By Mikaela Pannell
Have you ever felt like you know a lot about Jesus, but don’t necessarily know him? It’s okay; you aren’t alone.
If you are a student at a Catholic school or have gone to any religious ed classes in your lifetime, but haven’t taken your faith any deeper than that, your relationship with Jesus might feel similar to one with a celebrity. You know all about them, but if you were to attempt a conversation or go out to eat together, you’d have no idea what to do.
Brady Wilson, a Sioux Falls native and student at Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas, knows how it feels to have a surface-level relationship with the Lord. As a cradle Catholic and O’Gorman graduate, Brady felt that he knew a lot of information about Jesus and the Catholic Church, yet he didn’t really know Jesus on a personal level.
“I knew a lot about Jesus, but I didn’t know Jesus,” Brady said. “I could tell you all these truths. I knew them in my head, but I didn’t know him in my heart.”
Getting close to Jesus was always a desire for Brady, though it wasn’t easy to maintain. Throughout high school, he would go back and forth between living a Christ-centered life and living for himself, struggling with typical teenage vices. Attending yearly Steubenville conferences and having a deep encounter with the Lord at a Going Deeper retreat always relit the desire to be close to Jesus, but the habits of daily life and the overwhelming thought of how the world saw him always pulled him away again.
When Brady went to college at Benedictine and was completely surrounded by faithful individuals and countless opportunities to encounter God, he came to the realization that a deeper relationship with the Lord was what he needed to focus on. He felt a pull by God to draw even closer to him, that he is “called to live a life that’s radical…and to live like Jesus.”
“When I walk into prayer, it’s like seeing my best friend,” Brady says. While it will always take a conscious effort, having a relationship with Jesus is the most beautiful and intimate of all.
Elena Giorgio, an Elk Point native, is a student at the College of St. Mary in Omaha, Nebraska, in her final year of occupational therapy school. She is also engaged to be married this coming January. While she grew up in a strong Catholic household, Elena says that “I feel like my faith didn’t really become my own until high school.” She was exposed to the joy Totus Tuus missionaries had, which attracted and led her to attend D-Camp and eventually become a Totus Tuus missionary herself.
Although it did take time and effort to develop, Elena describes the relationship she shares with Jesus as “constant.” High school and college years are filled with frequent change, which can be taxing on many relationships. But Jesus is always there. She discerned that a relationship with Jesus meant to “get personal with him, that he really did care about all of my worries and all of my concerns…that he knew my desires…he knew how to provide for me and my desires.”
Elena explains that a relationship with Jesus doesn’t mean everything in life goes smoothly, but you will have a joy and peace that transcends anything this world has to offer. She has found that it is important to “be present” in all aspects of life—the highs and lows—and to find joy and gratitude in everything.
Relationships today are filled with near incessant communication by phone calls, texting, Snapchat, the list goes on and on. But God doesn’t have a cell phone or an Instagram account. He doesn’t sit and chat over a cup of coffee. How can a person figure out what he is saying when it’s hard to even recognize when he’s speaking?
Trish Irvine, a theology teacher at O’Gorman High School, has witnessed students grow in their relationships with God and offers wisdom to assist them when it’s not always easy.
“One thing we need to do is to begin to know the voice of the Lord,” she says. “What does he sound like when he speaks? Reading Scripture, particularly the Gospels, can show us how the Lord speaks to humanity. When we know the Lord always speaks to us from love, then we can listen for his voice. Sometimes this involves sharing with a trusted friend or mentor about what is happening in prayer…or when you try to pray but feel you cannot. A great joy I’ve had is being able to mentor youth as they learn to follow the Lord and to be able to point to moments they share, saying, ‘That! This is what the Lord sounds like. He was speaking to you!’”
Trish is no stranger to the challenges of cultivating a relationship with Jesus. She went to public school, and though her home life gave her a solid foundation in faith, Trish felt alone amongst her peers in her pursuit of the Lord.
“Instead of really delving into my faith, I merely held off on falling into the vices more common for teens,” she recalls. “I loved the Lord, but I often framed my relationship as ‘I love you so I don’t do…’ instead of ‘I love you and so I will…’”
She regularly participated in Totus Tuus and D-Camp throughout her teenage years, soaking in the short bursts of community that surrounded her during those events.
In order for a relationship to be healthy, effort has to be put into it. The Lord is in constant pursuit and will always show up, but it doesn’t always feel that way.
“The Lord is always seeking to be in relationship with us and always communicating himself to us,” Trish says. “This can be a good truth to cement in your heart when it seems like God isn’t listening or when we wonder if he cares.”
It’s important that we put in the effort to show up to be with him, too. Brady has made it a point to make sure he’s putting his best self into his relationship with the Lord, saying that he’s “not giving God my garbage time of the day, but giving him the best time…the time when I’m intentional and attentive to movements of the spirit.”
He’s found that setting the Lord as his priority is much more beneficial than trying to fit him in at times when he might be tired or not able to focus. Elena recalls that daily Mass, Liturgy of the Hours, and an hour of prayer every day were “transforming” for her relationship with Jesus.
Elena, Brady and Trish all stress the importance of surrounding yourself with a community of people who are also striving toward the Lord and who desire to grow ever closer to Jesus. In today’s world, it is very important to walk with others around you who have the same goal—to get to heaven.
One mark of a healthy relationship is the ability to be comfortable together in silence. It allows for the deepening of intimacy and fosters further growth together. Often, quiet time is avoided at all costs.
“Sometimes we lack depth in our relationship with Jesus because we are unwilling to give him the time and space,” Trish says. “We are already full of noise and our concerns and numerous other things that we don’t have room in our hearts and minds for the Lord. Incorporating intentional times of silence into your day and life can be helpful to hear the whisper of the Lord, to be aware of the nudges he offers, and to be able to reflect more on the reality surrounding you.”
Silence also allows for our thoughts and feelings to rise to the surface when they might otherwise be smothered by the noises and distractions of life.
It’s easy to seek closeness with the Lord when things are going wrong, but he also wants you to be with him in the good times, when things are going well. Just like you would tell your best friends and close family members about excitement in your life, the Lord should be told, too!
He wants to share in your joys in the same way your loved ones do. He wants to know all about your plans, hopes and dreams, as well as your fears, worries and concerns. And when the Lord is entrusted with those things, he always provides.