What I Wish We Understood When It’s Not Mother’s Day

Mother’s Day is hard for a lot of people. For birth mothers, for mothers who’ve lost children, for children who’ve lost mothers, for those who long to be mothers, for people who love any of the above. And you know what? The world seems to have figured this out.

Maybe I just have particularly kind and sensitive friends, but my news feed yesterday was filled with words of encouragement for those who struggle with Mother’s Day, with affirmations of spiritual motherhood, with acknowledgments of women who aren’t mothers in the traditional sense. It was beautiful. Women seeing other people’s pain through their joy and other people’s joy through their pain. And while Mother’s Day can be tough for an unmarried woman in her 30s, my heart was full with all the kindness I saw.

But today isn’t Mother’s Day. Or tomorrow. Or the next 362 days. For the next year, we go back to our own lives, where sometimes it’s hard to see any cross that isn’t similar to our own. So we complain about our overly-attentive mothers to people with absent and abusive mothers. Or we gush about the beauty of breastfeeding without noticing the tears in the eyes of a woman struggling to conceive.

I’m not saying don’t be real, don’t share your joy or your suffering. I’m saying remember that your way of being a woman is not the only way, your cross is not the only cross.

Let me come to you from a place of being single and childless. I am very blessed in that I understand kids and I’ve been a foster mother and I live in people’s homes surrounded by their children all the time, so in many circles I get a pass. I’m allowed to participate in the mom conversations that most childless women are excluded from. I manage, as a friend recently said, to “walk in every world,” so people talk to me about mastitis and let me discipline their kids and listen to my marriage advice. To the many, many married women who love me and let me share in your lives, thank you. I can’t imagine the mess I’d be if you didn’t look so thoroughly past the label and let me walk this with you.

But.

I’ve been told they’d never ask me to speak at a mom’s conference because I’m not a mom. Never mind that I’m a Christian and a woman and a spiritual mother and deeply involved in the lives of countless mothers and free of charge, I don’t count.

I’ve been told all people are selfish until they have children.

I’ve been told you can’t know love until you’ve had a child of your own.

I’ve given talks to women’s groups–more times than I can count–where there was not a single unmarried woman in the audience. Not one.

I’ve been told I can’t come to a particular women’s group–even once–because I’m not married. I’ve been told I can come to another just this once, “even though you’re not a mom.”

I’ve gotten blog comments (on a party about neither marriage nor children) saying, “I’m so sick of this author. She’s not married and doesn’t have any kids, so who is she to be telling anyone how to live?” Lady, if you don’t want to get advice from unmarried and childless people, you should probably pick a new Church because 95% of the priests and 95% of the Saints in the Catholic church have been childless and unmarried.

When people have found out I’m single, they’ve rushed to reassure me that they were single once, too, when they were 22, and they were so unhappy until God finally gave them their perfect husband, so don’t worry–he’s out there!!!!!

I’ve listened to platitude after platitude telling me it’ll be okay and God’s got a plan and you’re praying that I’ll get my happily ever after and I’m sorry did I tell you that I’m wasting away desperately longing for a man to fill my empty life? Did you think you needed to tell the missionary that God’s got a plan?

I’ve been told, by people who are evidently sure that they’re letting me in on a secret, that I shouldn’t pin my hopes on marriage because “marriage is hard, too”–which is good to know, because I definitely don’t know anyone who’s married, so I thought it was a 50-year romantic comedy.

None of it’s terrible. I know people who’ve heard much worse. I’m sure I’ve heard much worse, honestly. But the sum total of it all is that when you are an unmarried Catholic woman in your thirties, you feel very much as though you don’t count.

When you’re a single mother, you feel the same. When you’re a married woman in college, when you’re infertile, when you have so many kids you can’t volunteer at preschool, when your husband isn’t Catholic, when you’re an early empty-nester, when your kid has special needs, when you’re a working mom, when your kids are in public school, when you’re widowed young, when you’re raising grandkids. I expect that every one of us feels, at one time or another, that we don’t count because we don’t match the model of Catholic womanhood that our friend group (or the internet) presents us with.1

We often don’t say anything because it sounds like bitterness, to find pain in another’s joy. So we build walls of resentment between ourselves and the very well-meaning women who love us. We feel guilty for our selfishness and berate ourselves for not being happy for them.

