getting fired. There’s no way they’ll let me work with this word on my face… Maybe makeup can hide it… Or maybe I’ll be one of those lucky people who can actually pull it off and no one will be bothered by it… Maybe I’ll just have to find another way to make money until I can afford to get it removed… Oh my gosh. What will my husband say? I’m pretty sure I didn’t talk to him about this ahead of time.
“All done.” It was over pretty quickly. Didn’t hurt as much as I thought it would. Once it was all cleaned up, I took another look.
I mean, I guess if I’m getting a face tattoo, I at least want it to be spiritual? I tried to reason in my head.
I called my husband from the car to tell him what I’d just done, and to my surprise, he took it very well. Perhaps he didn’t hear me right. I guess we’ll see when I get home.
It was around this time, on my drive home – wondering how on earth I could face my parents, my coworkers, my children, or my friends – that I woke up. Still half-believing my face had the word “Jesus” written on it, I touched my lips to find that they were no longer sore and, in fact, free of any kind of ink.
But the dream was so vivid that I felt it was an important one to remember, and perhaps analyze. (Please tell me I’m not the only one who overthinks my dreams.)
Since this dream came to me on the eve of a certain appointment, my first inclination was to believe that this was God’s way of telling me not to get a tattoo. I would regret it. It wasn’t worth it. I’d spend my whole life wishing I hadn’t. I’d be embarrassed. Never get a job again. People would think bad things of me. Etc. Etc.
But as I thought on it the tiniest bit longer, I realized that wasn’t at all what I learned from it. See, I don’t believe tattoos are bad. They don’t make a person bad. They aren’t only for a certain crowd of people. They don’t imply that you are immoral or promiscuous or a criminal. Not anymore. Not in my experience. (I could write an entire post about some amazing people that I know with tattoos who fit absolutely none of those stereotypes, some of whom are Christians who strive to live out the gospel every single day of their lives and are not hindered one bit by their body art. But I will save that for another day.)
Back to my face tattoo.
I felt it bore a striking resemblance to my Christian walk – one that I’m not entirely proud of sharing, but perhaps you can relate – specifically when it comes to talking about Jesus.
Somehow, even though I’d spoken at length with this guy (the one wielding the pen-with-permanent-ink) about what I wanted and how great it was going to be, I ended up with something much more visible than I was comfortable with, something I wasn’t actually sure I wanted people to see.
My first concern was how will people judge me? My next thought was, how can I hide it? Then, maybe it will just come naturally to me. Or, maybe I could talk about something else until it goes away. And of course, what if those closest to me think I’m strange? What if I lose them?
Sometimes, talking about Jesus is easy. You know, when you’re at church or a Bible study or with your Christian family. In safe places where everyone knows everyone else’s faith is solid and you all agree on every little detail (newsflash, you probably don’t) and saying Jesus’ name is normal and welcomed.
But in public. Among strangers. Around new friends, or just friends you don’t know well enough to know what offends them. That is significantly harder.
Having “Jesus” on your lips, for everyone to see, 100% of the time, for the rest of all time. How does one even do that?
No, really. I’m asking.
I’ve gone back and forth over the course of my faith trying to decide where the balance lies between my words and my conduct. Does talking about Jesus negate the power of my actions by making people think I’m a weirdo? Or is it the other way around, where not talking about Jesus negates the power of my actions because I am not giving Him credit for them as I should, instead taking credit for myself?
Actions are, of course, incredibly important. If your behavior doesn’t match your speech, they call that being a hypocrite.
Jesus had harsh things to say to the Pharisees about speaking religiously without backing it up in deed, and goes on further to say that those deeds should be done without the expectation of being noticed, so as to not bring attention to oneself:
26 If anyone among you thinks he is religious, and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this one’s religion is useless. 27 Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.
James 1: 26-27 New King James Version (NKJV)
That “unspotted” part, I like. Due to being painfully shy for most of my childhood, unspotted has always been one of my favorite places to be. But as I’ve gotten older and a little more social, I actually enjoy being around people, and I like talking (in groups with very small numbers, like 2, but hey, it’s a start). I love small-talk and deep, meaningful conversations in equal amounts. And I secretly like for my actions to be noticed.
But when it comes to talking about my faith in a relatively public setting, or giving God the glory for anything “good” that I do, I still don’t often speak up. I wish that I did.
I believe God wants us to speak up when we have a chance to speak His name. Of course our actions should follow suit. We should be walking testimonies to His love and grace and goodwill through our actions and kindnesses and every-day good deeds. But our lips should never be afraid to express the reason we do such things.
They should never be afraid to admit that we are not acting from our own goodness, but from the happiness and peace that comes from above and lives within our hearts, encouraging us daily to live this way. And when we fall short, as we so often will, they should never be afraid to ask forgiveness, both from God and from those we have hurt.
In a practical sense, it is hard sometimes to remember to do this, or even to know where to start. It isn’t much, but here is what I’ve been working on since that fictional tattoo was added to my face:
- Offering to pray for people. And actually doing it. I can count on one hand the number of strangers I have offered to pray for, but I’ve lifted each and every one up in prayer as soon as the opportunity arose. Perhaps a better way to do this would be to pray with them on the spot, but I have not yet found the courage to do so.
- Speaking more freely about my faith with close friends. This is a hard one, because not all of my close friends believe the same way I do. Conversations about faith between people who mean a lot to you can feel risky, but I have never regretted opening up the topic. In fact, I’ve learned some things along the way.
- Starting this blog and actually writing about God on it. When I started this, I assumed it would be mostly posts about motherhood and marriage. I’ve never felt comfortable sharing my thoughts about faith with the world; then someone (or multiple someones) encouraged me to do so. I have a long way to go in my own walk, but writing about it as I go has been a wonderful experience so far.
What are some ways you can keep Jesus on your lips for everyone to see (short of an actual tattoo, which I don’t recommend for this purpose)? How do you keep the focus on Him when it’s uncomfortable to do so?
I really want to know. Because I’m working on this, too.