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What 2 Years as a Catholic Missionary Taught Me

Nov 18, 2019Spirit0 comments

 When it comes to sharing your faith, have you ever felt like an imposter? I know I have, and I still do all the time.

Nowadays, it’s easy to start believing the lie that we have to have everything figured out before we invite people in. With so much information available at the touch of our fingertips, we can start to talk ourselves out of sharing our thoughts, ideas, and perspectives with others for fear of being proven wrong, being judged, or being overshadowed by someone with more authority on the subject. And this doesn’t just apply to matters of faith. Whether you’re talking about how God spoke to you in prayer this morning, your ideas for launching a new business, or the new workout routine you’ve finally settled into, that nasty voice can creep in — the one that says, “You’re no expert. Why should anyone listen to you?”

Ah, imposter syndrome. How we hate you.

While I’ve dealt with these feelings of inadequacy for various reasons throughout my life, never has the struggle been as difficult as it was when I said “yes” to becoming a Catholic missionary on a college campus. Thankfully, the two years I spent walking with college students in their faith journeys taught me a lot about overcoming self doubt. Here are the top 5 lessons I learned the hard way so you don’t have to:

01

You don’t have to be perfect.

And that’s a good thing — because you aren’t.

When I first became a missionary, I thought I needed to say, do, and be all the right things for the people who looked up to me. I thought I could never slip up, and if I did, that meant I was unworthy to be doing my job. The fear of messing up crept into practically everything I did — am I praying enough? Do I look pious enough when I’m praying? Am I spending enough time with students? Do I even know enough about God to share Him with other people?

Gradually, I came to terms with the realization that no, I wasn’t knowledgeable/holy/generous enough to be a missionary on my own. I needed help. And thankfully, I had help! I had all the tools I needed to continue learning about the faith and improving my own relationship with God, and I had a team of people doing the same thing right alongside me. What was even more important was finding out that people weren’t looking for someone to model the faith perfectly. They were just seeking other people who were trying, just like they were.

02

Changing the world requires changing yourself.

Cue Michael Jackson’s Man in the Mirror.

One of the most profound, recurring lessons I learned while on mission was that the brokenness I see in the world is a reflection of the brokenness that exists within my own heart. That may sound a little crazy, but allow me to explain.

There is so much negativity around the world and in our culture today, and it’s easy, when I encounter that negativity, to throw my hands up in the air and think, “Gosh, people are so terrible. People do such cruel things.”

What I’ve come to recognize is that this kind of response changes nothing. It’s an act of abandoning responsibility by throwing the expectation for the world to be better out into the universe where I have absolutely no control. And while I don’t have control over whether a teenager in a different state decides to harm his classmates, or whether a husband decides to cheat on his wife, I do have the ability to bring the things that break my own heart into the light so they can be healed. I do have control over how well I love the people around me. And that makes all the difference.

If, instead of pointing fingers at the people who have made bad, often public life choices, we all looked inward and addressed the brokenness within ourselves, the world would be a much brighter place.

03

Prayer is hard.

As a missionary, I had a Holy Hour written into my schedule every day. Translation: prayer. For an hour. Every day.

I’ll be honest: this was a really difficult habit for me to adopt. It’s hard to admit that because prayer is, in essence, relationship with God, and I love God! But prayer has never come easily to me. When I first started praying a Holy Hour, I was so caught up in whether or not I was doing it “right.” In the beginning, I spent pretty much the entire hour combatting the feeling that I wasn’t praying the way I was supposed to.

Finally, thanks in part to a talk given by Fr. Mike Schmitz, I began to view prayer differently. He said, “When you go to pray, let God be God, and you just be you.” I had been so focused on praying the “right” way instead of just showing up as myself, letting God in, and seeking to know and love Him more fully. This is something I constantly have to remind myself.

04

God provides.

This lesson might sound cheesy, but it is so true.

If you look back on the blog post I wrote about why I said “yes” to being a missionary, you’ll see that I wasn’t very confident in my missionary abilities when I decided to follow this path. Another huge question mark in my head was how on earth I was going to survive because I was required to fundraise my entire salary. Big yikes.

The first summer I spent fundraising, I feared I wasn’t even going to come close to being funded. Or that if I was, by some miracle, able to raise enough money to get to campus, I would barely be scraping by, and money would be a constant stress.

The only thing I knew to do was to continue praying, asking God to bless my efforts abundantly, and then to give Him some efforts to bless. As difficult as it was, I persisted in asking for support from my community, even on the days when I was completely discouraged and ready to give up. And you know what? I made it to campus, fully funded. The coolest part about fundraising was that I received support from some people I never imagined would contribute to my mission — every “no” I received was just making room for a different “yes.” It was a huge lesson in trusting that wherever God guides, He provides.

05

Just be you.

This was by far my most important takeaway from life as a missionary.

We all know how easy it is to compare ourselves to one another, and I really fell prey to the comparison game when I first became a missionary. I thought that if I didn’t live out my faith in the same way I saw other people living out theirs, it must mean I was doing something wrong. It must mean I wasn’t good enough.

That was all a load of bullshit.

One of my teammates once gave a talk for a group of students, and I was so moved by one thing he said. He told us that every single person you encounter as you go about your life has something unique to teach you about God, something nobody else who has ever lived or who will ever live could teach you.

The world needs more people who know themselves, who are in touch with who they were created to be. We need more people who are unafraid to be totally, radically them. You don’t need to be a carbon copy of the person sitting next to you in the pew. You just need to be you — a wildly imperfect human striving to be the best you can be.

Now it’s your turn — what are some of the biggest lessons you’ve learned as you’ve shared your faith or perspectives with others? Let me know in the comments below.

 

What 2 Years as a Catholic Missionary Taught Me

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