I’ve spent more than a decade looking with great gladness on the beautiful lives of my beautiful friends thinking in the words of L.M. Montgomery (about an unmarried Anne Shirley visiting Diana and her sweet baby): “it is sometimes a little lonely to be surrounded everywhere by a happiness that is not your own.” I rejoice in the good things in your life. I grieve over your deep suffering. I want to share in what I understand and in what I don’t. I don’t want to compete over who’s more tired or who’s bearing more fruit. I envy you, but I try not to. I sometimes gloat internally, but I try even harder not to do that.

All I’m saying is this: it’s hard. Being a mom is hard. Being childless is hard. Being in an abusive relationship is hard. Being trapped in a small town is hard. Being completely unrooted is hard. Having a job is hard. Being unemployed is hard. It’s just hard. All of it.

One day a year, many of us have learned to consider what might be hard for other people, how different lives involve different crosses and how we can respect that. I’m just wondering if we can be more mindful of the way people are different from us.

  • If your girlfriend has a pack of kids ask if you can bring ice cream after bedtime or get a sitter so the two of you can grab coffee.
  • If you’ve got a close friend struggling with infertility, ask her if she wants to come along for ultrasounds or would rather have you talk as little as possible about pregnancy stuff around her.
  • If your friend is divorced, consider that your moms’ group shouldn’t read a book about marriage.
  • If your friend is single, either find someone great2 to set her up with or shut your mouth about how “fun” it must be to be single or about how she should really try Catholic Match.
  • Ask advice of a friend who “shouldn’t” have any–parenting advice of the childless, dating advice of the long-married, career advice of the stay-at-home mom. She may not have much input, but actually she may. You don’t need to have experienced something firsthand to have wisdom on the matter and often being well on the outside of a situation can give you some perspective.
  • Cultivate friendships with women in different phases of life. It’s unnatural that nearly all of our friends are living just as we’re living–it was never that way in the village. The more varied your relationships (widows, young moms, moms of teens, consecrated women, young professionals) the harder it is to be insensitive to struggles that are not your own.
  • When your friend shares her deep pain with you, DO NOT respond with, “Yeah, well, at least you don’t [have the cross I have that you would love to have/have the cross I have that’s so much worse than yours and so your pain doesn’t count].” Do not use your cross as a bludgeon against those who carry a different one.
  • Don’t try to fix it.
  • Don’t feel you have to give advice or say anything other than, “Oh, friend. I’m so sorry. That’s really hard.”
  • Listen and love.

I don’t want to feed into a culture that delights in getting offended.3 But when we surround ourselves with people who are just like us, it becomes very easy to alienate and to begin to mold the Gospel in our own image. You don’t need to censor everything you ever do for the sake of some woman who might be hurt by your joy. Just consider that in your happiness, there may be someone lonely. Do what you can to build bridges, not walls.

 

(Before you comment, will you please just ask yourself if it’s a platitude? Nobody needs to hear, “God’s got a plan” or “You’re still young.” Thanks.)

  1. Forget the fact that female Saints run the gamut from scholar to harlot and working mom to homeschooler to single mom. We ignore the Saints and see only the alienation the Devil wants us to see. []
  2. Not just the only guy who’s left. []
  3. I’m generally rather hard to offend unless you’re actually attacking me personally. But I write on the einternet, so that’s a lot. []

Love Never Says ‘How Typical’

This Christmas, a lot of us are struggling. You may be grieving or lonely or overwhelmed. You may have too many people to buy for or not enough, your hands full or far too empty. But there’s one thing that unites us all: the aggravation and drama of spending time with family.

Okay, maybe there are some who honestly never have any trouble at all with their friends and relatives and relatives’ friends. But most of us who have anyone to spend Christmas with are going to find our last nerve fraying sooner rather than later. Whether it’s your uncle’s morose muttering about whatever he’s currently lamenting, your spouse’s inability to pass plates clockwise, or your Grandmother’s incessant comments about what a good woman priest you’d make,1 there’s probably some button of yours that’s going to be pushed again and again and again this weekend.

