What words and images come to mind when you hear the word “conversion”?
For me, I first picture a single moment of change, an instance in which a person or object transforms from one thing to another. I think of handing over U.S. dollars at an airport kiosk and being returned a stack of crispy euros before I have time to check my phone for texts. I think of typing into my google search bar “how many inches is 135 centimeters” and receiving a quick and clear answer (53.15, in case you were wondering). And most notably, I think of religious conversion that strikes a person like a bolt of lightning. They saw the world one way at one moment, and in the blink of an eye, had a change of mind and heart.
A good example of this kind of conversion is that of St. Paul the Apostle, and today — January 25th — is the day that we remember his remarkable transformation with the Feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul.
St. Paul, born Saul of Tarsus, was a contemporary of Jesus. He participated in the persecution of early Christians until one day, while on the road from Jerusalem to Damascus, the risen Christ appeared to him, blinded him with a ray of bright light, and questioned his persecution of Christians. Three days later, Saul’s sight was restored, his religious fervor shifted, and his conversion was complete. He changed his name to Paul and became one of the church’s greatest missionaries. He founded several Christian communities in Asia Minor and Europe, and his letters and writings (14 of the 27 books in the New Testament have been attributed to Paul) continue to shape and inform the faith of Christians today.
St. Paul’s conversion is striking, miraculous, and awe-inspiring, and it’s a wonderful story to reflect on today. But as I consider it, I’m feeling nudged to think more broadly about conversion. As a person who was born into a practicing Catholic family, and baptized mere weeks after my birth (not to mention a lifelong pacifist for whom persecution isn’t really my thing), I haven’t experienced a major conversion of faith like that of St. Paul. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t experience conversion — which is really just a process of change — in my life and spirit. In fact, continual conversion is something that I pray for, and that I hope God graces me with throughout my life.
In honor of the Feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul, here are some of the areas of my life and ways in which I seek continual conversion:
Conversion of Desire
I often jokingly use the expression “the heart wants what it wants” in order to explain and justify my decisions to indulge, be it in a chocolate-dipped cone from Dairy Queen (my go-to treat) or an episode of Hype House (what can I say?). But here’s the thing: while the heart does want what it wants, my mind and my soul long for my heart to want what God’s heart wants. I’m not throwing shade on ice cream, or even thoughtless television, because I do believe that there is a time and place for most things (things that don’t cause hurt, that is). I believe that God wants us to be happy and to enjoy life in this world, and sometimes dessert and mindless shows contribute to that end. But I also believe that God wants us to have deep and lasting fulfillment, a kind of satisfaction that can only come from our relationship with God. That’s why I don’t just want to accept that my heart wants what it wants. I want to pray for a conversion of desire. I want my soul to long for that which God longs for.
Conversion of JudgementI know, beyond any trace of doubt, that God loves all of God’s children and that there is nothing we can say, think, or do that will stop God from loving us. I also know that I have a tendency to be not-so-loving, to look at people harshly, to mentally catalogue all the ways they could be doing better as human beings, and to avoid spending time with folks who annoy me. In short, I don’t look at people the way that God looks at people. While I am certainly not God, I do think that I am capable of being more loving, and that’s why I keep praying for a conversion of judgement. I want to see people in the way that God does, as worthy and wonderful, despite their limitations.
Conversion of Habit
Why is it so hard to do what’s good for us? I could name at least six behaviors that I desperately want to enact on daily basis, ones that I know would contribute to physical, emotional and spiritual health (for instance, regular exercise and meditation), and yet I can’t seem to integrate them into my daily life. It dawned on me recently that maybe my will or desire to do a certain thing or things isn’t enough and that maybe I need supernatural help to, say, wear my retainers regularly. It sounds silly, and perhaps it is. But on the other hand, why not ask God for help with the things that trouble us? That’s why I’m praying for conversion of habit, for changes in my daily ways that will lead to greater wellness in all facets of my life.
Conversion, at its heart, is nothing more than the process of change. While only some of us will undergo a major religious conversion in our lifetimes, we all can hope any pray for a myriad of smaller conversions — for shifts in perspective, alterations in attitude, and modifications in understanding — that will enable us to be more Christ-like in our daily lives. There’s no better day than the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul to consider what conversions you could use and to begin asking for God’s help in bringing them into being.