Ten years ago this summer, I had just won Food Network Star. Until then, we had been stretching my husband’s unemployment checks, and I remember a fellow contestant on the show who looked at my shoes and said, “You came on national television with holes in your shoes?!” I looked down in shame. When you have to choose between saving for rent and buying new shoes, you save for rent! Needless to say, I was ready for a change.
One evening, my husband, our best friend Andy, and I climbed onto the roof of Andy’s building to take in the view of the city. The sun began her reluctant recline, staining the blue skies pink and purple. We gazed at the skyline, taking in the result of generations of architects punching their imprint on the sky.
Suddenly, a flock of birds sprung up before us and curled through the sky as one, flinging themselves in one direction, then turning on a dime. They soared and dipped, defying gravity then falling into it, an improvised choreography that took our breath away. I took a video of the murmuration and posted it to the 40,000 new sets of eyes on my Facebook page. “Isn’t God grand?” I wrote.
Well, let’s just say that more than a few of my new followers didn’t agree: “We don’t follow you for that. Please leave religion out of it.”
I was paralyzed. I’m a bonafide people pleaser, a trait borne out of a childhood marked by frequent exclusion from friends. Consequently, if someone doesn’t like an aspect of my personality, I change it immediately. So the response on my Facebook post sent me spiraling. Plus, I’d already lost one career; I couldn’t lose another!
Friends, let’s speak frankly: If it was hard to talk about God ten years ago, it feels even harder now. I have a sensitive spirit, and today’s divisive atmosphere often trips my depression wire. We cry out for unity, and yet sometimes, it seems impossible.
One day, I landed on this promise from Jesus:
“Do you think I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I have come to divide people against each other!”
Luke 12:51 (NLT)
While we’re called to live at peace with each other as much as possible, spiritual division is part of the plan, dear hearts. In fact, Jesus is the epicenter of this division. My people-pleasing heart roils at the prospect of rejection — not only because it stabs at childhood wounds, but also because my career, my means of supporting my family, rests on likes and follows. It’s my worst nightmare come true — living in a popularity contest and needing to win!
At times like this, it’s helpful to zoom out for perspective. God is the answer to our every craving. And for mankind-fearing hearts like mine, He is the God who who no longer calls us servants but friends. When I use Instagram numbers to fill that void instead of Him, I hear Him say, “Don’t you realize that friendship with the world makes you an enemy of God?” (James 4:4 NLT)
Or as Jesus puts it in Luke 6:26 (NLT),
“What sorrow awaits you who are praised by the crowds, for their ancestors also praised false prophets.”
In our world of greys, this is a black and white statement. Why does God make us pick a side? Perhaps it’s because He knows how intoxicating validation is to us — because He made us to seek His. The world’s approval is a counterfeit version of His friendship — one that leads to sorrow because it so often blurs our vision. One little compromise here, one looking-the-other-way there, and suddenly we’ve slipped off the path into confusion and have lost our way.
So, I decided to keep talking about Him. God was the one who gave me this career, and He’s the only one who can take it away. I was timid at first, but over the years, as my friendship with Him has grown, so has my boldness. I’ve always admired people whose relationship with Him was so strong they talked about Him as if He was their friend. The Spirit would slosh out of them, like a full martini glass in the hands of an excited talker — vodka and olive juice everywhere. (Sorry, folks, these are the visuals the Spirit gives me!) I’ve always wanted to be like that, and now I realize that God has answered my prayer. My martini glass isn’t always full to the brim, but it’s usually half full, and ever the optimist, that’s been enough for me to spill the Spirit wherever I go!
Of course, some doors will close because you choose to be open about Christ. But can I tell you how much sweeter, bigger, and more deeply satisfying the doors are that God has opened for me instead? While I feared losing fans over Him, my following has multiplied, as have my opportunities in both secular and Christian spaces. One of my most precious privileges is when people on set come find me and ask me to pray for them. In fact, one of my dearest friendships started because I offered to pray for her.
A decade after that first “divisive” post, I stand on the precipice of being able to do some pretty exciting things in His name, writing for (in)courage being chief among them. I think about that younger Aarti, whose people-pleasing heart wondered how to satisfy the people who said they weren’t following her for that, and I want to say to her — and to you — “That’s okay. There’s plenty more people who do follow you for that, so don’t hold back!”Leave a Comment