20 March 2013

How to be a 'not-so-great' Christian: Learning from my mistakes...

Growing up, I LOVED books. like a lot.  Whether it was day dreaming what it must have been like for Laura Ingalls Wilder to cross the prairie in a covered wagon or waiting for the next exciting turn in my Nancy Drew mystery book, I was a book nerd.  Each one on my bookshelf at home was like an near n' dear friend I could call one at a moment's notice.  To this day, I still make time to read a little before I go to bed; I find it helps me relax and settle in for sleep.  And even as an adult, nothing sounds quite as good to me as curling up with a good book.

A few weeks ago, in one of my Friday Quick Takes, I mentioned having an idea for a post on a book I recently came across.  So today I'm finally getting around to it...  In case you forgot, this is the book I'm talking about.  Don't worry I'm not gonna get all preachy on ya, honest!  I'm not about to get on a high horse and be all 'holier than thou' or whipping out the Bible to beat you over the head with.  As I read the title (How to defend the faith without raising your voice), it made me stop. think. reflect.  These pictures give an illustration to what's been on my heart the last few weeks thinking on how to write this.    

Looks not terribly friendly or loving...
Yelling at people about the faith=doesn't work

First of all I don't claim to be perfect and/or a saint (ask my husband/family of origin, they'll set ya straight!).  As I get older, I realize one area I struggle with sometimes is judging other people: making a judgment on a person without fully knowing/understanding them and/or their life circumstances.  There is a quote by Mother Teresa, "If you judge them, you have no time to love them." Yikes.  {cringes}.  But it's SO true.  As and I thought about how to write this, this quote just kept coming to my mind over and over again.

Being a cradle Catholic, I grew up in a home of faith.  We talked about Jesus, went to church weekly, and prayed before meals.  It was just a part of my existence, my life as I knew it.  In junior high, I was getting to a point where it didn't mean much to me; I simply 'did' all the churchy-Jesus stuff because my parents did and wouldn't not let me.  My experience of church and Jesus was "because my parents made me."  There was no personal relationship with Jesus and/or physical expression of living that out in the midst of a church community.

Fast forward to end of high school/beginning of college.  After going through issues of deep emotional/spiritual turmoil, I had an experience of quiet prayer where I met/encountered Jesus in the most deeply personal way up until that point of my life.  Though I always knew stuff about Jesus/the church/etc. through the kick a$% example of my parents (thanks ma and pa!), I don't think I really had a personal relationship with Jesus...I didn't make my Catholic faith my own, rather it was just the faith of my parent's.  Through those tough times in my life, for the first time, I felt I knew that Jesus loved me, had a plan/mission for my life, and that I mattered to him and this world I was put into.  Those insights really changed me.

I started reading everything and anything about Catholicism.  I started studying my faith in earnest, trying to understand and wrestle with doctrine and apply what it meant for my life.  I started reading the bible and learning how to pray.  I got involved with a great young adult ministry in Dearborn (which is later where I met Jim too!).  I went on pilgrimages, mission trips, and local service opportunities.  I wanted to really figure out what it meant for me personally on how to be a young, committed Catholic.  As I studied and prayed, I really came to fall in love with the Catholic faith.  It was no longer the faith of my parents, but it was a personal decision of my own. I wanted to be a Catholic Christian because through my own self-discovery; I realized that I wanted, believed, and loved the Church.

HOWEVER...in my great new found zeal for my Catholic upbringing, I was not always loving to others who maybe didn't agree with or understand me.  I cringe to even admit this, but I definitely had that 'holier-than-thou' attitude.  I thought I was better than others because all the 'churchy stuff' I was doing.  Sure I was going to Mass, reading Scripture, and going to Eucharistic adoration, BUT those things didn't always translate well into my daily life lived amongst the world.  I did the "churchy stuff" but you couldn't always tell that by the way I treated others.  I was judgmental of other people, I didn't understand what it meant to be pastoral with people.  I turned off at times those closest to me (sorry siblings!) and at many times was not a good example to the faith I professed by the way I treated people out in the world.  You remember that church hymn, "They will know we are Christians by our love"...well let's just say I didn't do such a hot job of being an example of that. 

One of the most important lessons I have learned in my faith life, is learning to being able to defend/speak about/stand up for my faith without raising my voice (like the title! :).  I am learning that yes it is critically important to be able to defend and stand up for my faith with strength and courage, but it ABSOLUTELY must come with a loving, pastoral, understanding, non-judgmental attitude.  No I'm not saying I have yet perfected that, but WOW have I learned some lessons from mistakes I've made.  Its like I tell teens in youth ministry, we may be the only Bible that people ever read, so be that good example of the faith you profess to others in the world.  Walking through the streets beating people over the head with the Bible is not how its done, but with loving, fair, and honest dialogue is how you reach and touch people's hearts.  I totally get that everybody under the sun has varying ideas on moral, social, and faith related issues.  And sure its probably no secret that much of what the Catholic Church teaches is widely contested amidst people who identify themselves as Catholics and in non-believers, and sure I may not personally agree with you (or you me), but it's all about how in our differences we treat each other.

I have learned that to be a good example of the faith I profess is NOT about judging them or getting in a yelling match {major whoops on me!} but rather, speak calmly in love. 

Sure its really no secret if you know me at all, that I really really love being Catholic; yes I know warts and all.  Sure the Church isn't perfect because its made up of sinful humans, duh! No that's not an excuse, but its the truth. 

I want to do what I can to make this world a little bit better by my being in it (sure, it sounds idealistic, but that's how I feel).  I want to help folks meet and know Jesus more in their own lives.  That he is not just some 'character' you read about in Sunday school, but is real and has so much for us.

If you're reading this, and over the years I have perhaps offended you in they way I treated you because we were polar opposites on any variety of issues, please know I'm sorry and I have learned from those mistakes.  No, I'm not sorry for my Catholic faith or for being public and sharing it, but my style was not always something I have been proud of.

I don't claim to be perfect or even a really 'holy' person, but I have learned  a lot and am still learning from my mistakes.  St. Paul wrote to the church in Corinth, "Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel."  Sharing the Gospel is critical, but its in the 'way' we do it that can actually turn people away or lead them to Christ...and that's a hard, but important lesson I have learned.

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