Finding our ‘e’ legs can take time

By Julianne Stanz | Special to The Compass | April 13, 2016

Jesus steadies us and readies us for the challenges

The old nautical term “sea legs” referred to the time that it took your brain and your body to adjust from walking on land to the rolling or pitching of a ship. Going from terra firma to life on the open water involved a process where the sailor went from an unstable equilibrium to steadiness. When a sailor could confidently walk across the deck of a ship without teetering or falling over he was said to have gotten his sea legs.

I was reminded of this recently when my son, Sean-Patrick, walked for the first time. We were sitting around the dinner table when he suddenly stood up and took his first teeter-totter steps while his brother and sister cheered him on. Abruptly he stopped, fell down and began laughing! The realization that he could move his body was a whole new world for him.

Over the next few days, we were treated to repeat performances as he learned how to steady himself, find balance, fall over and then get going again. We watched him practice walking too slowly and fall over. We watched him walk too fast and bump into things. He was a danger to himself and to his siblings at times! Our family exercised incredible patience as we adjusted to Sean going from crawling to walking. Slowly but surely though, with practice, he got the hang of it and three months later, he is cruising.

Evangelizing and learning how to evangelize can be a similar process. Often those who convert to Catholicism from another denomination, those who come back to the Catholic Church after not practicing for many years or those who are newly discovering the treasures of our faith take tentative steps to share their appreciation with others. This passion and newly-discovered exuberance can be wobbly at times. As we learn to adjust from living a more secular life to a Catholic life of discipleship, it can take time for us to find balance, just as if we were went from walking on land to living on a boat.

Getting our “e” legs is both a time of discovery and great excitement as we realize how much Jesus loves us and wants to be in relationship with us. We want to share these insights with others and cannot understand why everyone doesn’t feel the same way that we do. We want to share the love that we have been given and find it difficult to talk about anything else! We cannot stop ourselves from talking about how a particular book, prayer or event changed our life. We cannot stop talking about our faith and may endure inner eye rolls from those who feel they have settled into a more mature faith and are beyond this childlike behavior.

Finding our “e” legs means making mistakes, talking and questioning incessantly and swinging between moving too fast and moving too slow. It is a time of learning to balance, of falling over and trying one more time. This is OK and a very natural part of growing in faith. Do you remember when you got your “e legs”? Do you remember those who helped you up when you fell down and offered a steady hand when you were off balance? Do you remember who soothed your bruised limbs when you experienced a setback?

There were so many who were patient with me as I grew in my faith and I am tremendously grateful to them. We must strive to exercise patience, particularly with new Christians who are on fire with the love of Christ. There is much to learn from them and we have much to share with them. Pope Francis reminds us that “all this demands on the part of the evangelizer certain attitudes which foster openness to the message: approachability, readiness for dialogue, patience, a warmth and welcome which is non-judgmental” (Evangelii Gaudium #165).

As I watch my son during these months gain in confidence and learn new things — how to hop, how to stand on one leg and someday, God willing, how to ride his bike — I realize that we are constantly growing, always learning, making mistakes but also making progress. God sees all of this and walks along with us.

Sailors endured stormy waters but still found their sea legs. As Christians, we also go through turbulent times but with the power of the Holy Spirit, we find our equilibrium and our balance. We find our “e” legs. It is Jesus himself who steadies us and readies us for the challenges that life sets before us. Through it all, he is with us, walking with us as we journey through life. And that, my friends, is the greatest gift we have been given!

Stanz is director of the diocesan Department of New Evangelization.

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