Often I substitute other words in conversation in place of “Jesus” because I fear what comes with the territory. How about you?
“God,” “Church,” “Faith”? Easy. They roll off the tongue. They keep the conversation going.
“Jesus”? Hard. Like Flappy Bird hard. When it’s time to fill in the blank with the word “Jesus,” I often take the chicken exit.
Think about it. How many times in the last week did you bring up the name of Jesus in conversation? Probably less than you could have. I certainly missed a chance or two.
Why is it so hard? I’ll throw out four reasons.
1) It’s not socially acceptable.
In some situations an f-bomb (or a curse word in general) actually helps. A well placed swear word can take you from being super-dork to being one of the guys, just like that. If it worked for me as a 10 year old on the playground, it can work for you. The name of Jesus, on the other hand, often has the opposite effect. Who can stand the funny looks, the fidgeting, the labels, or even the rejection? I rarely can (but I need to, more).
2) Nobody else is doing it.
Why stick out when you can fit in? Very few Catholics at your parish are talking that way, why should you? It’s just not a part of our everyday vocabulary. For better or worse, we absorb our surroundings. Like when you move to Minnesota and you start talking like Marge Gunderson. It just happens. If other Catholics you know are brave enough to talk about their ‘faith’ it’s often still in more generic than specific terms. Baby steps are good, but the world isn’t gonna be changed by doing what we’ve always done.
3) People don’t talk about what they don’t know about.
When the conversation turns to managing a corrugated box factory I stop contributing. I know nothing about factories and even less about corrugated boxes. As soon as I open my mouth about nuances of such a product you’ll immediately see I’m in over my head. The same thing is true with the name of Jesus. You can be a dyed-in-the-wool Catholic and still know nothing about Jesus. Heck, even if you know a lot of facts about him, you may not say that you actually ‘know’ him. Like me and Peyton Manning. I know a lotabout him, but don’t know him personally.
4) The devil doesn’t like it.
There is more power in the pinky finger of the name of Jesus than all the words in the English language combined, and the evil one knows it. Probably far better than I do. So he gets us talking about really really good things (God, faith, Church) so long as we don’t mention the absolute best thing there is (Jesus). I’m convinced he’d rather have us talk about faith generically than Jesus specifically. Why, you ask? Because Jesus is “the name above every other name” (Phil 2:9), the ”name by which we are saved“ (Acts 4:12), and ”the way, the truth, and the life.”(John 14:6) If your whole goal was to prevent people from connecting with God (as I’m sure is somewhere on Satan’s to-do list), keeping Jesus off the minds and lips of Catholics wouldn’t be a bad place to start.
So, here’s a challenge:
For the next week take a leap and substitute ‘Jesus’ where you might otherwise default to a word like God, Faith, Church, etc.
For instance, when you might say to a friend: “My Catholic faith is important to me”, say “Jesus is important to me.” Or to your kids when you might say “let’s pray about it” say “let’s talk to Jesus about it.”
It’s one part new habit, another part courage, where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. You aren’t just substituting one word with equal value for another. You are setting the stage for the person you are talking to to consider another person more important than you – a person who loves them and wants to lead them through life.
Don’t get me wrong. It doesn’t work like like Find & Replace in Microsoft Word.
As such, don’t substitute it if it’s not true. The first step for you, rather than bringing up a stranger’s name in conversation, might be in discovering better who Jesus is and how you can have a relationship with him. Also, some instances do call for more generic terms. We can’t get away from the imperative to meet people where they are at (so long as we don’t forfeit our position along the way).
Most of the time we over think it, are scared, or are simply unaware of our speaking patterns. It’s time for a change.
So, be discerning and wise, but also bold and brave.