When I was in college, I dated a Catholic boy. I was in my rebel phase and, for many reasons that now seem ironic, he was quite the rebel in my eyes.
When we went back to visit his home town, I met his mother, a strict Catholic woman. I slept in his sister’s bed, because she was away becoming a nun. And I felt more than a little “less than” as his mother did her best not to openly glare at me.
It seemed my very presence caused tension in their household. She was angry at her son when he went to my church on Sunday, because it didn’t “count.” She was appalled at my sense of dress — spaghetti straps and halter tops (it was the Britney Spears era…cringe). I was not who she had envisioned for her son.
Eventually the relationship ended. Not long after, I met the man who would one day become my husband…and I found out that he was Catholic.
With defiance I told him, “I just want you to know that I will never be Catholic.” Visions of my could-have-been mother-in-law danced in my head.
My husband took it in stride. It wasn’t on his radar of things to worry about at the ripe old age of nineteen. During the summer months, he went home to work. One weekend, I drove out to visit him, nervous about the prospect of meeting his mom.
I figured I had met the model of a Catholic woman, and if I knew one thing it was that they didn’t like me. I braced myself for the disapproval I would undoubtedly see in her face.
But his mom surprised me.
She welcomed me into her home without so much as a judgemental glance and seamlessly absorbed me into their family.
Over time, my heart softened to the Catholic faith. I thought, “Maybe this is what it could look like too. Maybe this is how it was meant to look.”
My husband and I got married in a Lutheran church, still not sure which way we wanted to go. The one thing we knew for sure was that we wanted to be the same denomination — to raise our family in a house united in faith. We just didn’t know what Christian tradition that would be.
Then one Sunday, I had a powerful experience with God (that’s a long story–a post for another day). It made me feel completely convicted that I wanted to become Catholic. I announced my decision to my husband with many tears and fanfare, and he took it in stride, as he does most things.
I often think about the woman who could have been my mother-in-law — how my interaction with her shaped my entire view of Catholics. When we are treated poorly, it’s easy to make broad generalizations about a group of people.
It makes me wonder if the same is true when non-believers — or even those who are simply trying to figure out where they fit within the walls of a church — encounter a mean Christian.
As Christians, we have the power to impact someone’s walk with Christ simply by choosing whether or not we show them love. Will we shout our beliefs in their face and quietly whisper behind their back? Or will we open our arms to them and welcome them in?
I don’t imagine I’m above acting like my old boyfriend’s mother. In some situations our natural tendency is to be unloving, and it’s easy to slip into that mentality.
But my prayer is that I can remember just how much a little love can open a person’s mind to Christ.