A few weeks ago I found myself heading into the perfect storm of social awkwardness. I was going to a party hosted by a group of people I hadn’t seen in a long time. Last time I checked, none of them were religious, many were atheists, and a few harbored a serious dislike of traditional Christian beliefs. My husband was supposed to go with me but our babysitting fell through, so I was heading out alone.
That situation might not sound like a big deal to those of you who are not the #1 Google result for socially awkward person, but to me it felt absolutely daunting. They all knew that my husband and I converted to Catholicism, but I had no idea what they thought about it. What if they didn’t want me to be there? What if someone confronted me about politics or religion? What if they READ MY BLOG?!
Those were the thoughts bouncing around in my mind as I drove down the highway.
I felt a particular obligation to represent well for Christianity. I believe it’s important to show Christ to everyone at all times, of course, but this situation was like if I’d had the word CATHOLIC tattooed on my forehead. I eventually convinced myself that at least a couple people were going to stare at me the whole time I was there, thinking, “So this is what she’s like now that she’s into all that Christian stuff.”
Suddenly this whole “being Christ-like” thing seemed very complicated. What if someone said something negative about my faith? Should I make an argument for my beliefs or just let it go? Should I bring it up? Should I try to work in something about Jesus into the conversation? What if no one wants to talk to me at all?
It finally occurred to me to say a prayer, so I implored God to keep me from an epic social flame-out. Then I turned on the radio to take my mind off of it.
The radio was tuned to our local Relevant Radio station, and the show Spirit and Life was on, hosted by brother and sister team Father Albert Haase and Sister Bridget Haase. Just hearing their soothing New Orleans accents immediately made me feel more relaxed. They were talking about how the quest for holiness is like making red beans and rice the right way; after some good-natured jabs at other parts of the country where people might mistakenly think that you can make red beans and rice in only three hours, they hypnotized me with their delicious descriptions of Mondays in their childhoods in New Orleans, when mothers would let beans bubble in pots all day long while they did laundry.
My mind had drifted off to figuring out how I could get a good red beans and rice recipe when Sr. Bridget caught my attention by saying something that smacked me upside the head with the Holy Spirit:
She was talking about how to be Christ-like in everyday life, and she noted that, as Christians, we must “sparkle with self-forgetfulness” (though in her exquisite New Orleans accent that first word was pronounced “SPAH-kle.”)
That was it! That was my answered prayer, the wisdom I’d been searching for.
In my nervousness, I’d been thinking of showing Christ to others as a series of do’s and don’ts, as if the whole thing were like trying to follow every one of Emily Post’s rules of etiquette while simultaneously playing the role of master apologist. It felt complicated and burdensome.
But something about the words sparkle and self-forgetfulness snapped me out of my self-conscious cluelessness and make me remember that being Christ-like is about joy! And hope! And love! And it’s actually pretty simple: you just don’t worry about yourself. You walk into any given situation asking not what the other people will think of you or how you can convince them of some point, but how you can best love them. To show people Love, you just show people love. It’s that easy.
Thanks to that advice, the evening ended up turning out fine. My old friends were wonderfully welcoming, and it was tremendously freeing to focus only on the simple task of cooperating with the Holy Spirit to drench each conversation in love.
Even in social settings that aren’t that ripe for conflict, I always tend to feel a little nervous. Ever since that evening I’ve found great strength and comfort in the lesson I learned that night: before I walk in the door of any kind of get-together, I now take a moment to pause, say a prayer, and imagine the exuberant voice of Sr. Bridget reminding me to “SPAH-kle with self-forgetfulness.”
SOME RELATED STUFF
- When I write posts like this I often get questions along the lines of, “Why do you connect showing others love so strongly with Christianity? Why not just be a good person anyway?” I wrote a post about that here.
- I came across this neat story about Sr. Bridget. It talks about how she’s a breast cancer survivor and currently devotes herself to caring for people with progressive neurological diseases. Lots of great wisdom there. (Don’t miss her insightful list of the three things we all desire.)
- Sr. Bridget and Fr. Albert have also written books that look fantastic, including: Generous Faith: Stories to Inspire Abundant Living and Coming Home to Your True Self: Leaving the Emptiness of False Attractions. I can’t wait to read them.
- This post would not be complete without mentioning that I did end up making red beans and rice from this recipe, and it was fantastic! It’s a new family favorite.
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