Nancy Ward offers a step-by-step guide to teaching others about God's love by sharing our own stories.
I recognized the woman wandering around outside the church as I was leaving Mass. I called her name. At my greeting, she sank onto the bench in front of Our Lady’s statute and laid one hand on the bench. I joined her as she brushed tears from her eyes. She was relieved to talk about her frustration with one of her older sisters. Like me, she adored her sister and gladly served her every need — until the day the sister betrayed her, and sisterly love turned cold. For years the younger sister waited for the apology that never came. Now she felt guilty that she wasn’t a good sister. This bitter woman was telling my story. But it was the “before” story, not the “after God’s grace” story.
I took a deep breath and launched into how God changed my bitterness and self-righteousness into the desire to ask my sister for forgiveness for not being a better sister. I felt the presence of Christ surrounding us as I explained how my burden of guilt disappeared forever, even without the reciprocal apology I had hoped I’d get. Her jaw dropped, and her eyes widened in amazement at God’s grace at work. I prayed the Lord would bless her in the same way. When we said goodbye, her face shone with hope. Although I never saw her again, the joy of Christ’s presence in that spontaneous meeting still lingers in my heart.
Teenage commitment to Christ
I haven’t always been so vulnerable or aware of the presence of Christ. But I do remember where and when I first recognized his presence. I was at a mountain campsite at a Protestant youth retreat. This shy 15-year-old felt a sense of joy welling up inside and knew that it was Christ’s presence. Overwhelmed, I gave my life to Jesus.
When the youth minister asked us to share our prayer experiences, I silently stared into the campfire. It almost seemed blasphemous to speak about my personal encounter with the Almighty! How do you describe overpowering feelings as the sure reality of God within you? I kept my relationship with Jesus as our treasured secret – for decades.
Gradually, through the witness of others, I relaxed my hold on my heart’s treasure when I learned that all baptized Christians are anointed as evangelists to spread the good news of God’s transforming grace in us. By this time, I had married, given birth to four children, and converted to Catholicism. For me as a Catholic, the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist brought forth this joyfulness. But how could I, a shy convert, evangelize? Although I knew a few Scriptures, I was no theologian. And I was terrified of speaking to an audience.
Blogging on evangelization
I started a blog about evangelization and discovered that the most effective way to evangelize is through our personal witness, according to Saint John Paul II. I collected faith stories to share on my blog, first-person accounts of the special moments of grace when my contributors experienced a life-changing surprise. I limited my evangelization to blog posts of the conversion stories of others – keeping my treasure personal and private. Soon I learned that our stories are personal but not private. They are gifts the Holy Spirit gives us to give away when he prompts us.
Yes, I had boxes of journals of spiritual musings: inspirations I’d received from retreats, accounts of answered prayer and God-infused moments in my journey of continual conversion. But who would be interested in my mundane story? In my heart, I heard, “Each of us is an unrepeatable expression of God’s presence in the world, with a unique story.” I knew I couldn’t be the exception.
First, I posted the story of my commitment to the Lord as a 15-year-old. Then I posted the story of my conversion, which was seven years later. Readers sent feedback – positive comments on how my stories touched their hearts. Encouraged that I could help others learn to journal, organize and share their stories, I developed a workshop on how to share your faith story. As I focused on empowering others to evangelize by sharing their stories, the presence of Christ overshadowed me with a new high of joyfulness!
Begin with a Prayer Journal
We are designed to be evangelists, as unique expressions of God’s presence. No one can tell the same story we can. Our particular experiences are given to us to evangelize specific people the Holy Spirit sends our way. Think about it: someone is waiting to hear the story only you can tell.
I encourage you to write down your experiences. These God-moments are the Holy Spirit’s gifts to you and to others who need the hope they bring. Begin with prayer. Privately, face God one-on-one and tell him what’s on your heart. Then listen for his guidance. Perhaps a scripture comes to mind, or an idea that you know did not come from you, showing you the next step in solving a problem. Write down your questions and concerns as letters to God and thank him for whatever guidance you sense he is giving you.
Collect these conversations with God in a prayer journal. Even though we think we’ll never forget these moments, let’s give ourselves the advantage of a written record. Then we can relive those precious moments in Christ’s presence.
Testimony of God’s love
Your journal is a black-and-white testimony of how God loves you. Recording events and emotions clarifies what happened to you, how you reacted and how God resolved the problem or helped you through it. You experience God in your journaling because he is on every page. He writes each chapter of your life on your heart as he unfolds his will to you, shows his tenderness, love and mercy, forgiveness and healing.
The journal entries become stories that define who we are today, especially when we realize who we are in the Lord. We are his beloved children whom he guards and protects as we grow strong through trials and mistakes.
Sharing with Holy Spirit power
Pray about sharing your stories. You will clarify the movement of God even more clearly as you tell it. The Holy Spirit will enlighten the eyes of your heart more and more with each telling. You will experience God through your stories and find much to praise him for what he’s done.
The people the Holy Spirit has prepared to receive your witness of faith or lesson learned will experience his presence because of your courage. The Holy Spirit, the Initiator of Evangelization, brought you two together. He empowers you with every gift you need to share exactly what this person needs to hear. Jesus promised us in John 14:26 that “the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.” Jesus keeps His promises. The Holy Spirit will remind you of everything that Jesus has told you about your faith and your faith story. Then He will help you tell it.
With the Holy Spirit, we become authentic “Story Evangelists,” spreading the Good News we know best. The Good News of God’s miracles in our life. Our mission is 1 Peter 3:15:
Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope.
Can you visualize yourself as a “Story Evangelist”?
Copyright 2020 Nancy HC Ward
Image: Andrea Piacquadio (2020), Pexels
About the Author
Nancy Ward authored Sharing Your Catholic Faith Story: Tools, Tips, and Testimonies (and the DVD) and contributed to The Catholic Mom's Prayer Companion. She loves to share her conversion story and give evangelization workshops and retreats equipping others to share their faith. She facilitates the DFW Catholic Writers, Catholic Writers Guild Nonfiction Critique Group, serves on their Board, and speaks at writers’ conferences. Learn more at JoyAlive.net and NancyHCWard.com.