Recently I had lunch with a new friend, whom I loved getting to know as a sister in the Lord. When you meet someone for the first time, you’re looking to learn all you can—by observing, by listening, by observing how she listens. . . .
Let me tell you what offered the clearest window into this woman’s heart and mind. It wasn’t just her warm smile, or the energy with which she talked about God’s gracious direction of her path through rough and smooth places. It wasn’t even her description of the way she and her husband minister to a steady stream of people in their urban home, often keeping them for extended visits and aiming to disciple them in the way of Christ by word and example. It was her interaction with a young man who came to fill our water glasses. That’s what threw open the window and revealed her heart.
He was not a terribly noticeable guy—kind of pale, slightly stocky, with reddish scruffy-thick hair and beard—and with sleeves rolled up enough to reveal tattoos on each forearm. My friend leaned over to read the arm closest to her: a short sentence, something about fighting off foxes. As she tried to decipher it out loud, our waiter haltingly explained it was inspired by a line from a Eudora Welty story—“you know,” he said, “that woman from the South who was a really good writer.” (I think I found the line in Welty’s short story “A Worn Path,” in which an elderly grandmother treks from the country to the city for medicine to save her grandson’s life and, encountering all sorts of dangers and obstacles, cries, “Out of my way, all you foxes, owls, beetles, jack rabbits, coons, and wild animals!”)
In response to my friend’s continuing quizzical look and encouraging smile, our waiter explained those words remind him of the hard things we have to fight, the dark things we all face, the “foxes.” But my friend wasn’t done. Her next quick question was: “Well, on the other side of the hard things, what’s your hope?” This young man stopped, looked her in the eyes, and said, “Nobody ever asked me that before. Lots of people ask why the tattoo. Nobody ever asked that.” This led to his rather frank explanation of how he was “raised Christian,” rejected religion, but now chooses to believe there’s a God out there who made everything—a pretty extensive conversation for a guy who was supposed to be pouring water.
He soon had to leave, and we didn’t get too far. But we got a little ways. And that was because my friend first of all saw a person, and then was interested enough to talk with him, and then listen to him, and then ask what most people don’t. It was a great question, one the Holy Spirit can use in the heart of a young man who’s facing foxes head on. It was a salty question. I couldn’t help thinking of the apostle Paul’s instructions: “Conduct yourselves wisely toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person” (Col. 4:5–6).
Salt at the Checkout Counter
A few years ago at a women’s conference, a middle-aged woman who’d experienced a life full of hardship and struggle stood in front of several hundred women to tell her story of coming to faith in Jesus. She worked as a clerk in a grocery store located in the same town as the church hosting the conference. One day a warmhearted, salty-tongued woman from the church had struck up a conversation with her while checking out groceries, and was touched by the clerk’s comment about having a hard time of it. This woman began to aim for her new friend’s checkout line, to ask her how she was doing, and to tell her she was praying for her. The story of their growing friendship, their studying the Bible together, and the prayers and ministry of many others in the church would take too long to tell. But it all led to this woman standing at that conference praising God for his saving power in her life, through the death and resurrection of his Son.
That story stood out to me for its lack of drama. It was about an ordinary process of salt-spreading, close to home and in the rhythm of a normal day. It was about salt we’re all capable of spreading, salt we too often selfishly hoard for ourselves. We need these stories, these salty stories, these stories of seasoning our ordinary days and interactions with speech full of grace.
I was grateful for this most recent glimpse into the heart of a new friend sitting across the table at lunch: she’s one of the salty ones. She not only knows the good news of Jesus Christ as given in the Scriptures; she not only talks articulately about the gospel, and about sharing it; she evidently actually shares it as a regular part of her life—in her church and work, in the privacy of her home, and obviously in the rhythm of her everyday interactions. Her speech is seasoned with salt.
We can pray to be salt-spreaders. We can pray not just that God would help us to obey this instruction, but that he’d make us so full of the gospel’s glories that we wouldn’t be able not to obey. We can pray that, as we faithfully fill ourselves with his Word, it would dwell in us so richly that it seasons all our thoughts and words, even in the rhythm of our ordinary lives. Oh to “make the best use of the time.”
By God’s grace and by his Spirit, may we speak salty words of grace to the people who fill our days.
Editors’ note: Register to see Kathleen Nielson speak at our 2015 National Conference, April 13 to 15, in Orlando. She will be leading a workshop titled “Calling and Callings: ‘Balancing’ Life in Light of the Gospel” and moderating a panel on “Ministry Among Women” with Nancy Guthrie, Gloria Furman, and Melissa Kruger. Or sign up to hear Rico Tice and Rebecca Manley Pippert for their workshop, “Excited About Evangelism? Inspiring Your Church Family to Share Their Faith Today,” and Erik Raymond on “Everyday Evangelism.” Conference rates increase $40 this week; register now!