The pep talk you might need this week comes courtesy of your much-younger self.
Jesus does something interesting when he throws down the “little child” challenge (as found in Matthew 19, Mark 10, and Luke 18) as to who will inherit the Kingdom of God: He leaves us to guess what “like a little child” might mean.
We quickly dispense with possibilities such as “interrupts Mass by starting a fight with the siblings” or “writes on the walls with crayon” . . . and perhaps occasionally revisit those humorous answers and see something deeper — authenticity or expressiveness, perhaps?
I think it’s unlikely there’s supposed to be a single answer. I suspect the analogy is there more to get us thinking about what virtues we may have lost along the path into adulthood.
(And of course there is the much more practical impact as well: Without the command from the Lord to suffer the little children, how many of us would choose peace and quiet over passing on the faith to the next generation?)
One of the childlike virtues I’ve been thinking about with respect to evangelization is confidence.
Humility Breeds Fearlessness
Of course little kids can be shy at times. But for the most part, babies and young children don’t worry too much about their performance quality. They believe in themselves. Babies attempt to talk, or eat, or walk with no concern about the fact that they mostly just sound like a pteradactyl at first, keep getting food all over their face, and spend more time falling down than moving forward.
Toddlers and older children proudly show off artwork that isn’t just amateur, it’s downright indecipherable. Kids break into the pantry and attempt to cook, resulting in a huge mess and an end product that might or might not be edible . . . and then next time you turn your back they are at it again. Early-grades students are still bold enough to attempt answers to discussion questions even when they have absolutely no idea how to answer. They’ll still say something, anything, even vaguely related to the topic. They’re excited to try.
They are excited just to be in the game, giving it a shot, making progress towards a distant goal.
When In Doubt, Consider Diving In Recklessly
Okay so there are three of you out there who need to be told to take it easy. You three need to spend more time in prayer, spend more time with experienced mentors, and spend more time thinking carefully before you jump into the next big thing like a golden retriever chasing a tennis ball into the ocean.
A lot of us, though, are more likely suffering from too many poundings by the hammer of callousness. We’ve grown timid. Cautious. We’re no longer those bold first graders sharing anything and everything; now we’re nervous middle schoolers afraid of saying it or doing it or just being it wrong. We’re afraid of ending up mocked and alone and drowning in a puddle of failure.
To which Jesus says: Be not afraid!
Video that’s an album cover and a song decidedly on-topic for today: “I’m a Dog” by The Hillbilly Thomists.
Fearlessness as a Spiritual Discipline
Courage is something we can cultivate through practice. Ask God to help you courageously face one difficult thing today. In evangelization, ask God to offer you one opportunity to share your faith this week, and to give you the courage to do so when that opportunity comes.
Are you more courageous than you were a year ago? Good, keep going. Are you more fearful? Okay, what’s happened to push you that way? What is it you need to work through and recover from in order to draw again from that virtue which used to be more easily at hand?
Evangelization Tools are the Servant, Not the Master
One of the unexpected reactions I’ve received from the evangelization book is intimidation. Here’s this giant instruction manual, and right off the bat we start with hard stuff: Faith, prayer, fasting, holiness . . . tall orders.
Well okay yes, it’s challenging stuff. Yes, there are pitfalls to avoid in evangelization, and I know about them because I’ve been the person who did it wrong and learned the hard way. But the book isn’t there to scare you into silence. It’s there to equip you. To give you ideas and tools and possibilities. It works for you, not you for it.
All evangelization tools work for your mission. That’s what they are there for, to equip you to carry out your God-given work.
So be bold. Life is full of scary stuff. Fight fight fight to reclaim your childlike ability to see what you need to do and go give it a shot.
Something fun: I came across this Among Women podcast interview I did with Pat Gohn way back in 2014. (Interview begins at the thirty-minute mark; to my knowledge there’s not a transcript, but if anyone knows of one, please let me know! Subscribers you can reply directly to the e-mail version of this post in order to reach me.)
The topic was suffering, but it turns out we talked a lot about evangelization. It was eerie hearing my younger self give me the pep talk my older self absolutely needed this week.