Throughout this first year of missionary life I have been frequently surprised at what challenges lie in our path and at the way in which God wants us to handle them. One area in which I have especially struggled has been sharing the faith in another language. You could say that one event that occurred last November had haunted me for more than 6 months. We were in a village and an older man approached us and asked us a number of questions about our beliefs. I was so lost and frustrated because I couldn’t even completely understand much less answer his questions. Eventually he left us looking as frustrated and confused as we were.
During the first half of this year I was waiting for the day to come when I would have to go through that again. How would I answer? What were the words to use? I read article after article trying to learn how to speak in Spanish about these questions. Finally Teresa and I were visiting a family of poor invalids. As we got out and walked up to the house I heard God speak inside my heart, “Jon you have spent half a year trying to learn how to preach in a foreign tongue to people you do not know, when the words you use at home and among friends do not reveal your love for Me.” I was floored. I realized that I had not been a great witness of Jesus at home where it mattered most. I yelled when angry or frustrated, I complained about any number of problems, I “vented” often to my wife or team members bringing everyone down. I realized at that moment that I needed to focus on my own conversion first and foremost. I needed to become a family missionary not just a part of Family Missions Company.
In this blog I wanted to share some of the things God has revealed to me over the past few months and especially weeks about being a missionary in the home. I want to share some of the powerful verses that have given new life and focus to my life and helped me to be a better father, a better Catholic, and a better missionary.
Matthew 12:34b-36 Your words show what is in your hearts. 35 Good people bring good things out of their hearts, but evil people bring evil things out of their hearts. 36 I promise you that on the day of judgment, everyone will have to account for every careless word they have spoken. (CEV)
Matthew 15:11 It is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles. (NRSVCE)
One of the first things God revealed to me was that words really do matter. Our words have power, revealing power. The words we use, the choices we make in giving meaning to our life experience bring out the truth that lies underneath. The same mouth that speaks evil at home cannot effectively preach the gospel. Your words reveal where your heart is. (Mt 12:34) Words reveal the deeper part of a speaker that he or she may not even be aware of. If you use your words to slander or complain this should warn you that your heart is not in the right place. As Aristotle says, “Spoken words are the symbols of mental experience” (De Interpretatione 1)
Another important fact to keep in mind is that we will have to give account for every word we say. (Mt 12:36) Jesus is pretty straight forward. We will be held responsible for our jokes, our sarcasm, our complaints, our “venting”, whatever. These words tell our story. These words build you up or contaminate who you are. (Mt 15:11) Your words have the power to change you.
In searching the Scriptures I have found a number of ways in which I fail in my speech. I know God is so good and will help me with these failings in my ways of speaking. (Matt 7:7; Luke 11:9) If you read these and feel they are impossible to follow remember “I can do all things in him who strengthens me.” (Phil 4:13 RSVCE)
- Don’t Yell at Your Kids or Spouse…Even If You are Mad or They Deserve It! Ephesians 4:31 Stop being bitter and angry and mad at others. Don’t yell at one another or curse each other or ever be rude. (CEV) The other day my sons were playing and they broke something we were going to use for a chapel. Immediately they looked so worried. “Dad, please don’t be mad.” They said. I realized that it was an accident but still it bothered me. I know that at times I yell at my kids if they do wrong. I have yelled at my wife in a fight. God has been saying that I need to always speak with a soft voice and show love to my family.
- Take Joy in Correction…That is, in Receiving Correction. Proverbs 25:12 Like a gold ring or an ornament of gold is a wise rebuke to a listening ear. (NRSVCE) The other day I was driving and the Lord said that I should be happier receiving an admonition than giving it. How difficult it is to receive correction from the family. I have been trying to listen more to correction even if it comes from the quiet voice of my son crying because I haven’t read to him a story for a long time. (See also Proverbs 10:17, 12:1; 15:5, 12, 31-32; and 17:10)
- Be Willing to be Misunderstood– I Peter 3:17 For it is better to suffer for doing good, if suffering should be God’s will, than to suffer for doing evil. (NRSVCE) “But I didn’t mean it that way” how many times do I say this in a week? God has been showing me that I do not need to always be explaining myself to others. Often times we need to just shut up and try to understand the other person. Take our Lord’s example, He didn’t defend Himself at the cross but He certainly could have. The verse God gave me last week during a misunderstanding was Exodus 14:14 The Lord will fight for you while you keep silent. (NASB)
- Don’t Bring up Past Mistakes and Failures…EVER AGAIN! Sirach 19:10 Have you heard something? Let it die with you. (NRSVCE) Sirach 19:7 Rehearse not again a wicked and harsh word, and thou shalt not fare the worse. (DRA) Never bring up the past errors of your spouse or children unless it is for their benefit. I know I have often said something like “Not again” or “why do you always act this way” to subtly remind the listener that this is not the first time they have failed. And yet as far as the east is from the west, so far does he (God) remove our sins from us. (GNT) Are we not to imitate Him?
