Many of us have been in situations where the subject of faith comes up in conversation and you start out trying to evangelize, but end up trying to win an argument. Afterward, you realize that you didn’t help the person draw closer to Jesus, and you may have actually pushed them further away.
Here are some things to keep in mind the next time this happens:
Mercy and compassion: Your attitude sets the tone on how the conversation will go. We all have baggage, and no one is perfect. We all need some level of healing. Don’t focus on people’s mistakes. Try to establish a tone of mercy and compassion, regardless of how hard someone may be trying to argue. This is not a game that you are trying to win. Rather, this is a soul in need of transformation.
Build a relationship: Look at the conversation as an opportunity to build a friendship and not as a one-time event. Someone questioning the faith may mean they are still open and curious about the faith. It may be their way of asking for help. People have a fear of being wrong, of being humiliated or looking stupid. Recognize that their words may be harsh on the surface, but it isn’t reflective of what is in their heart. Building a relationship takes time, patience and forgiveness. Offer to accompany them on their quest for understanding.
Humility: Friendship is based on trust. The seed of trust is humility. When we take off our masks and reveal what is on our heart, friendship blossoms and grows. Unfortunately, our pride and ego gets in the way. Exercise humility and be a good listener. Listen to understand and clarify, not just to give the “right” answer or box someone into a corner.
Common ground: Don’t assume you know what someone is thinking just because they aren’t actively living their Catholic faith. Making judgments escalates arguments and diminishes true understanding. Ask good questions about why they believe what they believe. What sources of information do they refer to? Keep asking “why” to get to the root cause. Encourage critical thinking and don’t just rely on second-hand information that is heard in a sound bite. Archbishop Mitchell T. Rozanski has said: “We want to open a door rather than push them through a door.”
Share your story: No one knows your relationship with the Holy Trinity better than you! No one can argue with you on how you came to believe what you believe. Share your trials, pain and suffering, as well as the love, joy and peace. Remember, there is no resurrection unless there is death — we must “die” to our old ways before we can “rise” in a new life with Jesus.
Truth: Today, many people say the “the truth for me is …” They see truth as a concept that is adaptable to justify their current lifestyle. Introduce them to the idea that the Truth is really a person: Jesus (“I am the way and the truth and the life”). Truth is not relative; it is absolute, for all of us, over all of time. People are influenced by culture. People follow that little voice in their head (which may be evil spirits disguised as good). Or people may not know that God is an option. Truth leads people to Jesus.
Pray: Offer to pray with them and let them know that you will continue to pray for them. Prayer builds hope and combats despair. We are not responsible for convincing people, but we are responsible for presenting the Truth. We plant the seeds, and the Holy Spirit does the work.
David Baranowski is the director of stewardship education in the Archdiocese of St. Louis. He and his wife are parishioners at Mary, Mother of the Church in south St. Louis County.