My husband and I were at a fancy business function last year and I found myself in that awkward situation of trying to explain “what I do.” Umm, I’m a stay at home mom, I write for a Catholic website, and I volunteer a lot at my church and the kids’ school. True, this is my life. But somehow I didn’t think this would make for a very interesting conversation or win me lots of new friends. More importantly, though, it wouldn’t begin to explain what these things really mean to me.
Sometimes it’s hard to talk about the things that are truly meaningful to us. Why? Because in doing so, we make ourselves vulnerable. We open ourselves up to the scrutiny and judgment of others. But the alternative is to live and interact with people in a superficial way, where we resign ourselves to discussing work and the weather.
To be honest, I haven’t always felt comfortable talking about my faith. Like a lot of people, I grew up in a family where certain subjects were avoided for the sake of keeping the peace. My husband’s family, on the other hand, was the total opposite, and they often got into “lively” discussions about all kinds of things. Sex, politics, religion, you name it…nothing was off-limits. Still, it’s one thing when it’s family and quite another when it’s a co-worker or casual acquaintance. You have to choose your words carefully.
So it got me thinking: How do we go deeper in our conversations? How can we engage others in discussing things that are really important to us? As Christians, we are called to witness to the love of Christ in our lives, but we must be creative and find ways to share our beliefs without being pushy or preachy. I’ve come up with a few ideas that may help:
- Meet people where they are. You’ve probably heard this before, but it’s so true. This means having no agendas when we speak to someone, but being genuinely interested in getting to know them. Many priests I’ve met are especially good at this (though, of all people, you’d think they’d be the most likely to have an agenda). I’ve found that if I want to talk about what I do, I usually start by saying that I volunteer a lot – even people with no faith recognize the good that’s been done in the world through volunteerism. But if possible, I like to explain that my faith that compels me to do so. Sure, I’ve been blessed in my life and want to give back, but it’s so much more. I want to help make the world a better place – to bring hope and love to others in whatever way I can. And I always try to present the vocation to motherhood (my vocation) in a positive light – even if I’ve had a horrible day.
- Know thyself. I’m not good at working a room, but I’m perfectly comfortable sitting and talking one on one with just about anybody. I recognize this about myself, so at functions with lots of people, I try to focus on just a few and get to know them well.
- Listen more than you speak. This is one of those cardinal rules that can serve us well in all of life, regardless of the situation. We all know how wonderful it feels to be on the receiving end – having someone’s undivided attention. Being a good listener is key. Don’t have an answer you’re anxiously waiting to give, but let the conversation flow naturally. Also, try to avoid looking over their shoulder or glancing at your watch (or worse yet, your phone).
- Ask good questions. Try a new angle on some of the standard questions. Instead of merely “What do you do?” follow it up with “What’s something you really enjoy about your work?” or “What do you find most challenging about that?” I try to focus less on work and more on what people do in their free time. It’s also interesting to hear where people are from, their backgrounds and upbringing. Asking questions is the best way to get to know someone, as most people are pretty comfortable talking about themselves.
- Take it easy. If you want to talk about your faith or it comes up in conversation, start with easy topics. Try to avoid most of the hot button issues and stick to areas of common ground. When I tell someone I’m Catholic, usually the first thing they ask is something about Pope Francis. Yes, of course, we all love him, I say. But I don’t stop there. It’s a great opportunity to explain how important the pope’s role is – how we respect and follow him regardless of our personal likes and dislikes.
- Speak from the heart. If the time is right, share stories and personal experiences. When we are open and honest, allowing ourselves to be vulnerable, others will be more likely to do the same. Don’t be afraid to let your feelings show. We get so used to being “on” all the time and worry about what people think, that our conversation becomes stilted. Remember, it’s okay to be a “fool” for Christ. And trust that the Holy Spirit will give you the right words!
- Above all, keep a sense of humour. Talking about things that are important doesn’t mean we have to be so serious all the time! I’m convinced that God has a great sense of humour and so should we. Sometimes you’ve just got to laugh at how things turn out or where God takes you. Here’s a good example:
A few years back, my husband and I were involved in a neighbourhood dinner group and were the first to host dinner at our home. Not knowing the other couples very well, I decided it would be a good idea to place questions under each person’s plate (we have this awesome deck of Table Topics cards that I picked up a few years ago). My seven-year-old daughter wanted to help, so I let her pick out the cards with the idea that I could go back later and censor them if need be. In the midst of preparing appetizers and last minute vacuuming, I rushed in to look at the cards and found that several of them were much too personal and/or controversial for my liking. One, for example, was “If you could ask God anything, what would it be?” I certainly didn’t want to get into those topics, so I promptly removed those cards and set them to the side.
A few minutes later, my husband walked in the door and saw that I was a bit panicked. Our guests would be arriving any minute, and I wasn’t ready. I asked him to help fix the questions, but he had no idea what had already transpired. He saw the stack of cards sitting off to the side and promptly put them back under the plates. Sounded good to him! You can imagine my surprise and dismay when the first question was read aloud. One neighbour said, “Before I answer this question, we have to make the assumption that there IS a God…” Needless to say, we had a very lively discussion that night about sex, politics, religion and all kinds of things! (I don’t even remember how I responded, but my husband told me later that it sounded pretty good. Must’ve been the Holy Spirit!) So, you see? Sometimes despite our best efforts, God takes us out of our comfort zone and into “uncharted territory.” But the good part is, He never asks us to go there alone!
– Kelley Holy
“Should anyone ask you the reason for this hope of yours, be ever ready to reply, but speak gently and respectfully.” – 1 Peter 3:15