Don’t add it to the list.

The reason these things infuriate us is that we view them as part of a pattern, as the defining characteristic of this person, as yet another instance of selfishness or sullenness or unreasonable anger. And they may be, but it doesn’t help us to love well when every transgression gets added to a heap of previous transgressions. “This is just like that time in 1986 when he didn’t let me borrow his trike. How typical.”

But love never says “how typical.”

Think about it. People crazy in love, even those who aren’t blind to their partners’ faults, don’t define the beloved by her flaws. That’s where the breakdown of love begins. “It’s so like her,” we mutter when she’s late again, and begin to view her tardiness as a deliberate offense. Should she be late? Probably not. But when we choose to see people as a catalog of faults we cease to be lovers.

I read this years ago in an anthology of C.S. Lewis’ favorite authors. The way to love difficult people is to refuse to see their annoying or hurtful or offensive behaviors as typical of them. Now, obviously if a relationship is abusive we need to leave or somehow distance ourselves. And in some relationships we’re able and even obligated to help the other to see his hurtful behavior and try to change. But often the flaw is too ingrained, the relationship too tenuous, or the issue more a matter of your sensitivity than anything else. Your cousin’s eye rolling, for example, or your grandfather’s sudden fits of temper. When we’re not being called to speak out in fraternal correction, it’s easy just to build a list of grievances with no Festivus celebration at which to air them. But that’s not love and it’s not Christian.

So instead, do this: when your sister-in-law doesn’t say thank you–again–and you find yourself internally seething–“How typical!”–stop. Choose to think instead, “Huh,” as though this were entirely unlike her. Instead of remembering every single other time ever and cementing your image of your sister-in-law as ingrate, imagine this was the first time she’d ever acted this way. Would it bother you then? Certainly not as much.

The Year of Mercy is over, but this is still a Church of mercy seeking to build a culture of mercy. When it comes to family, we need that mercy all the more. This Christmas we celebrate the mercy of God who refuses to define us by our sin. Let’s extend that same mercy by throwing out our decades-old heap of baggage and seeing people instead as the sum of their good qualities, “the sum of the Father’s love for us,” as JPII said. When you find yourself tempted to mutter, “How typical,” remind yourself: love never says “how typical.” Love chooses to see what is beautiful and look past the flaws. This Christmas, let’s choose love.

  1. Just me? []

To Christmas and Easter Catholics

Some of you reading this may not be regulars around the altar on Sundays. And when you get there this Christmas, you may feel underdressed or confused by responses that don’t feel familiar. You may feel crowded and out of place. There may even be people at Mass who deliberately make you feel unwelcome. I’m so sorry if coming home makes you feel even more alone. Since I can’t be at every parish this Sunday, I’m going to tell you what I’d say to you if I met you outside the church or had a chance to speak from a pulpit knowing that you hadn’t been to Mass in a while.

12401021_1027549963932712_1339430546719916337_nWelcome, friends! I am thrilled that you’re here. Really–whatever you’re wearing, whatever ink and piercings you’ve got, however long it’s been, whatever brought you here and whoever you’re with, I’m delighted!

You see, you’re the reason we’re here. Truly. The very reason Christmas exists, the reason this church exists, is that the God who made you was desperate to save you. He wanted more than anything to know you and be known by you. Not y’all, but you–just you. And so he came.

But he knew that some of you would feel ashamed of your weakness. So he became weak. He knew that some would feel judged. So he was born under shadow of scandal. He knew that some would feel unwelcome. So he was turned away from the inn. You are not an afterthought. You’re the reason for the season. Oh, Jesus is the reason for the season. We all know that. But you are the reason the Christ child was born 2000 years ago–to seek and save the lost.

So of course I’m excited to see you! Because as glad as I am that you’re here, nothing could match the joy that the Father takes in seeing you here tonight. Heaven is rejoicing right now because you’ve come home.

