Our tradition of having Sunday dinner with our four grown children was becoming confrontational. Seriously, Mom? You believe Jesus was a real person? Prove it.
Although we had raised our children Catholic and sent them to Catholic grade school, they stopped going to church one by one as they moved out and established their own lives. Our eldest son was particularly defiant. More than the others, he seemed to enjoy peppering me with challenging questions about my beliefs. My typical flustered response was “I don’t know.” I wished I had the answers, but I realized how little I knew.
Looking for Answers. An opportunity to change this came when my parish announced an upcoming seven-week program called “Discovering Christ.” They described it as a chance to enjoy a free dinner, listen to a talk about Jesus and the Church, and take part in discussions with my fellow parishioners. Finally, a place where I could get some answers!
At the first session, I introduced myself nervously to the people at my dinner table and learned that we would stay as a group for the next seven weeks. We were a diverse bunch: some were very religious, a couple were lapsed Catholics thinking about returning to the Church, and one or two people were nonbelievers. We started to get to know one another as we ate.
After dinner, the organizer led us in prayer, and then we watched a thought-provoking video. Our range of backgrounds fueled a candid conversation afterward. I told the group about my family and admitted to feeling guilty that none of my children shared my faith. A couple of people promised to pray for us. I didn’t have many answers yet, but at least I would not be searching alone!
“I’m Frustrated, Jesus.” Through the videos, discussions, and especially the relationships that formed within my group, Discovering Christ began to awaken my love for Jesus and strengthen my relationship with him. But at the same time, my husband, Paul, and I were beginning to feel frustrated with our own relationship.
We knew we loved each other, but much of the time, I felt neglected. Paul does his own home and car repairs, so I would ask him to change the lightbulb in one of our high ceilings or to check out the slow air leak in my tire. His response would be “Okay,” but the repairs never got done. This could go on for months. What irritated me most, though, was his willingness to drop everything to help a neighbor, friend, or coworker check the wiring in their house or fix a plumbing leak. Why couldn’t he change one lightbulb for me?
Unfortunately, it was a two-way street. Paul would ask me, a physical therapist, to check out his sore shoulder or knee, but I would often respond, “Later—I’m cooking dinner” or “I’m unwinding from work.” Before I knew it, the next day arrived, and I had never checked him out. But if a friend or neighbor called, I, like my husband, would willingly spend hours helping them out.
Feeling unloved, I started complaining to Paul about this. I also began to talk to Jesus about my frustration and anger—while driving to work, cooking dinner, taking a shower, or going to sleep at night. It seemed like a one-sided conversation with me doing all the talking, but at least I was treating Jesus like a person who could hear me, not just an idea I needed to defend. Unbeknownst to me, these “one-sided” talks were laying the foundation for a much bigger breakthrough in my faith life.
A Lesson in Attentiveness. One component of Discovering Christ is a retreat toward the end of the seminar that focuses on the Holy Spirit. Not knowing what to expect, I decided to go along. Then something happened during a time set aside for private prayer. I was praying for my children and asking for help getting my husband to pay more attention to me. While I was pouring out my needs to the Holy Spirit, I felt that an answer came to me. It was as if that high-ceiling lightbulb had switched on in my head. I realized that I had not been prioritizing my husband’s requests because I was taking him for granted. I knew he would be there for me when my parents died or if I was in trouble, so I didn’t take time to show him love and respond to his needs.
As I kept praying, another realization hit me. My relationship with Jesus was the same as my relationship with Paul. I knew that Jesus loved me and would be there at troubled times, but I was taking him for granted. Despite Jesus’ love for me—or maybe because of it—I wasn’t sharing my love with him. I wasn’t taking time to listen to him in prayer and respond. I talked to Jesus when I was in trouble and tried to be a good Catholic by helping out at church; I even worked with people who had disabilities and volunteered at local schools. But I imagined that from day to day, Jesus and my husband might feel the same: unloved and a bit neglected.
Together All Day Long. Compelled by what I sensed from the Holy Spirit, I started working on my relationship with Paul. We decided to try to respond to each other’s requests in a timely manner. And we have come up with key phrases to let each other know when we are feeling neglected. We have also started to talk more during the day, not just to “be together” by sitting in the same room. These changes are bringing new life into our marriage.
I’m making improvements with Jesus too! I have begun to talk to him throughout the day and not just when I need help. I am learning to use a wide variety of types of prayer. Sometimes I start with a memorized prayer like the Act of Contrition or the Our Father, but then I just talk to him as if he were sitting next to me. Recently I thanked him for reminding me that I had left my packed lunch on the kitchen table. Small realizations like these are how Jesus lets me know he is there and that he cares for me.
A Holy Spirit Follower, Not a “Holy Roller.” I gained so much from the Discovering Christ series that I signed up the second time it was offered, and my husband joined me. This second time, I came to understand that Jesus did not hold my children’s lack of belief against me. I needed to forgive myself because Jesus loves me.
I have learned that you don’t need to be a “holy roller” to share your love for Jesus with family members or other people. You just need to open your heart and ask Jesus to lead you. How do I know this is true? Because my atheist son and his Catholic fiancée are now meeting with the pastor of my parish to see if they can get married in the Church.
Open yourself up to Jesus, and mighty things will begin to happen!
Sharon Jaeckel and her husband, Paul, live in northern Virginia.
You can learn more about Discovering Christ, a part of ChristLife Catholic Ministry for Evangelization, at www.christlife.org. Consider bringing ChristLife to your parish.