Thursday, February 18, 2016

Essential Oils & Evangelization

Essential oils abound-I know tons of people who sell them, blog about them, and use them. I personally own a small bottle of essential oil that I use occasionally. So many people, even if they don't claim any level of "crunchiness," like using essential oils-with good reason! Essential oils are nice, fragrant, and can have many tremendous benefits. But, in all honesty, there are times when I get a bit sick and tired of essential oils. Not because of the oils themselves, but because of how some people try to pressure me into buying essential oils from them. I don't pretend to be a businesswoman, and I do not have much experience selling things, so I do't know the "tricks of the trade." Still, I can tell you what does and does not work if you want me to buy essential oils-and how this relates to evangelization.

What doesn't work with me: The Overzealous Sales Representative.

There are so many times when I've been talking with someone and genuinely want to have a conversation with him/her, but he/she will not talk about anything other than essential oils (how they are the Magical Elixir, how you need to sign up today-you'll get this certain discount, how they are well worth every drop and penny, how this particular company is the only company worth buying from, etc.). I think essential oils are great, and I think they can be fun to discuss every now and then. But, I really, really like building up good relationships and communication with people. And certainly essential oils can be part of that, but conversation has to go beyond the current discounted price of lavender oil. Furthermore, as cool as essential oils are, they aren't something that I'm willing to budget for right now. And if I gently slip that into a conversation but you continue to hammer me with "essential oils are x,y,z" continually, then I start to get the impression that while I want to build a bridge of communication, you just want my money. 

What does work with me: The Non-Domineering, Available, Selfless Representative.

Once when I was at a party, a friend of mine mentioned that she recently had gotten into the essential oil business. She dug out a business card, gave it to me, and said that if I was interested in buying any oils or learning more, I could contact her. We chatted about oils and crunchiness for a few more minutes, but then our conversation turned to other topics, and we continued to chat and have fun with the rest of the group. Even though none of our conversations after that revolved around oils, I've known that if I ever want to know more or buy oils, I can freely (using my free will, not feeling forced or pressured!) contact her about it.

Recently, I've been thinking about how these two different approaches to Essential Oils can teach us about evangelization. 

Once upon a time, I knew a person who was insisted that every conversation we have with non-Catholics revolve around theological debate. Whenever this person saw me make small talk (about various things) with a Protestant friend of mine, this person would pull me aside and lecture me about how I instead "needed" to be proclaiming Catholic doctrine to this woman. Each time, I repeatedly ignored this advice-after all, there is nothing wrong with talking about non-spiritual matters with another person! I've also experienced people of other faiths who don't seem to actually want to talk with me and 
join in peaceful interreligious dialogue or talk about our similarities in beliefs. Instead, they try to talk at me, focusing on their main agendas. 

Regardless of what church or religious group each of us is a part of, I think we are all susceptible to this tendency (I know I have unfortunately done this in the past). Like the Overzealous Sales Representatives of essential oils, we try to make every discussion and casual meeting about doctrine and matters of faith right from the start of our initial conversations. Instead of taking the time to build a bridge of communication, actually taking part in genuine friendship because the other person is awesome, we become overly focused on a personal agenda of getting someone to make a surface-level commitment to a church before we go off on our merry way. And, just as I get turned off by Overzealous Sales Representatives, impersonal, confrontational, Bible-in-your-face slamming individuals can turn people off. 

However, wanting to avoid the extreme I just described does not excuse us from evangelization. As lay people, we have an extremely important role as evangelizers in both deed and in word. As Pope Paul VI declared in 
Apostolicam Actuositatem, (bolded emphasis is mine)
"There are innumerable opportunities open to the laity for the exercise of their apostolate of evangelization and sanctification. The very testimony of their Christian life and good works done in a supernatural spirit have the power to draw men to belief and to God; for the Lord says, "Even so let your light shine before men in order that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven" (Matt. 5:16). However, an apostolate of this kind does not consist only in the witness of one's way of life; a true apostle looks for opportunities to announce Christ by words addressed either to non-believers with a view to leading them to faith, or to the faithful with a view to instructing, strengthening, and encouraging them to a more fervent life. "For the charity of Christ impels us" (2 Cor. 5:14). The words of the Apostle should echo in all hearts, "Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel" (1 Cor. 9:16)."
Guided by the Holy Spirit, we can be like the other type of essential oils representative I've encountered: non-domineering, selfless, and available. Instead of impersonally trying to force doctrinal teachings on a poor unsuspecting soul, we can instead let God lead the encounter and actually build a bridge of communication and relationship with the other person. We can make ourselves available to God and others, and selflessly put our own agendas aside. We can bring God naturally into our lives and conversations in a non-belligerent way. We can steep our lives in prayer, becoming attuned to how the Holy Spirit works. We can seek unity and solidarity with other people. I have found that when people really seek to do this—rooting their lives in God and participating in the sacramental life of the Church—they are transformed. This transformation is noticeable, and it is welcoming. 

