My life before I made the decision to follow Jesus Christ was like a constant race. I felt like one of those greyhound dogs that constantly chases but never quite catches the mechanical rabbit. Growing up, I put hours into school and sports, both for my happiness and my reputation, and to get my parents’ and others’ approval. I was happy and proud when I got better grades or scores than my peers. I constantly tried to please those in authority over me, including my parents and teachers and coaches. I thought that my security and happiness could come from getting good grades, competing well and having close friendships.
But those things disappointed me when I didn’t feel like I was good enough, when I didn’t earn a high enough grade or get a better gymnastics score, because there was always the chance to be better. I could always be smarter and run faster. I unconsciously searched for self-worth and acceptance but they always seemed to be ahead of me, in my next goal. True happiness felt out of reach. Looking back now, I can see that I was seeking to fill this peculiar void in my life with things that were temporary and finite. At the time I didn’t consciously perceive the void, but I had a feeling that something was missing.
I was baptized as an infant in an Episcopalian congregation, grew up in a Presbyterian family, attended church services weekly and went to Catholic school from Kindergarten until the 8th grade, but my knowledge about Christianity hadn’t personally affected me in an intimate way. I believed that God existed and that He created everything, but I always felt like He was far away and impersonal. Despite my baptism and immersion in Christian teachings, God wasn’t a relevant or real part of my life.
My attitude towards Him began to change when I joined a youth group my freshman year of high school. The way my youth pastor talked about God intrigued and amazed me. The way he called Him Daddy, the way he told us that He was in love with Jesus and that we could be in love with Him, too. The God who created everything wants to talk with me? To be my friend? It was amazing to really understand that for the first time.
I heard that God desires to be in a relationship with everyone, even me, and that despite our rebellion against Him, He loves us enough to send His Son to die for our forgiveness and our salvation. I heard that my hunger for acceptance and value could only be satisfied by a relationship with God, because He created me for it. I heard that there is nothing I could do to make Him love me more or less, and that the whole point of Christianity is to know Jesus.
I struggled though, with believing that I really mattered to God. But I saw how His love had impacted my youth leaders. They had a joy, happiness and peace about them that I just didn’t have. So one night that summer on a youth retreat, I decided to stop hiding and surrender to the love of my Savior.
I know now that at my baptism, God had mercifully called me out of my deadness and washed away my original sin, adopted me into His covenant family and given me His Spirit. He had poured out His saving grace in me. Christ had already initiated His eternal love relationship with me. But as with any relationship, I needed to make a choice to embrace it. That decision to live out my baptismal call by giving myself to Jesus changed my life.
I started to love and forgive others more. I found my worth in loving and being loved by God and found that His love alone truly satisfies. I learned that everything I did should be to praise and glorify Him.
I wasn’t broken by bad grades anymore because those things no longer determined my value. I stopped treating my relationships as ways to define me. The things of the world can’t fill the void; they will always disappoint you eventually because they’re imperfect and finite. But God is perfect and infinitely able to fulfill the desires of our hearts. Slowly, Christ began to change my attitudes towards myself, my life, and others. Once I found my satisfaction in Him, He began to change my desires to be more like Him and serve Him with my life.
But it was definitely not an overnight conversion. There were moments in high school and college when I felt as far away as I had ever been, when I turned to sin and let destructive things creep in and become idols over Him. There were times when I had so many questions about the faith that I felt like my head would explode. The last eight years have not been easy. He never said following Him would be (John 16:33).
Yet thankfully His mercies are new every day. Thankfully God will never stop forgiving. He will never stop loving. He will never stop drawing me near when I seek Him. When my sinful heart wanders away, His grace brings me back. Through all my sin and doubts and suffering, and in all my joys and successes and growth, Christ has been good. He has been so faithful. And He has been worth it.
Jesus has taught me that relationship with and worship of Him is the only way to experience true freedom, true joy, true peace. The only way to live a truly abundant life. The kind of life He came to give (John 10:10). God has shown me that when Christ is the center of my life, it will be about making Him known. Jesus calls all believers to follow Him by sharing Him with others. His heart is for the lost of all the nations, and He gives His disciples (us!) the amazing privilege and humbling mission to carry His gospel of salvation to them. It’s taken a lot of years and a lot of questions, but I have come to trust that God has a redemptive plan of salvation, and that His vision for this world is perfect love, and redeeming grace, and rescue from the darkness.
One of the most awesome parts of this plan is that Christ commands undeserving sinners like me to go and tell others the Good News that our salvation is here (Matthew 28:18-20). He has been so gracious to guide me into full communion with His Catholic Church, and I pray that as His Spirit conforms me into His image, He will use me to build up the Church by witnessing to His gospel of grace. I’m seeking to live each day in light of the gospel, so that by His grace this can be more and more true of me: “For to me, to live is Christ, to die is gain.” (Philippians 1:21)Tags » Catholic Church, Christ, discipleship, faith, forgiveness, God, Gospel, grace, hope, jesus, love, redemption, testimony