Getting out of the way and letting Jesus do his work

| Sarah Spangenberg for The Catholic Spirit | September 11, 2013 | 0 Comments
Sarah Spangenberg gave a testimony during the St. Paul’s Outreach Benefit Banquet last February at the Crowne Plaza in St. Paul. Dianne Towalski / The Catholic Spirit

Sarah Spangenberg gave a testimony during the St. Paul’s Outreach Benefit Banquet last February at the Crowne Plaza in St. Paul. Dianne Towalski / The Catholic Spirit

During the summers of 2011 and 2012, I served with the Totus Tuus program in the Diocese of Duluth. As part of the program, teams of four young missionaries commit to traveling around the diocese to lead a catechetical program at eight different parishes for both elementary students and teenagers. I am grateful to have had the opportunity to serve alongside such holy men and women.

When I think back on my time with Totus Tuus, one teammate of mine stands out as having a particular gift for proclaiming the Gospel. It seemed that whenever he spoke to give a teaching or a testimony, the Holy Spirit would move in a powerful way. Students were captivated by his words. Some would break into tears, or they would head to the confessional or fall to their knees to worship Jesus in the Eucharist.

I have known few people who illustrate the words of Isaiah so beautifully: “He has made my mouth like a sharp-edged sword. . . He has made me a sharpened arrow” (Isaiah 49:2).

Seeing what an effective evangelist he was made my heart burn with a desire to be a better missionary as well. Whatever he was doing to bring about so many conversions, I was determined to do it, too. So I redoubled my efforts at being charitable toward

others, speaking with all the eloquence I could muster about Jesus and the Church, and joyfully demonstrating my faith.

But my heart was restless and discouraged when I saw how uninspiring I actually was. It seemed that my increased attempt to win others over to the Gospel was met with little more than blank stares and bored yawns. I felt like an agitated, resounding gong.

Trusting in God

Scripture is saturated with reminders that we need to get over ourselves. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, on your own intelligence do not rely” (Proverbs 3:5); “Unless the Lord build the house, they labor in vain who build” (Psalms 127:1); “Yet I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me” (Galatians 2:20).

In other words, there was one underlying problem with my missionary efforts, namely that I called them “mine.”

I began to understand my error on Totus Tuus and continue to learn as a student serving on mission with St. Paul’s Outreach at the University of St. Thomas. Every day, I am surrounded by prophets and — most of all — witnesses, who transform the lives of everyone they touch. I see the power of their ministry and want to match it, but the more I try to persuade, convince and coax, the more unimpressive is the result.

If I refuse to get out of the way, Jesus cannot work. If I shout so my voice will be heard, I drown out the Holy Spirit. If I try to sell the “gospel of Sarah,” the super-awesome-profound-and-totally-relatable gal (who also happens to be Catholic), I steal from God the love that belongs to him alone. Why this foolishness?

Reflecting on my time in ministry and allowing the Lord to sift through my heart, I often hear the reply, “O you of little faith! Why do you doubt?” (Matthew 14:31). Indeed, I do not believe as I should. I forget that Jesus is who he says he is. I forget that I have tasted his goodness.

We must know and believe in the power of God’s love. Ultimately, exactly that which we believe Jesus can do in our lives and the lives of others is what he will do. God forbid the feebleness of my belief to be an obstacle to others hearing the Gospel. I must learn to let God be God.

A particularly effective way that I remind myself of this is to offer a short prayer whenever I know I will be encountering others in conversation: before class, an outreach event, or a meeting.

Saying to Jesus, “I do not know how to speak to these people, but You do, so please speak through me,” takes the pressure off of what I say and do, and it gives me freedom to be imperfect. In this little prayer, I remember that God’s action is not a result of my extraordinary talent or virtue, but of his desire for each human heart.

As the Church nears the end of this Year of Faith, I resolve to pray for a stronger faith and a deeper knowledge of God’s Heart for His people, that Jesus would use my unshakable trust in His love to set this world on fire.

Spangenberg is a senior at the University of St. Thomas and serves as co-president of the university’s St. Paul’s Outreach chapter. Her home parish is St. Michael in Duluth.

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