Sunday, September 4, 2011

Floating

A job requirement for all parents is a good sense of humor.  The goofy faces, the high-pitched sing-song explanations of the produce aisle at the grocery store…everything for the sake of our children’s growth and development.  Of course, as parents we are often called to oscillate between the seriousness of adult obligations and our children’s education (and entertainment!).  One such event occurred in our home not too long ago.  One of my good friends had told me that she was up for a job promotion and that she had given my name as a reference.  Her place of employment soon contacted me and a representative asked me some very serious questions about my friend’s character and ability to perform well at the job.  Ever considerate, my husband Greg gave me a little privacy by bringing our twins into the other room.  Greg loves to play kids’ songs from YouTube, mostly to help the girls fall asleep.  This day, however, he was giving them a lesson on numbers and the letters of the alphabet.  (Our girls are only 10 months old, and their vocabulary is limited to mostly just mamamama and dadada, but with two teachers as parents, they will be getting a head start in their schooling.)  As only parents can appreciate, the repetitive nature of children’s songs can make a lasting impression in the brain.  Greg had found a perfect example on YouTube, the Phonics Song.  A is for apple, ah ah apple…B is for ball, bu bu ball… and so it continued with all 26 letters of the alphabet with the same rhythm and beat.  Meanwhile I struggled to focus on the representative’s question.  “What can you tell me about S----‘s ability to handle multiple tasks at once?”  I think I came up with a coherent answer, but I really can’t say because all I remember is  H is for horse, huh huh horse… 
Floating between different situations is not just a job requirement for parents, but for all Christians.  Saint Paul writes in 1 Corinthians:
To the Jews I became like a Jew to win over Jews; to those under the law I became like one under the law—though I myself am not under the law—to win over those under the law. To those outside the law I became like one outside the law—though I am not outside God’s law but within the law of Christ—to win over those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, to win over the weak. I have become all things to all, to save at least some.  All this I do for the sake of the gospel, so that I too may have a share in it.
I love this passage, because it explains our duty as Christians to evangelize as real people.  In the Protestant church in which I grew up, there was heavy emphasis on reaching the lost.  Admittedly the importance of winning lost souls for Christ is a lesser priority for many Catholics.  Nevertheless, I think the pressure in my childhood church to witness led to a superficial method of evangelization.  Explaining the Gospel to everyone in the same charismatic way does not necessarily reach the heart of a person.  Sincere evangelization requires understanding and compassion.  You can’t address the questions and skepticism of a person if you don’t understand where they are at in life.
St. Francis of Assisi said to “preach the Gospel to all peoples, and if necessary, use words.”  My conversion to the Catholic faith was in no small part to the very gentle yet authentic way my colleagues at Montrose School lived their daily lives.  Not one cornered me or pressured me to convert, no one gave me pamphlets with theological explanations of why Catholicism was the only way to heaven, and no one ever made me feel inferior for not sharing the same faith.  Nevertheless, they were sincerely interested in my faith journey and my beliefs.  My heart slowly softened to Catholicism as we engaged in genuine conversations.  Mostly, however, they demonstrated their faith through their actions.  I admired how their work life and faith life were so complementary.  I could ask one teacher for strategies in how to practice verb conjugations and in the same conversation she would tell me some of her very personal prayer intentions.  And although they never pressured me to convert, they did care deeply and rejoiced greatly when I did.  I even had several colleagues attend my Confirmation a few months later.  Their desire to see me return to the Church was focused through prayer and friendship as opposed to simple proselytizing.  When I first arrived at Montrose, I carried a lot of anger and some deep hurts.  I was skeptical of the Catholic faith and was definitely NOT going to be convinced by a theological rant.  And my colleagues understood that.  Their approach was gentle and respectful.  They floated between their deeply spiritual and holy faith life and my weak and doubtful one.  They spoke my language.
Think of how Christ interacted with His followers while on Earth.  He fished alongside His apostles, He rejoiced at weddings, He enjoyed late night dinner conversations, and He even mourned over the death His dear friend Lazarus.  Even though He knew He was going to raise His friend from the dead, He wept.  He expressed an authentic compassion toward both the crowds and the individual.  He became one of us in order to save us.  When you ponder the depth of Christ’s humanity, you can start to appreciate the profound grace in His divinity.
Now that I can boast the title of motherhood, I have also come to learn and experience the beauty of evangelizing to my own children.  I share the Gospel with the twins every time I make them laugh, every time I sing a lullaby.  I also have begun to realize that I share the Gospel through the menial and less-than-glamorous tasks too: washing out bottles, wiping up a spit-up, or even a diaper change.  A mother preaches the Gospel though all these small acts of love; this is the baby’s language.   So make a those goofy fishy faces and sing those silly alphabet songs with pride; you’re evangelizing! 
(As a small side note, I have discovered that the few minutes it takes to wash out bottles is an opportune time to spend in prayer.  In fact, all of our motherly duties can be offered up as small prayers…not just for our own children, but for all souls.  What a beautiful aspect of our vocation!) 
May we always remember that there are many people in this world who are babes in their faith journey.  They need the simple love and kindness of a caring friend, not necessarily a preachy sermon.  Let us love people where they are at, and practice the art of floating.