I look up, my heart beating fast. I just couldn’t bring myself to read anymore right now, I had too much on my mind. Making the most of each breath and appreciating every moment, it became obvious that I couldn’t live the same way anymore. God had spoken to my heart and it had finally clicked. I responded in prayer.
“Lord, even though I’m scared of what this means, I’m yours.”
As I said in my testimony, God rapidly began to work in my life after I got confirmed. The last two years of high school for me pretty much turned how I lived upside down. Shy to downright boisterous. Alone to “popular.” Trying to not get bullied to befriending all the bullied people. Afraid to speak up for what I believed in to going out of my way to share what I’ve experienced. Afraid of new things to going out of my way to bring people together. Worried about what the “cool” kids thought of me to worried about what the “unpopular” kids thought of themselves and encouraging them through friendship.
I’d always believed in God. But it was more of the existence of God, rather than a personal God who cared about me. Who desired that I live with Him. Being relatively out of touch with what goes on inside my head (extrovert problems?), it took a long time for Him to break through to me. In addition, since most other people didn’t seem to care about me much, why would God, the creator of everything, care about me?
After getting involved in my first “youth group” ever in my senior year of high school, an inspiring talk by one of my friends opened my eyes to an idea I had shelved for a long time: reading the bible. I actually was praying at least before bed every day for years by then, but often it felt like a monologue. Seeing every single one of those prayers answered helped. But a critical way of deepening my relationship with God was allowing Him to speak to me through scripture. Nowadays I’d call this the Catholic practice of Leccio Divina, but it’s kind of amazing how I ended up doing this without any instruction whatsoever. It didn’t come easy, though. I began with Genesis and read a couple hundred pages of the Old Testament before getting pretty bored. By this time it was the summer between high school and college, and I decided to skip ahead to the “good stuff,” the New Testament, starting with Matthew.
Look, as a Catholic I heard a Gospel reading every Sunday at mass, and between CCD and homilies, I didn’t learn many new things by reading the Gospels. What really impacted me was reading about the life of Jesus as a story every night for a couple of months straight that summer. I began to think of Jesus not as a historical figure, but as a man that I could resonate with. Just as Harry Potter came alive to me through reading the books, Jesus became more alive than ever to me through reading the Gospels.
By the end of the summer, I was through Matthew, Mark, and on to Luke. My family was up in Ephraim, Wisconsin on a little vacation at the end of July. Every night I got in my scripture and prayer, after everyone had gone to bed in our cabin.
God had worked in my heart so much by this time. I had read pretty much the same story of Jesus back to back to back in Matthew, Mark, and now in Luke. Until that night, it all still felt somewhat academic.
I was reading my chapter for the night, and suddenly I was overwhelmed. It all had become real to me finally. Jesus had many of the same struggles as I had. He desired that everyone came to know of God’s love for them, and that they would honor God as He deserves. Jesus didn’t live a “safe” life, He lived a life of difficulty and reckless abandon for God. Despite all of the failings of His disciples, the threats against Him from the Pharisees, and the general misunderstandings of the people of Israel, He still persevered on with His mission. He followed through, showing God’s love for us in the most tangible way by dying for us.
It all registered for me at that moment, and I knew that I couldn’t live the same way again. I needed to put God first, like Jesus. That is the only way to true life for myself, and for all of my family and friends. Everything else passes away, but our relationship with God lasts forever.
I knew that I might have to make radical decisions in order to live for God. That scared the heck out of me. But in my head, it made sense. If God died for me, the least that I could do is die for Him. Hopefully I won’t have to actually die like a martyr, but in everyday decisions I had so many opportunities to put God first. I tried to stop complaining, to stop sinning, to love everyone- even my enemies, to serve those in need, to encourage the downcast, to share my faith out of love, to appreciate life and live joyfully, to always make time for prayer, to worship God especially at mass and adoration.
I’m not a finished product now. But this was the moment when I stepped out of the boat with both feet. Please pray for me as I continue to try to follow Jesus, God bless you in your journey as well!