I know some of you have been away for a long time. It doesn’t matter. This is still your home. Maybe life just got busy and you drifted away; I get that. Maybe there’s some teaching of the Church that you don’t feel you can accept; believe me, I’ve been there. Maybe you’ve suffered too much to believe in a loving God; you are not alone. Whatever’s kept you away, the Lord is inviting you tonight: let this Christmas be the beginning of a new life. Come home.

But I know there are others among us tonight who’ve been hurt, terribly hurt by the Church or her representatives. And I want to speak to you right now:

I am so sorry.

Whatever was done to you, whatever was said, however you were attacked or ignored, I am so sorry. On behalf of Christ’s Church, I beg your forgiveness. You did not deserve to be hurt and the Lord wept with you. But please don’t let the sins of fallen people keep you from the endless love of the Father. This is always your home. Come home.

Now you may not be aware, but we do this every week. True story–every Sunday, same time, same place. We won’t look as nice and the music might not be as good, but the same God comes down in the Eucharist, handing himself over for you again just as he did that first Christmas, and we’d love it if you’d join us.

When we come to that part of Mass tonight, to communion, I want to invite everyone here to ask yourself if you’re ready to give yourself completely to him. Maybe it’s been a while since you’ve been to Mass, maybe you’ve got some serious sin on your heart, maybe you haven’t been to confession in a long time–regulars and visitors, if you’re not prepared to receive him, we’re going to ask you to stay in your pew and pray with your whole heart that the Lord would come into your life and transform you. It’s called a spiritual communion and it’s incredibly powerful.1 But whether you’re coming up or staying where you are, there is no judgment. We’re all just rejoicing that you’ve come home.

You may not remember the words to some of the prayers, or you may not have been here since we got our new translation. There’s no judgment–we’re all just glad you’re here. So sing along to the familiar hymns and let the sights and smells remind you that you belong here. Christmas is a celebration of a God who came down to save those who had wandered from him. It’s your feast day. Joy to the world and welcome home.

  1. In some churches, it’s customary to receive a blessing if you’re not receiving communion. In those churches, I’d say, “We’re going to ask you to come forward to receive a blessing instead.” []

What Keeps Me Going: Doing His Work

My last post was a glimpse into how God speaks to me in prayer, even when I don’t notice. Even more often, I find he speaks through me, often also when I have no idea he’s doing anything particular. Twice this summer I was blown away by his power at work in me, so stunned by his goodness that I just couldn’t help but share.

The Right Place at the Right Time

img_20160620_232608
Meh. I’ve seen worse.

I was at a super posh school in England. So posh you thought you were driving up to Pemberley when you approached the school. So I was a little nervous, because that kind of school isn’t always thrilled with the “Stop sinning, Jesus is all that matters” message I give. But I knew the Lord had sent me, so off I went to shout about Jesus.

The kids were pretty good, laughing in all the right places and generally attentive. I wasn’t expecting much in the way of conversation afterward, but I told them I’d be around if they wanted to chat.

As most of them filed out of the gym, eight or ten of the cool girls walked up to me.

“You were talking about, like, not drinking and not dating boys,” the leader said. “What did you mean by that?”

Interesting, because I’d said hardly anything about either. But okay. So I talked a little about drinking in moderation and dating.

“Don’t date boys, though, date men. Boys treat you like a thing, men treat you like a person. But you’re too young to date men, so I’d say it’s best not to date at all right now. When you get out of high school and start dating, remember this: you’re looking for a man who’s going to love you like Jesus does, who’s going to be crucified for you.” On and on, with the usual “you’re so beautiful” and “God loves you so much.”

Until one of them started crying. “I wish you’d come a few years ago.”

And I pulled her into a hug and kept telling her how God loves her and she doesn’t deserve to be treated badly and God wants to forgive her. And girl after girl started to cry.

“Girls, if I had a priest you were never going to see again, would any of you want to go to confession?”

The leader of the pack’s hand shot into the air and I motioned to my friend, whose husband is a Catholic priest. “Will you ask Father if he can hear confessions?”

