My sophomore year of high school, I joined a group of high school Catholic teens within my diocese called the Diocesan Youth Council for the diocese of Columbus. I was both extremely nervous to meet new people and also embarrassed about where I was in my personal relationship with Jesus.
However, my first weekend with the group was amazing and eye opening in so many ways—I met fantastic life-long friends and had a really fun time. But the weekend also brought something new to light for me: there is a lot about my faith I didn’t know, and there were a lot of people who are much deeper in the faith than I was. I felt ashamed about many things, which I realize in retrospect were were out of my control, such as how I didn’t attend a Catholic school, or how I didn’t know what Lectio Divina was.
This shame within me grew bigger as the year went on and I held it all in. I continued to compare myself to those on the council with me and bashed myself for not being “more Catholic,” for not having ever attended a Christian summer camp, for not having a personal prayer life.
Then, I had the opportunity to attend the National Catholic Youth Conference (NCYC) in November that same year. This time, I entered into the event with a new approach: I tried to stop judging myself about my relationship with Jesus. As a result, my heart and mind were open to experience a very life-changing encounter with Jesus in adoration and to hear and be impacted by the messages of fantastic speakers and witnesses.
I left the conference feeling like I could go through the streets of my hometown screaming about how good Jesus is and how everyone should experience His love and mercy. But, as most young adults know, this feeling after attending a conference is temporary and is often hard to keep ahold of. We tend to be thrown back into reality and crawl back into ourselves and go back to the way we acted before.
So, my battle within myself continued through the rest of my sophomore year. Joyful moments were rare, I could easily fake happiness so no one ever asked questions, and I put the facade of an ever joyful Christian teen girl on my face at all times. Then, the summer of 2018, at the end of my sophomore year, I had finally had enough. I remember looking at my best friend at the beginning of summer and venting to her about all of the sadness, struggles, and insecurities that I had been battling all year.
Soon after, the Holy Spirit lit a fire within me, telling me that God’s plan for me was bigger than this year and the struggles I had been going through, and that God has given us the free will to choose how we react to obstacles in life. I realized I had a choice: I could continue to feel bad for myself and compare myself to those around me and their faith journeys or I could spend this summer to work on myself and choose to be more joyful and spend more time deepening my personal faith journey.
I am not going to sugar-coat it and say that after that summer I became a super charismatic witness or never dealt with moments of shame or insecurity again. That did not happen—I definitely still have struggles and each one comes with different obstacles to overcome and some are a lot harder than others.
But I will say this: each time you turn to Jesus after a hard time, it starts to become a habit and, eventually, you won’t ever want to turn away from Jesus. I also learned that comparing your faith journey with others’ is not realistic or constructive. Jesus views each and every one of us as individuals and doesn’t look at our journeys side-by-side, but one at a time.
In His eyes, there is no judgement, no race to the finish line to see who can get the closest to Him. The true competition is between your past self and your present self— you are called to examine how much you’ve grown, and if you haven’t, to determine what needs to change.
Everything happens for a reason and you can’t grow as a person without going through struggles that will strengthen your faith. David had to face Goliath before he became King, and God was there the whole time, guiding David through his battles. He does the same for us, through the highs and lows in life. Remember this in the struggles and hardships you face, and rejoice in the peace He offers us in His ever-abiding presence.