I grew up in a religious household and attended a catholic elementary school. I was encouraged by my parents and many others in the church to pursue fellowship with other believers my age and to have a relationship with God, in order to "keep the faith." I didn't really know what that looked like, because up until that point, being a kid, all that mattered is that you got along with your playmates and you recited your verse of the day. John 3:16 was one of the most overused, overquoted bible verses constantly preached to me. Because I didn't fully understand these things, I started to read my parents' encouragement to stay engaged religiously as meaning "stay out of trouble."
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16)
When I reached high school, I was what we would call a lukewarm Christian. I remember participating in a small bible study and religiously going to church every week. I liked my time there but slowly started feeling more out of place, disconnected, and misunderstood. I felt like I was presenting a version of myself that looked a lot better on the outside while on the inside, I was struggling with "me." I thought that I was too different, too imperfect compared to the other kids in our group to be considered a Christian.
As I struggled through late puberty and low self-esteem set in, I found myself walking away from the church, my bible study peers, and from God. I felt like this religious God I was being taught wasn't fulfilling my need for love and acceptance, even though I wasn't really sure what that looked like. So I sought out alternatives.
I entered my senior year of high school and was having a really hard time connecting with people, which led me on a desperate quest to deeply connect with someone or something that would fill the void in my heart. As humans, we all have this little missing piece inside of us that we seek to fill. For me, I poured myself into art and relationships. Art was fleeting, so I focused on relationships to fulfill me. It led to a few toxic, forced relationships, both platonic and romantic. One of the romantic relationships lead me to develop severe anxiety problems and trust issues. This made it even more difficult to connect with others, which in return only made me feel more unloved.
So, I tried harder. I cascaded down this dangerous rabbit hole of seeking something I would never end up finding. My mind was being molded by TV shows and Hollywood films like The Vampire Diaries, Game of Thrones, and Twilight, along with growing social media apps like Facebook and Instagram. Media play a huge role in a teen's understanding of their relationships and what love is supposed to look like, and that's honestly the devil doing a pretty good job contorting things so that we end up getting lost in this false idea of reality. Everywhere I turned, the media was telling me that the next relationship would be the one. That it would fulfill me and provide the love and acceptance I so desperately craved. That I would have peace and security in somebody who would perfectly love me and that it was fill the missing piece or the void in my heart.
I graduated high school and was onto my freshman year of college, where I spent a lot of time dabbling in seeing multiple guys at the same time (non-exclusively) to scrolling countless dating apps. The way in which I defined my relationships was now being influenced by the other, soul-searching freshmen that were just as lost. I was in a desperate search for my Hollywood romance. I was ashamed of myself because I knew deep down that I was betraying everything I had been taught as a Christian. But I was so eager to fill the void that I was willing to do anything, as so many of us are.
This transpired for almost the entirety of my college career. But little by little over those four years, God was picking away at me. There would be a bad experience here, a dead-end there. As I was seeking what only God could provide, God was waiting patiently for me to open my eyes and cry out to Him for help.
It must grieve God to see His children hurt themselves over, and over, and over again. I was making all of these mistakes, and looking back, sometimes I still feel a distant pain of regret and shame for not having realized sooner. But through my desperation, I slowly had become more curious about exploring my faith. I took several Theology classes in college and had started attending a bible study. I had begun open my mind up to the idea of God and having a real relationship with Him, but up until my very last year of college, I wasn't really letting God into my heart. It took one final breakup that would wreck me, to finally say "ok God, show me what "your" love is all about."
And what He had for me was Jesus Christ.
This leads me to finish the title of this blog post. "The One Thing We Search for Our Whole Lives... We Find When We Come to Know Jesus."
I get now why John 3:16 is preached and quoted so frequently. As a kid, I didn't understand. But it's because it's the most selfless, humble, gracious act of love that you'll ever find in the history of the universe.
When we look to God to fill the void in our heart, to restore that missing piece, to define not only love but our purpose, we experience the most perfect, powerful, and humbling version of love. And the best way we can understand this love is through the birth, life, and death of Jesus.
"In his birth, Jesus not only embraced poverty but also humility. God allowed his son to be born in the humblest of circumstances. God found a dirty stable full of animals to welcome His Son into the world. ... It was quiet and modest, and yet God took those humble beginnings to do something that would change the world." (Yarborough 2018)
Jesus was the Word in the flesh or God in the flesh. God humbled Himself to be born human, in the form of Jesus, in what we would consider one of the lowliest of places. He wasn't born in a palace or a mansion, but in a stable amongst animals. His birth wasn't Snapchat, live-streamed, nor did he have an audience of thousands to cheer him on. But this was only the beginning. Jesus would go on to live a life perfected in love.
"We learn from the biographies of Jesus (the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) that all people were accepted and loved, especially those at the bottom of the social pyramid—poor people, women, outcasts, lepers, children, prostitutes, and tax collectors. Jesus is the perfect model of loving your neighbor as yourself." (Warden 2013)
Jesus's life was an example, the leading and most perfect example, of God's love among and for us. The power, perfection, grace, mercy, and humility of God's love for us knows no bounds. This leads me to ask you this... Who better to entrust to fill the void in our hearts, to love us and accept us for who we are, than God? Who better to give us our life's purpose, to define our destinies, to fulfill our needs than God?
You might think it takes more than just mere acceptance to become fulfilled. But accepting God's love, accepting Jesus's life and more importantly, his sacrifice for us is more than enough... Not only that, but it enables us to live Jesus's commandment to love others and serve others like He came and did for us. Not desperately seeking to be fulfilled ourselves.
I spent years trying to figure out where I could find this kind of powerful love, grace, and acceptance, and for so long I thought it was in a romantic relationship. I thought my purpose in life was to obtain this Hollywood romance that would be everything I ever needed; peace, security, acceptance, love, etc. But I was wrong. Can we experience unconditional love through our relationships? Definitely. But the kind powerful enough to save us and fill us eternally can only come from God. And what a blessing that He offers it freely to us through Jesus!