What makes the difference? What nurtures the growth of individuals or communities, and what holds us back? An important question for every person and every community is: what do you envision for your future? The question is different at different stages of the journey. It starts when people ask us as children, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” As we grow, and maybe find ourselves in very different roles doing very different things than we imagined, it becomes more and more important to look to how we are living in the present, since that is what shapes our future. As we look back on the paths our lives have taken, we have a great opportunity to see God’s presence and action along the way. Awareness of the presence of God can reveal new paths, new callings, or new roads that we may never have dreamed of pursuing.
I believe that the way to change our shrinking churches into growing churches is to encourage each other to actively engage in reflection on where each of us has seen God’s presence and action in our lives. This leads to a place of gratitude, peace, and confidence in God’s love for each of us. When we dwell in this space, we live life more intentionally and become more authentically who we were made to be, regardless of our occupation or the roles we play. When we see people who embody this kind of joyful spirit, we are attracted, and want to know where it comes from. People who know the joy of God’s love have a way of proclaiming this joy with their lives.
I think of the times when I have been privileged to hear people telling stories about when they have experienced God, like when courageous and generous members of our community gave witness talks during Lenten Masses, or on our Confirmation retreats. It is not an easy thing to do, and my experience is that everyone I have ever asked has felt that they didn’t have anything to share and couldn’t do it, but have nevertheless had a powerful impact on their listeners. This is how we begin to create a cultural shift that values and embraces identifying and sharing experiences of God. For us to really grow, the way Jesus envisioned, and the way his early disciples put into practice, it’s up to us to create a culture that values sharing faith, as strong as the Texas culture of gun ownership.
It’s so easy to believe that this call is for someone else. We already have busy lives. Or we don’t think we have what it takes, or we don’t think God would be calling us. But the truth is, the story of Jesus sending his disciples out into the world is a blueprint for his plan for transformation of the world, and it is for every one of his followers. Like the twelve, we are supposed to be his emissaries. Perhaps not by going off to foreign lands, but by the way we live our lives now. No matter what our job, each of us has a share in Jesus’s vocation. His instructions to us are simple: preach repentance, heal people, and continue his battle with the powers of evil. Take nothing for the journey; God will provide what you need. What is Jesus calling you to do and to be?
Take your next step: Ask someone you know and trust to spend some time thinking and praying about where God has been a part of their lives, and promise to do the same. Set aside some time to tell each other what that was like for you and what you discovered.