- Teasing Kills- Ephesians 6:4 Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. (ESV) If my teasing makes my children angry I need to change the way I relate to them. I don’t want to discourage them but rather lead them to Christ. Colossians 3:21 Fathers, do not provoke your children, so they will not become disheartened. (NET)
- Patience…Forgive…Patience…Forgive…Patience…Forgive Ephesians 5:1 Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. (RSVCE) James 1:19 Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters! Let every person be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger. (NET) We are called to the patience of Jesus the patience to look upon our spouse and children over and over again with love and patience. Forgive…forgive…forgive.
- Looks and Tone Matter– Proverbs 15:13 A glad heart makes a cheerful countenance, but by sorrow of heart the spirit is broken. (NRSVCE) I am really bad at this one. I often neglect my tone and give of the impression that I am depressed when I don’t think I am. And yet I am realizing that this wise adage can also be taken to mean that my face will affect those around me. This is definitely true. My sadness of heart often ends up bringing down the whole family. I need to give it to the Lord and smile.
- “Venting” is Never God’s Way- Proverbs 29:11 says, Fools give full vent to their rage, but the wise bring calm in the end. I really believe venting is just a phony word used in order to complain and gossip without feeling bad. The fact is that for the Sacred Authors venting to other people is not an option. If we need to vent we can dump it upon God like the Psalmist. He can handle it and will help us to overcome.
- Talk Less Listen More: Questions Lead to Understanding– James 1:19 Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters! Let every person be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger. (NET) Simply put, ask more questions and you will learn more about your family and how you can serve them. Talking too much can be a sign of over self-importance.
- Never Gossip in Front of the Kids…or Anywhere Else! Sirach 19:7-8 Never repeat what you hear, and you will have no regrets. 8 Don’t tell it to your friends or your enemies unless it would be sinful to keep it to yourself. (GNT) What happens at work should stay at work.
- Ask Before Correcting Proverbs 19:17 If you hear something that makes you angry with your neighbor, ask him about it before you threaten him. (GNT) How many times have I walked into a room with my children fighting and immediately corrected the one I “knew” was guilty. I have found that even if I was right my child gets the feeling that I don’t want to hear what he has to say. This has consequences in other aspects of family life like when I ask him how his day went and he seems a bit uninterested in telling me anything because he thinks I don’t really care to hear.
- No Crudeness – Sirach 27:13 The talk of fools is offensive, and their laughter is wantonly sinful. (RSVCE) I have set a bad example with my boys in my humor and now I am trying to change this for their sake. Rude jokes have no place in the Christian household. There are plenty of things to joke about without resorting to the toilet. I am still working on this one. Remember what Jesus said about each and every word.
- Complaining Kills Your Light: The Missionary Can’t Be a Complainer – Philippians 2:14 Do everything without grumbling or arguing. (CEV) The easiest way to kill your light is to complain. As Pope Francis has said, “Complaining frequently can become an obsession that obscures the presence of Jesus in difficult situations.” We need to give it to our Lord and keep our mouths shut or intentionally praise when we want to complain.
- Pray for Those in Authority Titus 3:1 Remind your people to obey the rulers and authorities and not to be rebellious. They must always be ready to do something helpful. I Peter 2:13 For the Lord’s sake accept the authority of every human institution,[a] whether of the emperor as supreme, How do I talk about my boss, my President, or others in authority at home? Is my talk informed by scripture or by my favorite news station?
All of this is a way of dying to the self and it hurts and you and I will fail. And yet this is the true missionary vocation— To follow Christ and share His love with others. I Peter 2:21 For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.