By the time I was in eighth grade, my family had taught me a lot about our Catholic faith. I had a string of prayers, including the Rosary, that I prayed at night before bed. If I was nervous before taking a test at school, I said a quick prayer asking for God’s help.
Overall, I was a good kid, but I also knew I could be bossy. When other people were goofing off at swim practice, I would tell them off. I thought I was helping out the coach, but the way I talked to people was actually pretty irritable and controlling.
Looking back on myself then, I can also see that I was insecure. Around my swim team friends, most of whom were not religious, I didn’t feel like I could be myself. I was afraid to talk about my faith, concerned about what they thought of me, and self-conscious about having different interests from them in music, clothing, and media.
That spring, my parents sent me to a Holy Week retreat with my older sister. In the past, our family had prayed the Stations of the Cross and visited different churches during Holy Week, but it always felt like we were remembering something distant. I had heard the story of Jesus’ death and resurrection over and over, but it didn’t evoke much of a response in my heart. But this year at the retreat, we watched the film The Passion of the Christ on Good Friday. I was surprised by the extent of the violence in the movie, and I joined the girls around me in crying and passing around boxes of tissues. But the message still didn’t click. Not much changed in my relationship with God or in my self-confidence.
An Unexpected Lesson. I went back to the retreat the next year and found myself in the same room doing the same things. Again, it was Good Friday, and again, we watched The Passion of the Christ. Like the year before, lots of girls became emotional. But this time I knew what to expect, so I was able to think more about the story.
Instead of sobbing uncontrollably and covering my eyes, I sat still in my chair. I watched intently and silently, with tears streaming down my face. As I saw Jesus being scourged at the pillar, carrying his cross, and then being hung on Calvary, one thought filled my mind: “He did all of that for me.”
For the first time, I felt a stirring deep in my heart. I didn’t just feel sad; I felt grateful to Jesus. Thank you for doing that for me. Thank you for going through that so that I could be with you in heaven. You didn’t deserve that. But you did it for me.
I had listened to homilies and talks about how Jesus sacrificed himself for every single person. But I had never fully comprehended the infinite depth of Jesus’s sacrifice and love for me. That evening, my eyes were opened in a new way. I’m not sure why it was so different that time, but I think Jesus was reaching out to me.
He Stays with Me. After that night, I tried to be a better person all around—for Jesus. My faith became mine, not because I was brought up Catholic, but because I wanted a relationship with Jesus. Up until that time, my faith was something I did. After that, it became something I lived.
That was four years ago, and since then my relationship with Jesus has deepened even more. When I say prayers, I’m not just “saying” them anymore. I am speaking with Jesus. Because he died for me, I know he wants to help me, so I talk to him about my life: my challenges and my successes. This is different from the bedtime prayers I said when I was thirteen; now I know that Jesus is with me. He isn’t just out there in the distance—he cares about me.
Now that I understand Jesus’ love more fully, I rely on him more. Instead of jumping to control a situation, as I did before, I might slow down and respond with more patience or modesty. As I get ready to finish high school, I am trying to trust God about my future. I still feel stressed sometimes, but it’s not overwhelming because I trust Jesus.
A Confident Christian. I’ve also noticed that the way I act around my friends has changed—because my relationship with Jesus is more alive than it used to be. Recently, a girl on the swim team seemed to be having a bad day. I don’t consider myself a touchy-feely person, but I felt that I needed to give her a hug. I didn’t want to do it, but I instinctively felt that Jesus wanted me to do it. It was clear that my friend needed it because she was grateful afterward.
At swim practice, I now feel more comfortable acknowledging my faith to friends who aren’t religious. I think Jesus helps me to talk about it. It’s not just my own confidence; it’s Jesus using me because I have become more open to him.
I have gradually become more confident in my faith overall. Being labeled a Christian is no longer something I’m afraid of. If other people don’t like me, I know that Jesus still loves me. I don’t need to change myself in order to be like my peers. Instead, I am trying to focus on the endgame of getting to heaven and bringing as many people with me as I can.
There was a day recently when I realized, “I’m happy.” I felt that God was telling me, “Hey, look. I have answered your prayers.” I couldn’t have come to that realization on my own. I think God wanted me to know that I didn’t need to be unhappy or bossy or controlling. I could be grateful for everything he has given me and let him keep changing my life.
Teresa Riedel is a high school senior.
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