There have been times when I have fallen into the category of the first essential oils representative. I’ll meet a lapsed Catholic, non-Catholic, or non-Christian and suddenly try to slam all sorts of doctrine into his or her face, thinking that some magical conversion will take place because of what I am doing. Or, I’ll think that if I can just get a person into the pew for Mass, then bam! Another magical conversion.  Nope. Bad idea (and really stupid, too—how could I ever think this? I don’t know…talk about some major pride issues!). 

There have also been times when I have acted more in line with the second category of an essential oils representative. The times when I steep myself in prayer and the Sacraments, and it flows into every part of my life. On those occasions, when I leave everything up to God and follow the Holy Spirit’s guidance, amazing things can happen (for example, the times I spoke with one customer who later gifted me with a watch). Instead of trying to forcefully pressure someone into choosing God or accepting doctrine (similar to the Overzealous Sales Reps trying to relentlessly pressure me into oil purchases), I can meet people where they are at, and offer the loving, compassionate presence and listening ear that they need. 

God wants to use you today, so put aside your pride, and humbly let the Holy Spirit take the lead! 
"Moved by his example, we want to enter fully into the fabric of society, sharing the lives of all, listening to their concerns, helping them materially and spiritually in their needs, rejoicing with those who rejoice, weeping with those who weep; arm in arm with others, we are committed to building a new world. But we do so not from a sense of obligation, not as a burdensome duty, but as the result of a personal decision which brings us joy and gives meaning to our lives."                             ~Pope Francis, Evangelium Gaudium #269
For an awesome resource on simple, practical ways to evangelize, 
I highly recommend Casting Nets: Grow Your Faith by Sharing Your Faith, by Chris Stewart and Tony Brandt. These two men also did a really interesting podcast on the "Seven 'UPs' of Evangelization," which is also extremely practical and worth listening to! 

And, if you're interested, here's one of my favorite blog posts on essential oils, which is super hilarious: 

Also, Haley Stewart recently discussed whether or not it is acceptable for Catholics to use essential oils. 
I wasn't even aware that this is a controversy, but if you're interested, check out her post! 


  1. I definitely get the comparison you're making (and I appreciate that multi-level marketing businesses have never made it big in Malaysia, therefor I don't know anyone in real life in the essential oil or any other MLM biz). :)

    I'm up for a good theological conversation, in fact, Angel and I first bonded over intensely disagreeing on the doctrine of predestination (He's on the Calvin side, I'm on the Arminian side). But without relationship or real-life examples it's a little disconcerting to just come in swinging with theological arguments.

    1. Wow, consider yourself very blessed that the multi-level marketing businesses haven't made it to your part of the world! It must be so nice to not have people continually trying to get you to buy stuff :)

      So I find that super adorable and awesome that you two bonded over theological discussion! (also, I don't think I've heard of the Arminian view of predestination before, so now I'm researching it a little, and it's quite interesting. Yet another perk of actually talking with people-learning new stuff!) Yes, I agree-relationship is so important as a basis, and I think sometimes we can forget that really good relationships can exist even when there's a difference of beliefs!

  2. Isn't she so cool?? I think it would be awesome to have tea with Haley talk about all sorts of epic things. Do you listen to her Fountains of Carrots podcast with Christy Isinger? I love that podcast, especially the literature episodes :) And I'm now convinced that I need to give Downton Abbey a try sometime (probably during postpartum recovery), just so I can understand all of those references :)

    That's awesome that Eucalyptus has helped you with headaches! I don't deal with headaches often, but I've been told that peppermint oil is really good for those, too. I would really love to get a couple more oils someday and use them more in day-to-day life. That is so sad that you felt attacked with all things essential oils! Speaking from my own experience, as well as a couple of reviews I've read online, you are not the only one who has felt this way. I don't know why companies or sales reps hammer us like that-it's so annoying! I'm glad that you liked my analogy! I didn't know if it would make much sense to other people, because often when things connect in my head, they don't make as much sense written out haha.