Stepping out of the way

August 24, 2007 | Conversion | 14 comments

I realized after reading the last post that didn’t specifically address the question I posed in the title: what do I say to my gay friends? The answer is, the same thing I say to any of my friends who have different morals or religious beliefs than I do: not much.

With my gay friends, the subject of my conversion really hasn’t come up. The only change they might have noticed since I became “one of those Catholics that believes in all the rules and stuff” (as one acquaintance put it) is that I’m a better friend. I spend less time sharing juicy gossip and more time listening to what others have to say. I focus less on loudly making sure everyone is aware of how witty and interesting I am and focus more on showing genuine concern for what’s going on in my friend’s lives.

When spending time with friends or family who don’t share my religious beliefs, I figure that if I’m wrong and they’re right, the only thing that me pushing my views is going to do is annoy everyone. Besides, nobody was ever converted by being chastised about how wrong they are. And if I’m right and they’re wrong, then the first thing I need to do is shut up and pray. I have the grand Creator of the universe on my side, who desperately wants all souls to know him, and he probably has a better plan for how to get his message across than I do.

The question, as I’ve come to see it, is not, “How can I show this person the error of her ways?”, but rather, “How can I focus more on the error of my ways, to conform myself more perfectly to the image of Christ? How can I do a better job of pushing my ego aside to allow people to see Christ through me?”

I should note that this is not always the way I’ve seen it. These are certainly not my original ideas here. My way of approaching evangelization used to be more like, “Boy, this is going to be a lot of work to show all these people how wrong they are! I’d better get started handing out the criticism!”

An analogy I often think of for how I used to handle pitching my newfound religion is that it was like I was describing the sun to someone who’d never seen it — while blocking out all the light and casting a shadow on them. I picture myself rambling a mile a minute, saying things like, “So the sun is this round fireball in the sky, all bright and kind of yellowish and stuff. You should see it, it’s beautiful. It’s sooooo warm, it feels so great when it shines on you. I mean, you’ve just got to feel this! There’s nothing better than basking in the warm glow of the sun!” while meanwhile the poor person is sitting in my shadow, unable to see the sun for himself because I’m in the way.

Luckily, God gave me a much-needed smack upside the head, and told me that I need to step aside. After a few painful lessons in humility, I got this wonderful advice from commentor Steve G. on the subject of evangelizing to others, based on his experience with his (formerly) agnostic wife (a must-read — go check it out if you haven’t already seen it).

Around the same time, I was reading Fr. Tadeusz Dajczer’s book The Gift of Faith and came across an interesting point about St. Francis. Francis of Assisi lived during a time when many people were losing faith, heresy was rampant across Europe, and there was widespread corruption in the Church. He almost single-handedly turned the tide for the better, but how? Not surprisingly, he didn’t use my old method of telling everyone how wrong they are. Fr. Dajczer writes:

Francis never criticized anybody. He believed that if evil is all around, it is he and not others who must first be converted. If such great abundance of wealth and debauchery is rife…then it is he who must become radically poor and pure. Saints differ from those who create heresies because heretics want to convert others but do not want to convert themselves, whereas saints turn all the cutting edges of criticism towards themselves, they strive to be converted so that the world can be better. […]

It was he, Francis, who had to be radically converted, and history proved that he was right. For when Francis was converted, when he became so ‘transparent’ to the Lord that the image of Christ could be reflected in him, Europe then began to heave itself up from its fall.

This insight was actually a huge weight off my shoulders. When I’d first realized that Christianity was true, I looked around at all the people I loved who rejected this religion as I once had, and felt great anxiety: how could I ever convert all these people? How could I show them the peace and beauty that they were missing? It felt overwhelming. So it was with great relief that I realized that it wasn’t my job to convert anyone: it’s God’s job. The best way I could possibly evangelize would be to let God work through me, to turn all my anxieties and frustrations over to him and focus all my energy on improving my prayer life and seeking deeper conversion for myself.

And so, rather than turning inward and asking myself, “What do I say to friends and family members who have totally different morals or beliefs than I do?”, I try to remember to turn to God instead, and to ask him, “How do I step out of the way? How can I set my pride and my selfishness aside? How can I let the world see not my shadow but your light?”

14 Comments

  1. Melody

    Jen, I am a lurker who just signed up to let you know this was exactly what I needed to hear(or read, whatever). I have been fretting on how to share what I have learned with others without seeing that switch flip in their eyes to “off” when I bring up anything related to Catholicism. I have a nephew who recently came out and feel obligated to share with him what I know. Your sun analogy was PERFECT. Great post.

  2. Jennifer

    Holy Spirit again at work here–I am saying a great big DITTO to Melody. I really needed to hear this, too, as there are several situations in which folks close to me are not making what we would consider good choices.

  3. Melanie B

    I’ve heard St Francis’ teaching summarized as: “Evangelize always, when necessary use words.”

    But even having heard that before, and having said it to many people, I still struggle with how to approach my friends who I think are making terrible choices. I feel guilty when I don’t address them directly. I, too, need the reminder.

    Thanks, Jen.

    And best of luck with the baby. We’ll be praying for you extra hard this week.

  4. Sarah

    Yes, YES, YES!!!! Thanks so much…you’ve once again said just what I think and feel and have found to be true.

    Prayers coming your way for Baby. What a special, special little gift this is for you all! 🙂

  5. Abigail

    This post was so great! Thank you! I’d spent the weekend attending a family member’s Mennonite funeral and turned on my computer this morning to research the Catholic’s argument in favor of infant baptism. This advice about true “evangelicalism” is much better. More prayer and an honest attempt to take the saintly path vs. the loud heretic one- will be my focus this week.

