By Ann-Marie Chmelik
Some people wander through life with the understanding that a Divine Creator exists, but they’re not quite sure why they need a personal relationship with Him. That is, they know there is a God. They believe in Jesus. But they just can’t quite grasp the idea of personally knowing Him. Or maybe they just don’t think God would like them if they let Him get too close. Or maybe their life seems so perfect that they say “I don’t need God in my life.” But if they let God enter into relationship with them, their life would be radically changed – for the better.
I know because was one of those people. I had always believed in God, and as a little kid I did have a beautiful, personal relationship with Him. But as I entered my teen years, I was heavily impacted by an anxiety disorder, which left me far from a personal relationship with God. I experienced panic attacks and debilitating migraines almost every day. I became angry with God; if He was who He said He was, then why was I hurting so badly? How could a good God allow me to experience such life-altering negatives? I still believed that a divine being existed, but I questioned whether or not He was good, and my personal relationship with Him became null.
God was always there in the back of my mind, fighting His way forward before I’d let my pain blind me from seeing Him. But He remained, and while I didn’t have a deep, personal relationship with Jesus, I would still beg God – if He existed – to heal me and show Himself to me in a way that would bring me joy and prevent me from ever doubting Him again. I can vividly remember the day He finally answered my prayer.
I had cried myself to sleep the night before, but not before realizing that I didn’t even want to wake up the next day. The last thought I had before bed was, “Please, God, if you’re out there, reveal yourself to me. Fix me. I can’t keep living like this. Amen.” The next day was a weekday, so it was unusual that my mom woke me up early to go to mass. As soon as I came to, an image of the Blessed Mother flashed before my eyes, and before I even knew it was there, it was gone, but I saw it lucidly. I sensed that something was going to happen, but I was still in despair. During the Eucharistic Prayer, I prayed again, “God, if you’re there, show yourself to me. Fix me, because if you don’t, I really don’t know how much longer I can believe in You.” Now that I think about it, it sounds like I was giving God an ultimatum, but truthfully, I wasn’t. I was simply praying from the depths of my soul – I really, truly did not know how much longer I could believe in a God whom I could not see or feel. I had already spent months holding out, praying, and waiting for something to happen, but nothing miraculous had happened. Despair made me feel weak, ugly, worthless, purposeless, and unlovable. I felt crazy for waiting on a God who may or may not exist. Fortunately, after mass, Jesus restored me.
Believe it or not, He sent me a real, tangible expression of His existence in the form of mail. It happened like this: when I got home from mass, I started walking to the mailbox, got the mail, and I began walking towards the house. As I was rifling through the JCPenney ads and bills for my parents, I all of a sudden saw my name, decorated on a quaint little envelope with beautiful writing. However, there was no return address, so I didn’t know who had sent it. I opened it up, and I can remember every little thing about that moment. It was cloudy and humid outside, and the world was still. I could feel the thick air surrounding me like a glove and I was standing about halfway down the driveway. My family members were inside, so I had the moment all to myself. The first thing I saw when I opened the letter startled me: “I love you,” it said, in beautiful cursive. Then, I read from the top: “You are strong, you are beautiful, you are worth it, you have a purpose, and there is a plan with your name stamped on it. I love you.”
Remember what I had felt like prior to that letter? Weak, ugly, worthless, purposeless, and unlovable. The EXACT opposite of what that letter said. And this is where the Holy Spirit came in. There is no other way to describe it. When I read the words on that letter, the Holy Spirit touched me. Suddenly, all of the doubts and questions about God were put to bed. I was flooded with an inexplicable peace and understanding which I have since then only experienced in personal relationship with Jesus Christ. I know it was God because now whenever I encounter Him, it feels the exact same way it did when I read that letter. I read the letter, became flooded with peace and understanding that God existed, that He was real, and that He was going to heal me through a relationship with His Son. Tears of relief and joy overcame me. I ran inside and hid because I didn’t want anyone to see me crying. Nobody knew what I had been going through, and I wouldn’t feel comfortable sharing it for a year or two later. For this reason, I called that letter my “Letter from Heaven.” It even seemed Heavenly. The handwriting was so perfect, and there was no return address. It was as if an angel himself had dropped it off in the mailbox. It was a real, tangible miracle.
