The HeBGB Factor

by Joanie Butman

I have a new male friend. I don’t know what it is about me – the little guys like me, the old guys like me, the ones in the middle I’ve never had much success with until I met my husband. My new friend is my parents’ neighbor at 'The Farm.' He likes assisted living about as much as they do, which is probably why they get along so well.

The best thing about young (really young) and older men is that it is the only time you can have a male friend without anyone making it into something it’s not. I’m no creeper and I already have a sugar daddy named Bob. No, Sam (my 4-yr-old friend) and now Norman (my 96-yr-old friend) and I just enjoy each other’s company – at least from my point of view. Truthfully, Norman just celebrated his 86th birthday, but he likes to say he’s 96 so people will tell him how great he looks for his age – a strategy I’ve also employed when needing a boost. Norman is not my first octogenarian buddy. There is Mr. C., my children’s old soccer coach, and sadly a John and a Jack who are no longer with us. I hope Norman doesn’t panic when he hears my track record.

It’s early in the ‘relationship,’ but I look forward to many more marathon breakfasts with him where the conversations are lively and long. Not many people have the luxury of having a two-hour breakfast, nor are there many who would take the time even if they could. That’s the beauty of the very young and the very old – they’ve got nothing but time on their hands. The fact that Sam or Norman would choose to spend it with me is an honor.

During those breakfast conversations we’ve discussed books, politics, aging, families and a glut of other topics. Spirituality has come up quite a bit. Norman doesn’t share my faith, but he graciously read a book I gave him about how different people face death. I’m now struggling through a 900+ page book he recommended. Forget about Norman, I might be dead before I finish it.

When I called my mother the other day, she told me she left one of my books by Norman’s door. It is the story of my journey with cancer and is allabout faith with my favorite scripture verses quoted throughout. Even though I appreciate her enthusiasm for my work, I thought, “Oh, geez. There goes my breakfast buddy. He’s going to think I’m one of those evangelists trying to convert him!” My first reaction? “Go get it back before he finds it!” Either Norman is a speed reader or it was a slow day, because she told me he was already half way through it. Oh well. I hope my book didn’t give him the heebeegeebees (HeBGB).

I am acutely aware of what my friend refers to as the ‘HeBGB Factor.’ I’ve been a victim of it and make every effort to avoid unleashing it on others. I wrote about this phenomenon in one of my books, but based on the sales, I think it’s safe to assume many of you haven’t read that essay. I will share some of the highlights.

We’ve all experienced the HeBGB factor in various forms. Personally, I don’t have to look far. I get a good dose of it from my own family. When I first mentioned to them I was writing a devotional book, their response, “You’re joking, right?” is just one example. If I remember correctly, I think it was followed by an exchange of knowing glances, raised eyebrows and facial expressions that left little to the imagination. I don’t want Norman sharing their belief that I’d drunk the proverbial Kool-Aid.

Verbal or not, you’d recognize the symptoms of the HeBGB factor anywhere:  a rolling of the eyes or maybe just a glazed over stare, a hand gesture (no, not that one or on second thought, I’ve seen that too) that says STOP! The HeBGB factor manifests itself in countless ways, but the message remains the same, “Ixnay on the preaching.”

As far as I’m concerned, there is nothing more offensive than an in-your-face Christian. And if you’re putting someone off, believe me, the possibility of drawing them back is extremely remote. In fact, they will devise ways to avoid you in the future if possible. Have you noticed people changing direction when they see you coming lately? My 35-year hiatus from Christianity illustrates my case perfectly.  Attending Catholic school and having the catechism shoved down my throat by some pretty scary nuns probably did more to contribute to my flight from Christianity than any other factor. 

Yes, Christ calls us to be ambassadors of His light in the world, but some people take this instruction a little too far. What comes to mind when you hear the word discipling? Jehovah Witnesses ringing your doorbell, street corner preachers, Jim and Tammy Faye, or is it a billboard sized picture of your face that some people see? Discipleship is a very real ministry in which we are called to participate. Still, we don’t all need to be Billy Grahams. Discipling doesn’t have to be a shout; sometimes a whisper is just as effective – especially at the breakfast table!

Positive modeling NOT necessarily words is how we’re supposed to witness for Christ. If you want to stick with the Light theme, we need to ‘lighten’ up in more ways than one. There’s nothing worse than an overbearing Christian! All we are asked to do is what we can, when we can, where we can, with whatever gifts God has given us; AND we don’t need to make those around us crazy in the process. In his book, Everybody’s Normal Till You Get to Know Them, John Ortberg remarks, “People who don’t take themselves too seriously give a great gift to those around them. In contrast, joy-challenged people face a serious handicap in trying to live in community.” I think we as Christians do others a great disservice when we take ourselves too seriously. Peace and joy is what we want to radiate because it is infectious. It attracts people because they’ll want the same thing. Do you remember the famous diner scene in When Harry Met Sally?  (weren’t they having breakfast too?) Without asking any questions, the woman at the next table says, “I’ll take whatever she’s having.”  Why?  Because she wants to experience the same, uh, joy! We need to shine first. There’s plenty of time for explanations later.

I choose to meet people where they are whether it’s at the playground or at the breakfast table. I choose to develop relationships because that’s really what Christianity is all about – our relationship with Christ bubbling over into the relationships we have with those around us. Finally, as Norman is now painfully aware, as a Christian I am instructed to “be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.” (1 Peter 3:15)  I hope Norman recognizes this as my goal when he’s reading my book just as I hope you do when you’re reading my blog. I’ve said it before, but it’s worth repeating. When I choose to share accounts of how God works in my life, it isn’t for the purpose of converting anyone. It is simply to reveal a facet of the Divine others may not have had the opportunity to see before thereby expressing 'the reason for the hope that I have.' Every reader chooses their own response – or not.

Discipling is a very personal thing, just as Christianity is meant to be. How, where, when and with whom you choose to do it is up to you. There is no minimum hourly requirement, no secret language and no manual to follow. There is no God Squad patrolling to enforce discipling rules from some prescribed handbook. If you’re at a loss for words, maybe you’re not supposed to be using any. Personally, I choose to rely on the Holy Spirit to guide me with wisdom, gentleness and love so that I, in turn, can do the same for others with none of the HeBGB factor in tow.