Entering into my freshman year of college God to me was uncomfortable Catholic church pews on Sunday mornings and sermons that went way over my head. He was like this far away friend that I kind of thought I had but never hung out with. We didn’t even catch up over coffee dates. He was sort of just this blurry picture of a dude that I knew wanted to protect me, but I hadn’t the slightest clue how to look at him straight on.
I wore a uniform kindergarten through senior year of high school. I kept my shirt tucked in and held a rosary like it was my day job. I said the Our Father so many times the words kind of died in my mouth. They tasted like stale chips. Everything about my faith was learned, rehearsed and then performed, not one bit of it conformed to my own understanding. Not one spec intimate or unique or quirky or stuffed with character- all of which are exactly what God is. But I had literally no clue.
I think God was a lot like a recess parent to me. The person who stands outside during recess and directs kids to where they should be and scolds them a little when they aren’t there. They’re overseeing a whole field of kids kicking around a soccer ball and pushing each other over, and they just stand there and blow their whistle. That’s who God was to me; A slightly distracted rule follower who watched all of us at a distance and told us what to do.
Don’t get me wrong, my parents are people of beautiful, truthful faith. They have taught me grace and given it to me many more times than I’ve ever deserved. But their faith is theirs and I was just hanging out in its shadow. Which I grew to despise.
I walked into the doors of Bethel with a bitter taste towards religion in my mouth. I was sick of people grinning ear to ear and telling me that God loved me. I was like “Yeah, okay I get it, this big jolly guy up in heaven thinks I’m swell. Now take your devotionals, run along and leave me alone.” A really big part of me was frustrated that I wasn’t there, that I wasn’t feeling what they were feeling, that I didn’t even have the slightest clue how to. And the other part of me really just wanted to figure it out on my own, like most things in my life. I wanted it to be unique for me. Classic Kath.
So I tagged along to chapel and I had “coffee and muffin dates” with girls I had just met and they sat there and talked to me about what God was doing in their lives and it made me really happy hearing that they were happy, but I never had any God stories of my own to share in return. It felt so surfacey, all of it. I’d just smile and nod and tell some corny joke because that’s what I do when I’m uncomfortable. Now, at this point it was the end of my freshman year and I was exceptionally happier than I’d ever been before, I was wearing my skin a little bit more comfortably and I was sinking into new friendships, the real kind, the kind I’d never had before. But there was still so much missing, and I could feel that to my CORE.
Fast forward a ways and it’s the end of my sophomore year and I’m finishing up a year of living with 5 girls I barely knew at the beginning of the year. And I am different. I am softer and kinder. I am in disbelief that all of my best friends are females. Until that year I had a sour taste in my mouth from girls, just because of the way I was treated by them in high school. I was lighter.
Then let’s jump ahead to senior year. I’ve been through an entire life with this clan of girls in just four short years. Me and all of these complete opposites. We have held each others hands through the deaths of parents, through breakups and heartbreak and failed classes. We’ve cried over life and over leftover chip dip. We’ve laughed about assholes and danced in our kitchen until 4 am. We have cheered each other on, we’ve held up foam fingers up even when we haven’t deserved them. And somewhere along the way, somewhere in between late night conversations and dumb inside jokes, somewhere squeezed into stealing each others clothes and yelling at each other only to start ugly crying mid hug twenty minutes later. Somewhere amidst the truth and the advice and the hands to hold, I found the God I had been looking for. I found that unique God that freshman year Kath was so desperately searching for. Rather, He found me.
I didn’t find God in chapel or devotionals or muffin and coffee dates, I found Him in the people that loved me without ulterior motive. That took me in and showed me the world through a lens that was so much less angsty and bitter. Who showed me the world through the eyes of someone who knows God. I never had it force-fed to me or slyly snuck into my morning coffee- It just unfolded in front of me and I felt it tangibly as it changed me, as He changed me. I watched as everything in my life became more genuine and carefree and full of love. I sipped my coffee with a real smirk and it hit me, we’re having that coffee date. Me and Jesus are friends. We have coffee dates. I knew we would.
So I’m here to tell you guys that as Christians, we have been given the most challenging task, yet the most humbling, we have been given the task of being God to people like 18 year old me, heck 19 and 20 and 21 year old me too. Showing them what life looks like when He’s with you.
In high school I saw Jesus in pictures and quoted after bible verses. In college I saw him in people who picked me up off the ground, over and over again and dusted off my jeans without asking for a thank you card. I saw Jesus in acceptance. I saw Jesus in the smirks of people who asked how I was, and meant it. In the hearts of the people who restored my faith in friendship. In pure and genuine ugly squeaky laughter and nights spent talking until our voices forgot how.
I found Jesus in people who didn’t even have a clue I needed Him. And that's where He does His best work.