When I received my letter from Heaven, I stopped running from Jesus. I let Him catch up to me, and when I did that, He healed from my world of trouble. You could say that depression, anxiety, and everything else went out the door right when He walked in. I felt like I was floating on cloud nine. I have not been the same since then. Even though things were not perfect, I still believed in Him wholeheartedly, and a lot of barriers had definitely been broken down. But any relationship requires work. I had to develop a more meaningful prayer life instead of just praying, “Hey look, if you’re there, help me.” And while it may sound like all the pieces were falling into place for me, I was still a human being and as such, I had baggage. I had habitual sins that needed to be purged and I had scars. I believed in Jesus and I regained my relationship with Him, but sometimes, I would forget how much He loved me. I would sin and feel so bad about it that I would put up walls between me and Jesus. I would say, “I know you’re there God, and you have loved me well, but I don’t think you can like me right now. I had to learn that Jesus came for the broken and sinful, not just the good and holy. I had to let Him have a perpetual invitation into my life. When I finally accepted that there was nothing I could do to stop His love, our relationship flourished and my life was once again transformed – for the better.
So, why should we have a personal relationship with Jesus? Well… first of all, we should form a personal relationship with Him because He Loves us and he desires us to be close to Him, especially if we are hurting (Psalm 34:19: “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted, saves those whose spirit is crushed”). Second of all, we were made to have a relationship with God. He designed human beings to accompany Him and have a symbiotic relationship with Him. It was Adam and Eve who fell and caused us to go on this search for relationship… The entirety of human history has been one long story of us trying to get back into communion with Him (Thanks, Satan). Unfortunately, our relationship with God will not be perfect until we reach Heaven, but fortunately, God sent Jesus down to earth to redeem us, so that we can strive for that relationship on earth and eventually obtain it perfectly in Heaven. Now, can we get through life happily without relationship with Jesus? Sure. But something wouldn’t sit quite right with us, because we weren’t designed for that end. It’d be like taking a race car and leaving it in a drive, never letting it live out it’s full purpose. People could see it and admire it in the driveway, but at the end of the day, it really belongs on the race track. Likewise, if we die without having had a relationship with God, we die without fulfilling our true purpose, and that would be undeniably sad, especially since there is so much grace and mercy and goodness awaiting you in relationship with your Creator!
Once you recognize the need for relationship with God, you can do several things to make it happen. First of all, if you are hesitant, ask God to reveal Himself to you like I did (hopefully you will do it in a kinder way though!). Ask God to soften the parts of your heart that are hardened to Him, and be patient. I had to wait months for my prayer to be answered. But, don’t compare your Christian journey with someone else’s. God reveals Himself to each person in His own unique way. Your story will be just as incredible as anyone else’s! Just don’t forget that a relationship with God happens through prayer, so start there. Simply talk to God the way you would talk to a person; He will meet you where you are. Second of all, study scripture (especially the Gospels!) Read about the history of Jesus Christ. Get to know who He was and is. All of these things can help cultivate a personal relationship with Jesus. And last but not least, be compassionate with yourself. God is going to pursue you no matter what; you just have to cooperate with Him. Do so by accepting His love and mercy and trusting in Him, because He knows what’s best for you; He knows what you need to be happy and He’ll give you the desires of your heart if you delight in Him (Psalm 37:4). Surrender yourself to Him without holding anything back. I promise you that you will be amazed at the results. I know I was. I still am. And as with any relationship, there is still so many more beautiful ways to grow and while that may take work, it’s so worthwhile. I have never been so free of anxiety and so joyful than I am when my relationship with God is flourishing. Jesus is standing at the door to your heart, but you need to let Him in. So will you?