My sister in law is a hair stylist.  She used to run her own business.  After the birth of her second child, however, she closed her business and only worked on family, in her kitchen.  One day when she was cutting my hair I remarked that she was a highly skilled amateur.

She bristled, “Oh no, I’m a professional.”

I tried to explain that I hadn’t meant to insult her, but the literal meaning of the word amateur was one who does it for the love.  She no longer cuts hair professionally, for money, but now does it for the love.

And I’ve been thinking …

Many of us approach Christianity like it’s a profession.  I am a Christian, so I do this and I don’t do that.  Which makes my Christianity about me.  Which makes me a hypocrite.  Professionalism implies a level of training, competence and skill.  Does that speak to our unrealistic expectations of our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ who are at a different point in their journey and walking a different landscape than our own?

I’ve been an amateur musician since I was 8 years old (I just had a birthday and I don’t feel like reckoning up the years just now, but suffice it to say that’s a long time).  In that time I’ve gone through periods where I’ve played and/or sung a lot.  Just this week I opened a book I bought a few months ago and started to teach myself to play the piano.  Is this because I’m super good at it or because I think I might like to or be able to earn my living at it some day?  No way.  It’s pure love.  I love music.  At my best, I’ve achieved some degree of competence, but I’d be kidding myself if I thought there was a future for me as a professional musician.  I don’t have the talent.  And, frankly, I don’t want to place myself in the position where the work required to achieve professional level musicianship would detract from the love …

What does this mean for me as a Christ follower?

First and foremost I must remember that I’m in it for the love.  Love for Jesus is my motivation for all that I do, not some list of rules posted in the church bylaws or even some list of rules printed in the bible.  Those are guidelines for how I live out my love for Christ.

It also means that my attitude toward my fellow followers is one of grace and not judgement.  I might think they should or should not be doing something, but it is unrealistic to expect professional level competence out of one who is just taking his first steps on the path of love.

It means that I have to follow the path of love that is laid out in front of me regardless of whether it measures up to popular Christian culture.  I’m not talking about going against the bible, I’m talking about a path that’s outside the mainstream experience.  There are many things in our contemporary Christian culture that are traditions and practices, this is the way we’ve always done it.  And I must be free to take them or leave them as Love dictates.

And it might mean that my attempts to be more like Jesus are sometime, well, amateurish.  Maybe I’m visiting in the nursing home for the first time and I don’t know what to do, don’t know what to say and I stand there awkwardly and I stammer and I repeat myself and I leave too soon or stay too long.  But, I love Jesus.  And I want to be like him.  And I believe that if he was living my life, he would visit the sick and lonely.  And I’m not doing it because I’m good at it, but for the love.  So I’ll go back next week.  And, just maybe, after a while, I’ll achieve some degree of competence.

Maybe it’s like my friend Jon wrote about should and could.  A professional should, but an amateur could …