Then I stood for an hour in the hallway while most of these girls went in to confession with an incredibly compassionate priest. (If you’re a woman concerned with how a priest will handle your very painful confession, a married hospital chaplain is a good bet.) Each one came out crying and I hugged her, telling her how proud I was, reminding her that she was brand new, that she never had to confess those sins again.

img_20160826_164438Some took a little more persuading than others. One girl in particular sat silently crying for nearly an hour, shaking her head every time I suggested that she go to confession. Finally, when there was only one girl left with her, she looked at me solemnly and asked, “Do you think I should go?”

“Honey, we just ripped the scabs off some really deep wounds. You can go in and get healing or you can just keep bleeding and hurting. I promise you’ll feel better.” Off she went.

I’ve never seen anything like it, and I’ve given some variation of that talk at least a hundred times. It was so obviously the Holy Spirit who had spoken to them, the Holy Spirit who had sent them to talk to me, the Holy Spirit who had put a girl who believed in confession in the alpha position in the group. It was the Holy Spirit who’d sent that priest with me, the Holy Spirit who’d given us a believing teacher who was happy to excuse the girls from missed classes. I was stunned and thrilled and absolutely overwhelmed by God whose mercy is powerfully at work even when I’ve written people off.

Who knows how long-lasting that moment of conversion will be? But on that June day, those girls knew that they were loved. Whatever happens next, I pray that the devil doesn’t rob them of that feeling of love and mercy. If they can look back and remember that, God will continue to do amazing things.

God Speaks When I Write, Too

I didn’t start this blog because I wanted to be a blogger or a writer. I didn’t start it because I thought I could make any difference with what I write. I don’t really consider myself a writer.1 I only really write so that people will hear about me and invite me to come speak. That’s always felt more like my real mission. And sometimes (the last several months?) I don’t manage to write anything at all because it doesn’t seem like the best use of my time when there are talks to give and people to counsel.

God’s blessed me with a lot of positive feedback about my blog from people who’ve really encountered him through the words he gives me. And often they approach me and tell me the ways he’s used my blog to speak to them. But this one was particularly striking.

“Your blog made me Catholic,” she said.

“Aw, praise God! Thanks so much!” I assumed she meant she’d been looking for truth, had been searching for explanations on the Eucharist or Church authority or something, and had found my apologetics articles. It’s very exciting to have been a part of that process, but I’m not saying anything every other apologist isn’t saying. And if you were searching, the Lord was going to lead you to truth eventually.

“I was raised Catholic but had become an evangelical years before. I was actually an evangelical missionary. I had two degrees from evangelical schools and a friend of mine who’s an Anglican priest shared your Advice to Priests.”

“Oh, and you got sucked down the rabbit hole?”

“Nope, I just read that one. And suddenly I realized how much I was missing. I saw this beauty and power and love and I wanted to come home.”

“Wait, you only read my advice to priests? And that did it?”

Just call me Catherine of Siena.
Just call me Catherine of Siena.

“I just knew I needed the Eucharist and confession and all of it. So I went to confession and went back to Mass. And the next week I told my boss that I’d gone to a Catholic church. ‘To evangelize them?’ she asked. ‘No, to worship.’ And I was fired.”

I was stunned. Here was this piece that wasn’t for her. It wasn’t for lay people and it wasn’t for Protestants. But God works where he wills, and this was, somehow, what she needed not only to reconsider the faith of her childhood but to embrace it even at the cost of her livelihood.2 This was clearly God’s work, not mine.

 

I hope it doesn’t come across as bragging, this pair of praise reports, because none of it had anything to do with me. Each of these occasions came as a total surprise to me, as I trudged through my ordinary work. There are times when I know my talk was spot on or a piece I wrote was really powerful, and I can praise God when results come from those things, but they’re God’s work through my gifts. These two are God’s work despite my misgivings or distraction or whatever. And that’s an incredibly humbling thing, both to see what he can do in spite of my best efforts and to wonder what he could do if I were better at getting out of the way.

