Stepping out of the way

March 22, 2009 | Uncategorized | 19 comments

This post was originally published on August 24, 2007.

I realized after reading a recent post that I didn’t specifically address the question I posed in the title: what do I say to my gay friends? The answer is that I say the same thing to them that 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 hasn’t come up too often. 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 remind myself that nobody was ever converted by being chastised about how wrong they are. 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.

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?”

photo by patrmach

19 Comments

  1. izhilzha

    Yes, oh, yes, exactly. The best thing we can do (and the only thing needful, most of the time) is to “shine like stars in the universe, as [we] hold out the Word of life.”

  2. Denise

    thank you for this. I am struggling with how much exposure to allow my children to our friends/relatives with morals different than ours.

  3. Anonymous

    Regarding stepping out of the way, sometimes the hardest thing to do is to detach from the results. When I was training to be a teacher one of my teachers said,don’t expect to be around to see the impact you may have.

  4. Multiple Mom T

    It seems like within Christianity there are two levels of sin. Every sin but one and then homosexuality, which for some reason ascends to some higher plane of more-sinfulness. I don’t get it. Jesus did not condemn the sinner. He showed them grace again and again and again. He never said their sin was ok, but there was never this massive finger pointing.

    Just had this conversation a few days ago with a friend. Such a sad state of affairs that we the church turn away the sinners because of their sin. Sigh.

  5. pam at beyondjustmom

    So beautifully put, Jen. So much better to show Christ’s love through true friendship and stepping out of the way to let His light shine through. Thank you for this.

  6. Anonymous

    This is an affirmation of today’s gospel – faith doesn’t come from works; works come from faith.

  7. Roxane B. Salonen

    Jennifer, I feel like my faith journey has taken a similar path. I went from not wanting to influence anyone for fear I would offend them (early on, when I was still trying to figure out what I believed), to feeling on fire and wanting to influence everyone, to having a faith crisis, reordering things, and from that new vantage point, accepting a different approach entirely — one more like you reveal here (at least I try, though imperfectly). I’m so glad you post “old” posts for us newcomers, and I doubt any older readers would hurt from hearing these wise thoughts again. Truly refreshing and real. Love it!

  8. The (Almost) Amazing Mammarino

    Jennifer, this was just beautiful. My favorite quotes:

    ” . . . nobody was ever converted by being chastised about how wrong they are.”

    ” . . . 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 . . . meanwhile the poor person is sitting in my shadow, unable to see the sun for himself because I’m in the way.”

    Awesome post! Thank you for your ministry!

  9. Janice

    Jen, your posts are always thought provoking, and I enjoy reading them. I am also a recent convert (2005), and I too wanted to convert the world to my way of thinking. You are right, we can only work on our own faith, and pray for everyone else. Thank you for your insight!

  10. Flexo

    On spreading the word (evangelization) —

    Pope Benedict is coming home today from his apostolic journey to Africa, which has known much strife and hardship, including civil war. Catholics being a light to the world, spreading the word of charity (love) and reconciliation among adverse factions, were major topics. On Sunday, he said:

    “God created us to live in the light, and to be light for the world around us! This is what Jesus tells us in today’s Gospel: ‘The man who lives by the truth comes out into the light, so that it may be plainly seen that what he does is done in God’ (Jn 3:21).

    “‘Live,’ then, ‘by the truth!’ Radiate the light of faith, hope and love in your families and communities! Be witnesses of the holy truth that sets men and women free!

    “You know from bitter experience that, in comparison with the sudden, destructive fury of evil, the work of rebuilding is painfully slow and arduous. Living by the truth takes time, effort and perseverance: it has to begin in our own hearts, in the small daily sacrifices required if we are to be faithful to God’s law, in the little acts by which we demonstrate that we love our neighbors, all our neighbors, regardless of race, ethnicity or language, and by our readiness to work with them to build together on foundations that will endure. . . .

    And do not be afraid! Even if it means being a ‘sign of contradiction’ (Lk 2:34) in the face of hardened attitudes and a mentality that sees others as a means to be used, rather than as brothers and sisters to be loved, cherished and helped along the path of freedom, life and hope.”

    There are many out there in the world — some are open to hearing about the faith, some are indifferent, and some are hostile and antagonistic, not unlike enemies in the civil wars experienced in Africa. As the Pope says, the work of reconciling and rebuilding — the work of evangelizing — may be painfully slow and arduous. Living by the truth, so as to be a light to the world and spread the truth, takes time, effort and perseverance: it has to begin in humility, in our own hearts, in the small daily acts of charity toward others. At the same time, knowing ahead of time that we may face opposition, we should not be afraid to be that sign which contradicts the worldly view.

    Earlier, on Saturday, the Pope again noted how evangelization begins with small things, but that God gives us help along the way, saying:

    “[Jesus said] ‘you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be my witnesses … to the ends of the earth’ (Acts 1:7-8). See how Jesus does not leave us without an answer; He tells us one thing very clearly: renewal starts from within; you will receive a power from on high. The power to shape the future is within you.

