By Anna McShane in China — One of the first years that we came to China to do university lectures, a young woman named Lu was assigned to us as our “person to contact if you need help.” We soon developed a solid friendship with Lu, young and single, and to this day she is a trusted friend.
That first year, Lu was struggling with life. She was nearing 30 and not married. That, in modern China, is atypical, and she felt it. Her parents were not getting along with each other, and she was working long hours. She needed a husband and some level of success.
One afternoon, we had some time to kill before a lecture. My husband needed to run to the bank, but I was free. The big boss told Lu to get me some coffee, so we settled into comfortable chairs in a lounge, just the two of us. Lu began to talk.
‘I decided I’d try Buddhism’
“Last year I was really struggling and lacking peace, so I decided I’d try Buddhism. I did meditation and studied. I bought turtles at the market and instead of making soup, I set them free,” she said. “I tried to do all the right things. Buddhism says you spiral upwards as you do good works, and eventually you leap off and go to perfection? You know this?”
I assented that yes, I was familiar with this theology.
“But, Liz,” Lu went on, “It doesn’t work. I will NEVER make it. I’ll never be good enough.”
Then she looked at me, hesitated, and asked, “So what does Jesus have to offer?”
I gently explained how Jesus knew that we’d never make perfection, that we are always flawed, and that we can’t attain peace on our own. Instead of expecting us to earn peace, he died for us to give us peace, peace that is only from God, the author of peace. It was a simple, quiet discussion, and she listened carefully. We finished our coffee and went to the lecture hall.
Six years on, it’s still not working
That was six years ago. In the intervening years we’ve walked with Lu through a bad engagement, a good engagement, marriage, a new baby, and then with China’s laws changing, a second little boy 18 months later. I come twice a year bearing gifts for Lu’s little guys.
We rely on Lu for so much. We’ve lived life up close and personal. It was Lu who rushed me to the hospital when a glass broke and sliced through my finger, and walked step by step with me right up to the surgery door. It was Lu who brought me dates and orange juice to strengthen me after my finger was stitched, and it was Lu who took us out for donkey burgers when we came back for a checkup. It’s Lu who gets us paperwork for visas, schedules our lectures, and works with us to house our summer teams. We know each other well – and she knows exactly what we believe. But she’s not ready to take the leap of faith to Jesus.
A week ago she sat at our little dining table with a colleague over a simple lunch. “You know that we have some new restrictions here in China on religion?” We said that yes, we did know that. “I think it would be good if your teachers this summer don’t invite any students to church. I know you never pressure them, but someone might get the wrong idea. We aren’t supposed to have any religion but the Party. I can’t even say that I’m a Buddhist.”
Her colleague laughed and said, “Lu, you are about as Buddhist as I am communist. I’m a party member because I joined in university, but it means nothing. We don’t have anything to believe in because we’re supposed to worship the government. Who wants to worship a government?”
Lu knows we have peace, and she doesn’t. She, and many other young Chinese, are looking to Buddhism as if it will bring some order to their frantic, high-pressure lives.
But it’s not working.
- We’ve gathered resources about interacting with Buddhists and engaging them in spiritual conversation on our Path to Peace page.
- He tried hard to be a good Buddhist, but found no peace there: Though he excelled at following the precepts, he still felt exhausted, worried, and insecure. Now he’s discovered true peace — and he can’t stop telling others about it.
- Intro to Buddhism, part 1: The basics : A primer for understanding who the Buddha was and what he taught.
- Intro to Buddhism, part 2: Symbols and traditions: Learn about the rich meaning behind some of the images associated with the world’s fourth-largest religion.
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