It does get me wondering: how many people will we meet in eternity who owe their salvation to something we did, never knowing it would impact anyone? Not even something so big as a talk or a blog post, just a smile at the sign of peace or a comment on a Facebook post. Every thing we do ripples into eternity, for good or for ill. May God use us well and may we surrender completely to him.

 

  1. Not fishing for compliments here. I know I do it pretty well, it’s just not really my thing. []
  2. She got another job eventually and is doing fine, though please say a prayer for her mother who’s dying. []

What Keeps Me Going: Hearing His Voice

I live an incredible life. I’m shockingly blessed, getting to visit amazing places and encounter marvelous people. I’m privileged to walk with people as they come back to the Lord or encounter him in a personal way for the first time. Believe me, I’m grateful for my life.

But it’s not always easy. For every exotic location, there’s a 12-hour drive. For every amazing meal, there’s a lunch of cheez-its.1 For every new friendship, there’s an hour of longing for consistent community. And with the online detractors and uninterested audiences and awkward hosts, it can be really tough to keep going.

The Lord knows that I’m weak, though, so he keeps filling my heart by showing me how he’s working in me, often despite my best efforts. Here’s a glimpse into two of these amazing moments.

Hearing His Voice

I was at an evangelization conference in London, surrounded by people who know the Lord intimately. They kept talking about Jesus telling them very specific things when evangelizing people. “God told me someone in the crowd was suffering from divorce,” “the Lord sent me to talk to an old man,” that kind of stuff. And I kept listening to them and getting more and more discouraged. These people are straight out of the book of Acts, hearing God send them to specific people with specific words. Meanwhile, I’m just sowing seed on any soil I can reach. Maybe I’m doing this wrong. Maybe I don’t really know him the way I think I know him.

I sure didn't look mopey, but what can I say? I'm a born performer.
I sure didn’t look mopey, but what can I say? I’m a born performer.

So I was all mopey about how everybody else is a better pray-er than me, and suddenly it was time to go give a talk. I wasn’t feeling it, but the show must go on. I knew, though, that I needed someone to pray over me–now. So I started walking through Leicester Square looking for somebody to ask. Now, I’ve maybe felt a need to be prayed over four or five times in the last four years. But I was desperate for it, and suddenly I saw a guy I’d met a few nights before. I knew nothing about him beyond his name, but I walked straight up to him and asked him. “Will you pray over me?”

Now, this was a very charismatic conference, packed with people for whom this wouldn’t be an odd request. So when he looked startled and just said, “No,” I wasn’t quite sure how to respond. “I’m sorry,” he said, “I’ll pray for you. But I can’t pray over you!” Okay. So I found some nuns, got prayed over, and went on about my day.

I didn’t think anything of it until he came and found me later.

“I’m really sorry about earlier.”

“No worries, I get it. It was a random request.”

“Well no, it’s just that…when I heard you speak the other day,” (in a talk that wasn’t about prayer at all) “I just knew that I needed to be better about praying with and over people. But I was so uncomfortable with the idea that I kept trying to push it back. This morning, I couldn’t get it out of my head that this is what God is asking me to do. And then you walk up out of nowhere and straight up ask me to do it? It was too much. But now I know: I have to have the courage to pray over people. Thank you.”

Turns out you can hear and follow God’s prompting without even knowing it. I wonder how often God’s doing amazing things like that–through all of us–and we don’t notice.

When God Speaks in Prayer

I was visiting a town I’ve been to a few times before. One of the ladies there is a particular favorite of mine. I don’t know her terribly well but we’ve spent a good 10 hours in conversation over the last few years, so she’s definitely no stranger.

The day I got to town, I was in prayer and I felt that I needed to pray for her and the babies she’s lost. It was a weird thought, since she’s never told me such a thing, but I did. I meant to bring it up when I saw her the next day, but it seemed out of place, so I let it go. Probably just a random thought.

2016-07-31-19-59-52A few days later we were visiting and out of nowhere she mentioned these babies–lost nearly 20 years ago. So we began talking about them and she started to cry and said she’s never told her friends and never cried about them before. She felt so much guilt over not having mourned them properly, about even feeling relieved when she lost them, what with the insanity of her life at the time, and I could see this incredible pain in her eyes.