    “It is within you, but how? Just as life exists within a seed. That is how Jesus explained it at a critical juncture in His ministry. . . .

    “It was then that Jesus spoke about the sower who sows in the field of the world, and He explained that the seed is His word (Mk 4:3-20) and His miracles of healing. These are so few in comparison to the immense needs and demands of everyday life. And yet, deep within the seed, the future is already present, since the seed contains tomorrow’s bread, tomorrow’s life. The seed seems almost nothing. But it is the presence of the future, the promise already present. When it falls on good soil, it produces fruit, thirty, sixty and even a hundredfold.

    “My dear friends, you are a seed which God has sown in the world, a seed that contains power from on high, the power of the Holy Spirit. And yet, the only way to pass from the promise of life to actually bearing fruit is to give your lives in love, to die for love. . . .

    He gives Himself to us and we respond by giving ourselves to others, for love of Him. This is the way that leads to life; it can be followed only by maintaining a constant dialogue with the Lord and among yourselves.

    “The dominant societal culture is not helping you to live by Jesus’ word or to practice the self-giving to which He calls you in accordance with the Father’s plan. Yet, dear friends, you have the power within you . . . unleash the power of the Holy Spirit within you, the power from on high! Trusting in this power, like Jesus, risk taking a leap and making a definitive decision. Give life a chance!

    “In this way, islands, oases and great stretches of Christian culture will spring up in your midst, and bring to light that ‘holy city coming down out of Heaven, from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.’

    This is very important, to realize that, in spreading the faith, often, all we can do is help prepare the soil and plant a seed. Indeed, all we are ourselves is a seed in the world. We should keep in mind that the Holy Spirit has a role to play — not only in helping us to till the soil and plant the seed, but in helping it grow in the person in whom it is planted.

    In teaching CCD, I must remind myself that some of the students will fall away. Indeed, some of them might vanish and not return to class after Confirmation. At most, as a worker in the vineyard and fellow seed myself, all I can do is prepare the soil and plant the seeds, giving of myself in charity. I cannot make them be good, faithful, knowledgeable Catholics. I’m not a software programmer and they are not robots. It is up to the person and the Holy Spirit to see to it that the seed grows into a robust vine or tree.

    But rest assured, the seed is good seed. And we have received (in Confirmation) the power of the Holy Spirit to be good seed ourselves and good sowers, that is, witnesses for Christ. Again, it begins by the doing of small things, little acts of charity, allowing God to work through us. As the Pope said on yet another occasion in Africa, “Let us enable human poverty to encounter divine mercy.”

    It is in this way that we are a light to the world. It is in this way that the non-believer begins to feel the warmth of Christian love in his or her heart and, if he or she will, embrace that love and thereby begin to see the light of truth.

  11. Flexo

    More on evangelization —

    You know, when Pope Benedict goes on these trips, he really does leave SO MUCH to ponder and reflect on. (So much of it is gold that, unfortunately, some of it gets lost in my tiny little brain. Thankfully, then, we have this great little invention called the written word.) To wit:

    “Today it is up to you, brothers and sisters, following in the footsteps of those heroic and holy heralds of God, to offer the Risen Christ to your fellow citizens. . . . Who can go to them to proclaim that Christ has triumphed over death and all those occult powers? (cf. Eph 1:19-23; 6:10-12)

    Someone may object: ‘Why not leave them in peace? They have their truth, and we have ours. Let us all try to live in peace, leaving everyone as they are, so they can best be themselves.’

    “But if we are convinced and have come to experience that, without Christ, life lacks something, that something real – indeed, the most real thing of all – is missing, we must also be convinced that we do no injustice to anyone if we present Christ to them and thus grant them the opportunity of finding their truest and most authentic selves, the joy of finding life. Indeed, we must do this. It is our duty to offer everyone this possibility of attaining eternal life.

    “Dear brothers and sisters, let us say to them, in the words of the Israelite people: ‘Come, let us return to the Lord; for he has torn, that he may heal us.’ Let us enable human poverty to encounter divine mercy. . . .

    “Let this, then, be our common commitment: together to do His holy will: ‘Go into all the world and preach the Gospel to the whole creation’ (Mk 16:15). Let us embrace His will, like Saint Paul: ‘Preaching the Gospel … is a necessity laid upon me; woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel!’ (1 Cor 9:16).”

    Yes, if we truly believe in Christ, and we truly love Him, that love will burst forth from us. And it would be contrary to that love to not at least offer the truth to others. We certainly should not force it on them, but if we love them, we must at least present them the authentic option of saying “yes” or “no,” and not simply leave them in ignorance in the false charity that says we should not bother people who might not appreciate what we have to say, thereby depriving them of the ability to make that choice themselves, thereby saying “no” on their behalf.