    Good luck with the coming c-section!

  6. kevin

    Jen, thank you so much for confirming my own instinct on how to explain my Catholic beliefs on sexuality to my gay friends – just don’t. They haven’t asked and it is not my place to explain their error to them. They need only to see me live joyfully in spite of a myriad of unresolved moral issues. As you point out, that is a more powerful Christian example than anything I can say. I also have to remind myself from time to time that if their only sin is in failing to heed God’s plan for their sexual energies, they are far closer to Him than I am.

  7. SuburbanCorrespondent

    This doesn’t answer the question of why would God make a person who is only sexually attracted to the same sex. I mean, isn’t that sort of a tease? Mean, even?

  8. Jennifer F.

    SuburbanCorrespondent –

    Yeah, I didn’t mean for this post to cover all aspects of the issue. But it’s a good question. I think it falls under the category of, “Why are some people born with conditions that make life difficult, and not others?” — this issue is just one of them, but there are many others. Probably not something we’ll get a definitive answer to in this life.

  9. Anonymous

    I don't think I would consider someone who's simply "tolerating" my existence a good friend. The self righteousness here makes me nauseous.

  10. Scott

    I agree with anonymous. I used to enjoy this blog, because it was interesting to see how someone who was intelligent found their way back to Christianity, as I'm trying to do myself. But, what the writer is failing to realize is that her own self-righteousness over the "gay lifestyle," which, by the way, is an extremely offensive way to characterize a relationship that I have had with my partner, whom I love deeply and have been with for 10 years, and is SO much more than "misspent sexual energies," is serving to blind me to a God that I desperately am trying to come to terms with. If your God tells me I can't LOVE (yes, LOVE) my partner without risking hellfire, I have no use for your God, and my life is so much better without him.

    Or, there is an alternative. Rather than trap God in the petty box of human intolerance (or even thinly disguised intolerance that parades as "tolerance"), we could realize that God is STILL SPEAKING to us, that he should not be trapped in some outdated theology, and he is not so obsessed with our sex lives as he is with our soul and how MUCH we love rather than who we love. Catholics, although they often lob criticisms at us that we need to not be so obsessed with sex that we should be able to just give it up for "God's plan" – as if anyone but God could know this and when they're not willing to do the same – seem rather too obsessed with sex themselves. So obsessed, it seems, that they miss the whole point of God – LOVE. GRACE. FORGIVENESS. But the most important of these, love. Also, it seems to me an acceptance of a "timeless" theology that backs up a very outdated homophobia and doesn't feel like God to me at all.

    Reading these comments and this blog entry sounds a lot to me like I'm listening to a bunch of school-girls, giggling over things they don't understand. Moreso, it just comes off as arrogant – EXACTLY how you want to represent God.

    God bless, and may you see the error of YOUR ways one day.

  11. Lucy

    Scott and Anonymous,

    God loves you – as He loves us all – but He does not love our sins. Not one of them. No matter who commits them.

    May every joy, freedom, and Truth that comes through acceptance of the One Church be yours to cherish one day.

    Jen,

    Good work, and please keep it up. We need more torches like you to reflect the true teachings of He who is our Light. God bless you and give you strength.

  12. Sara

    As someone who was "born a Christian" if you will. Someone to whom it has always been obvious that God exists, I am moved by your insight for such a "young" Christian. I have been reading your blog for about 15 minutes now, and for the first time ever, and have already read a couple of things that made me go, "hmm, I never thought of it that way". Thank you for sharing your insights. Definitely food for thought. I have several friends who are either athiests or agnostics and I always struggle with what I should do to witness to them. Thank you for this post! Very good points!

    Welcome to the family!

  13. christa

    Recommend: LOVE IS AN ORIENTATION by Andrew Marin

  14. Anonymous

    I don't think you answered the question: what do I tell my gay friends about their lifestyle?

    The I'm just going to listen to them and not offer comment is 'dangerous' / either one knows truth and speaks it or one is not sure and stays silent.

    If your friends were going to ingest a poison from an unmarked bottle on your kitchen counter would you knowingly stand there and let them because they told you it smells ok? If you knew that something had a FATAL EFFECT to one's MORTAL SOUL and ETERNAL LIFE would you shrug and say "well hey if you want to do it go ahead."

    True, there must be a solid relationship before one can say NO DON'T STOP IT'S WRONG…you will be fatally hurt…I LOVE YOU and I can't let you go that route! In a real friendship of respect one to the other, the 'gay friend' MIGHT listen. If the gay friend is with you only to have a non gay friend,
    for 'social purpose' and maybe 'job networking' etc…and gets upset because you care about his immortal soul enough to offer THE TRUTH…then that one is immature and a child who clasps hands to ears whining no no no…
    (if he don't hear it, it ain't true)

    We always speak the TRUTH if they don't want to hear it…c'est la vie. But speak it we must even if
    they hate us and disown us. This is selfless love. The selfless love a parent shows when he says to a teen NO you can't go to that party, it won't be good for you.
    The teen stomps away MAD and not
    speaking…calling parent MEAN
    ROTTEN never to speak to parent again. So who has REAL LOVE?

    Do not let homosexuals rule you
    emotionally. Wrong action is wrong action and tell them so and VOTE
    DOWN thier attempt to FORCE thier actions onto ALL…that too is VERY WRONG. (in fact, it's what they say they don't like us doing ironically)

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