And there I was, able to tell her that the Lord had asked me to pray for them and for her. That he’d ordained this conversation, called her to open up and called me to love her through this. I told her that it was okay that she had been in survival mode and that during this Year of Mercy God wants to finally let her grieve and be healed. And we talked about how they’re praying for her and they forgive her for the feelings she couldn’t control. She walked away ready to name her babies and ask their intercession and experience mercy and healing.

This is the kind of conversation I’m blessed to have pretty frequently. But the fact that the Lord had put it on my heart to pray for these children before I even knew they existed just made it so powerful. It was such an affirmation that God speaks in prayer, even when you don’t realize it’s him.

 

And that’s why I keep going. Because I don’t have to know what he’s doing to know he’s working. I don’t have to sense that he’s speaking for him to speak. I don’t even need constant evidence that I’m in his will or that it’s not all in vain. But every once in a while it sure does help.

 

  1. Okay, the cheez-it lunches far outnumber the amazing meals. It keeps me svelte. []

When Being an Easter People Is a Bad Thing

Easter candle liliesHappy Easter, friends! We are an Easter people over here–all 50 days of it. So along with my feasting (and there has been plenty of feasting) all during the Easter season I’ve been trying to use the stories from Acts as much as I can. After all, Acts is our Easter book, right? We read from it every day of Easter. So let’s be all about the Apostles and the amazing work they did, especially during this Easter season!

Until last week when I realized: almost none of the Acts of the Apostles takes place during Easter.1 Because during Easter, the Apostles weren’t out doing anything. For forty days they were being taught by Jesus, learning to forgive sins and feeling their hearts burn within them as he opened the Scriptures to them. And then he ascended. And maybe they felt empowered by the great commission or maybe they felt afraid and alone or maybe they wondered if this wasn’t another 3-day psych-out. But whatever they were feeling, here’s what they did:

They kept to themselves.

“They were continually in the temple praising God,”2 which is great. They “devoted themselves with one accord to prayer, together with some women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers.”3 They were in fellowship and in prayer amongst themselves, but they weren’t going out. They weren’t preaching Christ crucified or offering his mercy to the nations.

They had an excuse: they hadn’t yet received the Holy Spirit.

What’s our excuse?

We received the Holy Spirit at baptism and his presence was strengthened in confirmation. We claim his name over our lives every time we cross ourselves. We’ve been called and filled and sent out.

But most of us are still locked in the upper room.

We’ve met the risen Christ and many of us have been transformed. Like Peter our sins have been forgiven, like Mary Magdalene our broken hearts healed, like Thomas our doubts satisfied. We’ve been made new. And now we’re sitting around doing nothing about it.

Oh, we might be in the temple day in and day out. We might be meeting in fellowship and even praying together. But we’re not reaching out to the world.

I wonder what happens when the Spirit comes down as tongues of fire and we refuse even to open the windows, let alone go out into the streets. My hunch is that it doesn’t look pretty and doesn’t end well.

That’s where we’ve been as a Church for far too long. In the West, at least, we’ve been focusing inward, trying (halfheartedly, in most cases) to take care of our own. But when a missionary Church locks itself in an upper room, nobody gets fed.

This year on the Vigil of Pentecost, people all over the world are praying in a special way for an outpouring of the Holy Spirit. They’re praying that the power of God will be released in their lives, that they’ll live in the freedom of the Spirit. I think one of the most powerful ways that we’ll experience this is by giving God permission to touch hearts through us. If we decide that we’re going to unlock the door and walk out into the streets, proclaiming Christ and living the book of Acts, we’ll be transformed just as much as those we meet. We’ll move past Easter (still filled with Alleluias) and live in Pentecost as though it were Ordinary.

This Pentecost, the Spirit is coming down. Let’s open our lives to him and go out to set the world ablaze.

Pentecost

  1. That we know of anyway. Certainly not during the first Easter season. []
  2. Luke 24:53 []
  3. Acts 1:14, though they weren’t really his brothers []