    Again, that does not necessarily mean getting up in their face and demanding to know in a loud voice, “Are you saved???” But it does mean being a light to them. Which is to say, because that light does not come from us, but from God, it does mean allowing the light of God to be reflected in us, as the moon reflects the sun and thereby illuminates the earth at night.

    As said previously, we begin to do this with the small things, the little acts of charity, and by allowing God to work through us.

    Of course, some move on to bigger things and, instead of wondering “how to handle pitching their new religion,” they simply do it, and do it quite well with blogs like Conversion Diary. That is a pretty good evangelization tool as well.

  12. tinkerbell the bipolar faery

    Wonderfully put. As someone who was born into Catholicism, I have observed that ‘converts’ express more fervour in their new-found belief than do the ones born into it.

    Christ spent time with the so-called sinners … taught them through the example of his own tolerance and love. You are quite right, its God’s job to convert, not ours.

    In the end, we each should be the change we want.

  13. Kylie w Warszawie

    I agree. But I was like you were when I first converted too. I would tell everyone they were wrong.

    Then I chilled out considerably. Realizing that the reason that I had converted was because I had been chastised by my father (who had reconnected to the faith) and he held great influence over me. I didn’t want to be like him, because he seemed (and still does) like a hypocrite.

  14. Nona

    I am reading a marvelous book: THE SECRET DIARY OF ELIZABETH LESEUR. The author was married to a man who not only left the practice of his faith but was, for years, a militant atheist. What did Elizabeth do about this situation? In worldly terms, not much; in spiritual terms, a great deal. She prayed unceasingly for her husband’s return to the faith including offering up all her suffering — and she suffered a great deal: health problems; the loss of people she loved; her husband’s persistant unpleasant attacks on her beliefs.

    While Elizabeth prayed incessantly. her husband was completely unaware of her rich, deep, inner, spiritual life. He was merely consistently annoyed that she returned to her faith and remained resolutely Catholic after a short period when he had prevailed on her to leave the church.

    It was after her death, when Dr. Leseur found his wife’s diaries, that he came to understand more about the person his wife had been. He had never known it and was powerfully moved. He began meditating on Elizabeth’s diary entries, reading her books from her Catholic library, and opening his heart to grace. Long story short: he became reconciled to the Church. Later, after arranging for the publication of his late wife’s journal and other writings, he entered the priesthood. Father Leseur died in 1950.

    You can read more about Elizabet Leseur in this wikipedia entry:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elisabeth_Leseur

    We all have friends and family members whom we would love to convert. Elizabeth Leseur’s example is one that I am keeping in front of me.

  15. Dave

    Your blog is reaching the level of spiritual reading for me…wow…

  16. Ruthie

    Hi Jen – I’m a recent subscriber to your blog and am really enjoying it. (I’m a Protestant but for some reason keep stumbling across Catholic blogs that really speak to me.)

    I have to say, though, I still think you’ve answered the question yet. Your gay friends let you off the hook that easily? I know mine say things like:

    – You voted no on Prop 8, right? (I’m in CA)
    – I couldn’t be friends with anyone who doesn’t believe I should have the same rights as anyone else. You don’t feel that way, do you?
    – Will you attend my commitment ceremony?

    What do you say when you’re asked those things?

  17. Aubrey

    Thank you for this post. We have a neighbor who is a lesbian and our kids and her son play often together. She and I talk often and I enjoy her company. I take the same road as you: it is not my job to say anything nor to try and convert her. It helps that she was raised Catholic and knows what we believe already. She is respectful of this.

    The trouble I run in to is that my children don’t understand why their playmate insists that he has two mothers and no father. They’re 7,6, and 4, so I’ve simply said that John does have a father but he doesn’t spend time with his father. There are two women who raise him and he calls them both Mom. Happily, that was enough for them and the topic doesn’t come up often among the children.

    Any suggestions on what to say to kids if this would arise?

  18. Lomagirl

    I really like most of what you’ve written here. I think how we live our lives is much more important than what we say. However, I don’t think it’s fair that you assume all your gay friends don’t have faith. I know some gay people who love God has much (or better) than I do. We can’t judge someone else’s relationship with God, even if it doesn’t look like ours.

  19. Daiquiri

    Something a friend told me once really helped…

    We are called to be witnesses, and nothing more. Not the judge, not the jury, not the prosecutor, not the defense attorney. The witness. Stand up and tell of our experience and nothing more or less. And of course…only do it when we’re called to do so.

    In the mean time, I try to live a life that prompts people to ask what might be different about me. Where is that peace and joy coming from? How can I say such things in the middle of a crisis? etc.

    It’s then that we’re called to step up and be a bold witness.

    And yeah…at the end of the day, it’s not my job to convert a single person. I’m just a tiny cog in the grand machine that is God’s plan. What needs to get done? It’ll all get done His way and in His time. Praise God for the peace that comes from that understanding!

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