If you asked me to tell you just one thing about myself, I’d want to tell you about my relationship with Jesus Christ. My relationship with him is the thing that defines my identity. If that’s the case for you I hope this post encourages you in your faith; hearing other people’s stories has encouraged me many times. If you don’t have a relationship with Jesus, I hope this post encourages you to investigate who he is; doing so will be well worth it.

My Story

My parents started taking me to church before I was old enough to remember. Through a combination of their teaching and weekly Sunday school lessons I came to a very basic understanding of Christian salvation. What I understood was…

  • There was an all-powerful God who had created everything in the universe
  • God is perfect and everything he created was good
  • Humans messed up the world by disobeying God
    • I (being human) also disobeyed God and was therefore part of the problem
  • God sent his perfect son Jesus Christ to Earth where he was unjustly killed, but God raised him from the dead.
  • Anyone who believed and accepted all this could spend eternity in heaven

This message appealed to me as a child. I knew I wasn’t perfect and I knew I wanted to go to heaven when I died. So sometime between the ages of 4 and 6 I told my parents that I wanted to accept Jesus as my savior. They helped me pray to God and I told him that I believed and accepted all this and that I wanted to follow him forever.

While my belief was sincere, my understanding was small. As I grew up I learned that faith wasn’t just about going to heaven, it was supposed to be something that actually affected my daily life. But my faith had little impact on my behavior outside of church. I was very self-centered and I argued with my siblings and disobeyed my parents. Afterwards I’d feel guilty about it. I knew God wanted me to love others and respect my parents, and that I wasn’t honoring him with my behavior. I couldn’t shake the feeling that I wasn’t very good at being a Christian.

Sometimes during church events, a speaker would invite the audience to rededicate their life to Christ. I always took the opportunity to do it, thinking that this time I would “do it right” and stop messing up so much. But nothing really changed; the cycle of selfishness, guilt, and re-dedication continued.

I should also point out that I was not very socially aware as a kid. I was home schooled through fourth grade and I didn’t really learn how to make friends. In fifth grade I went to a private school. It was my first time in a normal classroom environment and I struggled to make friends. I was woefully oblivious to cliques and I often felt picked on. I felt lonely and out of place and I told my parents I wanted to go to the local public school the following year.

Side note: thank you mom

As I proofread I’m realizing this may sound as though home schooling was a bad experience or that my parents didn’t care about my social development. Nothing could be further from the truth. My mom put in countless hours and many tears to ensure she was giving me and my siblings a good education and I enjoyed being home schooled. My parents made sure I participated in extra curricular activities in part so that I would get more experience being around other kids.

Things didn’t get much better in middle school. In fact, those three years may have been the most difficult years of my life. Our family moved just prior to sixth grade and I no longer got to see my former neighbors (who were probably my closest friends) very often. I felt out of place at school and didn’t really want to pursue building friendships with any of my classmates. There were multiple incidents where other students punched me and I didn’t attend any school social events.

The negativity of my school experience affected my mental health a lot. I tried to compartmentalize my time at school, to the point where I sometimes had trouble recounting much about what my day had been like when my parents asked me at dinner. In the darkest moments I felt overwhelmed with despair and I didn’t know how I could go on.

In addition to feeling socially lonely, I also felt spiritually lonely. It didn’t seem like anyone else in the school shared my beliefs and I struggled to see how my childhood faith could help me in that environment. I wanted to share my beliefs with others but I didn’t know what to say, and I was afraid of how people would react if I brought it up.

In the middle of seventh grade, I began attending a youth group at a new church on Wednesday nights. The contrast to my school experience could not have been bigger. I felt like I could fit in, have fun, and grow in my faith. Youth group became my sanctuary in the middle of what was often another depressing week at school. Most importantly, it was through the teaching and discussions here that I started to realize that the lessons I learned from the Bible as a child were actually applicable in my everyday life. Feelings of depression, loneliness, and worthlessness could be replaced by peace, joy and the knowledge that my life had tremendous value because God himself deeply loved me.

The summer before my freshman year of high school I went on a white water rafting trip with the youth group. The setting was beautiful and the rafting was a blast, but the time we spent in the Bible had the biggest impact on my life.

During one particular small group discussion we were talking about what it meant to have a relationship with God. Up until this point I’d mostly thought of Christianity as being about how to get to heaven and what you were supposed to do and not do until then. So I shared that I didn’t really feel like my relationship with God was personal the way a close relationship with another person can be. But the other group members pushed back and assured me that my relationship with God could actually be more personal than any other. As I reflected on this and studied the Bible throughout the rest of camp I came to believe that they were right; God wanted a personal relationship with me and to be involved in my everyday life.

In the months after camp I started to more fully realize how central a personal relationship with God is to the life of a Christian. I saw that the Bible stories and teachings described a God who wasn’t distant or detached, but one who was close and personal. I began to realize the magnitude of God’s love. Jesus loved my broken and flawed self so much that he would suffer incredible pain just so that he could come into my life and make it whole again. And not just in some future utopia, he wanted to change my life right where I was.

The difficult circumstances I’d faced in middle school didn’t just go away in high school. I was still not particularly social, though I was able to start building some genuine friendships. I still didn’t really enjoy school. But these issues didn’t have anywhere near the same level influence in my life as they did before. I had confidence in my value and self-worth because I knew God loved me. I knew I was never alone (even when I felt like it) because God’s Spirit lived within me. I had hope because I could trust God’s promise that he would provide for me in the midst of struggles big and small.

That trend has continued as I’ve walked the path of life. Difficult circumstances still come, but God is faithful to provide in the midst of them. He uses challenging times to grow me and change me so that by his grace I become a more mature and Christ-like person than I used to be. I still make plenty of mistakes, but he forgives my sins because of Jesus sacrifice on the cross. The fact that I’ll never be able to fully comprehend the extent of God’s love and power gives me a peace that I could never find by myself.

None of this is a result of anything special about me. God is is incredibly kind and generous; the blessings he has given me far exceed what I deserve. And he offers the gift of salvation and life with him freely to all people regardless of age, gender, or race. The Bible says in Romans 10:9:

If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.

That’s it. God wants to be a part of your life now and forever and all he asks is that you believe what he says. If you want to learn more about who God is please take the time to seek answers. I’ll leave a few resources linked below that have been helpful for me. Thanks for taking the time to read this.