“Five…four…three…two…one…HAPPY NEW YEAR”, screamed 400 wild Catholic students. It was New Years Eve at Rise Up Halifax, and I was in the midst of its heightened thrill, buzz, and excitement. In that moment, I felt more alive and closer to God than I had ever felt before. When the clock struck midnight, I remember thinking to myself “Okay, Jessie. You’ve given God your ‘yes’. It’s time to fully submit to God this year.”
Unfortunately, I did not follow through with the promises I had made on New Years Eve. For the first couple weeks of January, everything was going smoothly. I was doing my morning prayer on a daily basis and attending mass multiple times a week. However, schoolwork started to pile up and I found myself chronically overworked. I started putting my faith life on the back burner and making less and less time for God. I kept telling myself that when the workload died down, I would be able to compensate for my lack of time spent with God by going to confession and by doing some extra prayer. However, the workload kept getting heavier and my spiritual life kept getting weaker. I continued to put off spending time with God. As soon as school ended I started my full-time research job at Carleton and was just as overworked as I had been during the school year. I became more and more distant from God.
Eventually, my soul and faith life fell into a lull and I was not able to climb back out. I was in a dark place. For me, the most shameful part of all this is I did not even have the motivation to get my life back on track. I kept using my busyness as an excuse and I managed to continually sink deeper. About a month ago, I did something that I deeply regret, of which I would rather not share the details. To summarize, I acted in such a way that was completely incongruent with my self-identity. I did something that I would have never imagined myself doing. I know that everyone mistakes, but what I had done was the epitome of stupidity. Not to be overdramatic, but I did experience a bit of an identity crisis. I was confused with who I was and felt extremely lost. I knew that I needed some time to think and try to figure out what had happened to my sense of morality.
I took a day off at work and did a bit of soul searching. That day, I turned to God for the first time in a while. Talking to God allowed me to I rediscover who I am. I learned that the reason I had acted so untypically of myself was because I had been ignoring him. God is our conscience, our moral guide for every move we make. I had given my ‘yes’ to God, but my immoral actions did not demonstrate this ‘yes’ I had said. This dissonance was why I was so confused. Saying ‘yes’ to God means putting him at the centre of my life. If God is at the centre of my life, it means that everything I do must radiate from my love for God. However, I had not even been acknowledging God in my life, which is why my actions were so out of the ordinary for me.
From this experience, I learned that my relationship with God is engraved into my identity. When I ignore this relationship by not spending time God, I will lose sight of who I truly am and will naturally want to fix things to reduce the dissonance. Initially, my faith life was so damaged that I was not willing to fix anything. Either I didn’t care or I was too distracted to notice how different I had become. However, I think that through my stupid act, God gave me a wake-up call and guided me back to him. Sure, God gives all of us free will, but he also protects us. He knew that I was far off track with my faith life. I still could have freely chosen to continue walking further away from God, but he gave me a kick in the rear and I suddenly realized that there was something wrong with the life I had been living. I knew that I had to make things right.
I like to use the analogy that I had fallen into a pit, like the kind they do in cartoons. For months, God stood at the top of the pit with a rope to help me up. I was sleeping in this pit, unable to see the rope. But then, God through a rock at me. I finally woke up. I could see the rope and decided to grab onto it.
Through the Sacrament of Confession and prayer, I was able to quickly restore my relationship with God. I was deeply touched by his mercy. Even though I had turned away from him, he lovingly welcomed me back with open arms, just like in the parable of the prodigal son. The following passage from Luke 15:20 demonstrates that no matter how far we fall, God will continue to love us:
“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.”
The whole time I had been apart from God, he had been trying to reach out to me. I was too distracted with school that I couldn’t hear his voice. Ironically, my stupid mistake is what led me back to God. That’s when God through the rock at me. It’s as if he said to me: “Jessie, wake up. What are you doing?” This allowed me to self-reflect. I realized how much I needed God and how incomplete I was without a spiritual life.
If I learned one thing this summer, it’s that God is a part of me. I need to have a relationship with him in order to understand who I am. Part of him lives inside of me, because he found a way to bring me back even when it felt like I was more distant from him than I have ever been.
At Rise Up, I gave God my ‘yes’. This means he became the core of my identity. It’s important for me to live a life where I am true to myself and the only way to do this is to live for God. School may be important, but self-honesty is of much higher priority. I can still be a good student, but I can’t let my pursuit for grades jeopardize my relationship with God. As I saw this summer, a relationship with God is both a beautiful and a practical investment of the heart, because God will love us unconditionally and will never give up on us. I now know why I need to follow the promises I made at Rise Up. Submitting to God will guide to me know myself and will provide me with transcending love and grace.
By Jessie Thuswaldner