By Makenzee Gooley
If I’m serious about my faith, will I fit in?
This is one of the biggest questions young people seem to be facing today. It’s a common fear that many have as they go through high school, and even college. Students and young people are afraid they will lose friends. They want to have connections as they get older and be part of a bigger picture. They want to feel loved and accepted by the world around them.
Chris Uhler, campus minister at Roncalli High School in Aberdeen, says this question of being serious about faith and what will happen is a lived reality of some of his students.
“That fear is quite real,” Chris said. “I’ve seen it quite a bit in my three years here now. I’ve seen kids come to live their faith, get scared and then run away. I’ve also seen some kids go on living their faith.” He says the students are afraid of what people will think.
Youth and young adults aren’t necessarily afraid of losing friends as much as they are afraid of how the world around them will view their choice to live their faith, and in turn how the world will view them as a person. The fears they have are most often about how people will treat them, gossip about them, and overall just look down on them for choosing to pursue the Catholic faith. They don’t want to be judged for making a choice that is more than simply going through the motions.
Anna Fischer, a freshman at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, says this fear of losing friends is common because “to live your life and to follow Christ, your life will change because of that. A lot of times that means your friendships will change.”
Anna said especially when things first start to change, people fear the unknown. They worry about whether or not God will provide what they need, such as friendships.
“One of the big reasons I think this is such a big deal is that friendships are so important, throughout high school and college especially. Your friendships are kind of what keeps you going. They are the people you lean on. Not having people during those times can be very difficult,” Anna says.
With that being a fear of young people, youth probably wonder how they can live out their faith while dealing with the possibility of losing the friends they have gained thus far.
Find others like you
One thing to remember is friendships evolve and change over time. They may grow stronger and people may grow closer; some may grow apart. They are not the same forever. However, the love of God is eternal. This everlasting love is something that will never change.
Chris encourages people to plug in. He says if there are activities such as a Wednesday night faith formation or youth group, students should attend these events. Try to befriend the teachers as well as other students there. This is a way to physically get yourself involved. Another way to get involved is to go to things like a praise and worship night or a retreat. These are ways to get closer to God in a more intimate manner. Opportunities like this allow for students to find community.
Chris also recommends students try looking at good Catholic content.
“Be it Catholic podcasts or Catholic YouTube videos or find good Catholic book recommendations. There’s so much out there,” he says. “For example, you can Google Father Mike Schmitz and there’s tons of stuff that can help you and encourage you along your journey.”
For college students, Anna recommends people check out what your campus has to offer for Mass. Newman Centers are an option for many on state college campuses. Students can also look at the local area around the campus and see what other parishes have to offer if on-campus doesn’t have a Newman Center. Get involved in daily Mass and young adult groups that are offered.
“I think the most influential thing for me is having gotten involved at the Newman Center,” Anna says. “Just getting involved here has introduced me to a lot of great people who are becoming close friends. It’s been the highlight of my freshman year.”
You are not alone
Turning to Jesus and his love may seem daunting to many at first. Society puts a lot of pressure on people to do certain things and act certain ways. Today it’s hard to see how one can fit in while pursuing a life in the Catholic faith. People fear they will be alone, and it’s hard to picture a life without friends. However, Chris says that while this is not going to be an easy thing, have the courage to step out.
“Christ had almost all his friends abandon him at one point. The only ones there when He died were his mother and John,” Chris says. “He knows what it’s like to feel alone, but we need to acknowledge this when it’s on our hearts. We should tell Christ that we feel this and we know you’ve been through it, please help me through this.”
God assures us we are not alone. You can find others interested in a life of faith, and one of the main places is at the Church itself. Getting involved at whatever church is available, be it the parish in town for the entire community or the campus Newman Center, is a key part of helping grow the relationship with the Lord that so many seek.
It may be hard at first, especially because people may not think it’s “cool” or “hip” to pursue the faith. However, there are people who do share this desire to follow Christ, and they may feel the same way at one point or another about this. It’s hard to imagine being alone, but if youth surround themselves with people who want to help on this journey, they actually won’t be alone at all.
The other key is simply to communicate with the Lord. He will not leave you, and one of the best reminders of that is prayer. People can pray anytime and anyplace and He will listen. The answer may not come right away, and it may not be exactly what was asked for; however, He will always listen and guide his children.
Live against the grain
The world may perceive following Christ as a thing that is “not the norm” or something that is “un-cool.” The way the world perceives us may seem important. It is important to be a person who is respected and known for being a good human being. On the other hand, society may deem some things important that aren’t really important in the long run.
“Don’t get me wrong. I like my iPhone. I like my car. I like my Wi-Fi. I like living in the 21st century, not gonna lie,” Chris says. “But it’s just this vacuum that if kids take a few steps down the social media hole, they take a few steps down a politics hole, or they even go off to college… and in class some of the things they hear… they get sucked into this. And they see people of faith living lives contrary to that.”
The vacuum of society can be draining. One of the keys is of course to jump in yourself and find people who are willing to live out their love for God alongside you.
The other part to this puzzle is that those of us who are already living our faith in a radical way need to be role models. We must show younger people how to live a life that is one where we follow Christ and accept his love. This means attending Mass, partaking in the sacraments of confession and the Eucharist, and daily prayer.
The decision to follow Christ fully is a beautiful one, but it can also be full of unknowns. There may be people who turn away, including some of our closest friends. But God’s love is eternal. It will never falter. He will never leave you. He wants a relationship with his children and He loves them unconditionally. God will always provide for you.
We are reminded in Isaiah 49:15-16, “Can a mother forget her infant, be without tenderness for the child of her womb? Even should she forget, I will never forget you. See, upon the palms of my hands I have engraved you; your walls are ever before me.”