Have any of you ever been in a situation where you knew what the right thing to do was, but decided to ignore that feeling inside? Maybe you knew that your mom was saving those cookies for after dinner, and you decided to take one any way. Or your little brother or sister was really annoying you, and treat them in a way that you know your mom or dad would not like. Or you’ve been having a really tough time at home, and you forgot to study for that science test. And you walk into class and are able to see your neighbor’s paper pretty clearly. Maybe you’ve locked Jesus in your room, and went to that party without him.
Each and every day we are faced with choices, and for many people, hopefully those choices are directed by their relationship with God.
As Christians, our relationship with Jesus makes that difference.
My personal relationship with Jesus began when I was in the seventh grade. I was lucky enough to have an active youth group at my parish. And while I went to mass for my whole life up to this point, I hadn’t really thought about Jesus as a friend until I made my Confirmation in the seventh grade.
For me, going to youth group changed the way I saw this Jesus guy. There were these high schoolers who talked with us about Jesus, and how important he was to them. And I remember how important that was to me, to be listened to. And I learned that Jesus wanted to listen to me and he wanted me to listen to him. And he knew the way I felt during different times and he wanted to be there with me. He wanted a real relationship with me, where communication is key.
I don’t think I had ever really thought about how my relationship with Jesus would affect my life, until I was faced with, what at the time was a difficult decision. I was thirteen years old and loved going to the youth group at my parish. This was the summer after my confirmation, and I was hanging out with two of my friends. We had spent every week day after school together that year. We started out at my friend’s house and we decided to walk to the park. It was summer after all. We decided that we were going to get ice cream and watch the softball game that took place there each day. Now, the park in our town was right in the middle of my friend’s house and my house. I don’t remember why, but after getting ice cream we then decided to go back to my house instead of my friends.
There were two paths that we could take, and this wasn’t the path of life, it was a literal path. One was a little long, and we would have to walk up to the main road and then over to my house. The other, was to cut through a creek directly to my street from the park. That area was wooded, and there had been some trouble there in the past few months, so my Mom and Dad asked me not to cut through the creek anymore. My Dad isn’t a police officer, but he works with a lot of police officers, so I took his word for what was happening. They asked to always walk up to the main road when I was walking home from the park, even if it was a little bit longer. I can remember telling my friends that I wasn’t supposed to cut through the creek anymore, that my Mom had asked me not to do that. I was met with a lot of judgment, and peer pressure. This wasn’t something that I had expected. These were my friends, and they weren’t supposed to pressure me into doing anything.
I remember that they persisted. They did not want to walk the five extra minutes to the main road that would lead to my house. I remember suggesting that we just go back to my friend’s house because that’s where my Mom was expecting me to be anyway. They insisted that we go back to my house though. And I had this sense that I really shouldn’t walk through the creek. My parents had asked me not to do it. And I began to learn at Youth Group that Jesus wants us to listen to our parents because they Love us, not because they were rule-makers. And that Jesus understands how we feel when we’re made fun of, or if we’re rejected. We learned yesterday that Jesus also felt rejected. We learned last night that the Gospel of Mark speaks to people who were rejected. And it was that personal relationship with Jesus and taking the time to learn more about my faith that helped me to understand that.
I remember being able to think back to the previous year. I was with those same friends. It was December, so it was very cold, and the sun was setting earlier. This was a time when my Mom and Dad were working a lot, so I would go home each day with my friend, and her Mom would mind me until 6pm. As the 9th period bell rang, I went to the first floor where my friends would be, and we would then walk out to the bus together. The only thing was they had planned on “missing the bus” so that they could walk home, and stop at the little diner on the way. I was pressured into “missing the bus” with them. I didn’t want to walk home by myself, so I stayed with them. I didn’t want my friends to reject me. I didn’t know that I had a friend in Jesus. I thought that he was some far off authority who came 2,000 years ago. We ended up staying at the school until the sun went down. And as we walked home, we were hungry, and stopped at the diner. As a sixth grader, I didn’t have much money on me. I also didn’t have a cell phone yet. I was able to buy a bagel with butter and use the bathroom at this diner. I remember feeling so guilty, because not only was I walking home in the dark when I wasn’t supposed to, but I was also eating too close to dinner. When we finally arrived at my friend’s house, it was a half hour before my mom was supposed to come. I remember feeling so guilty that I would have to lie to my Mom about what we did that afternoon. Even though there wasn’t anything inherently bad about what we did, I wasn’t supposed to be walking home in the cold and in the dark. But the thing was, even though I felt guilty about what I had done, I still lied to my Mom, and I didn’t say anything when I felt pressured by my friends.
As I was struggling with the decision that I had to make on that warm summer day in the park, I remembered that cold December afternoon a year and a half before. It was my new found relationship with Jesus that helped me to see things differently. A few months earlier, I decided to let the Holy Spirit into my life, to make me the person that God created me to be. The difference this time was that I understood that the rules my parents had in place for me were there to help me, not to put me in a cage. This new understanding that I had a loving God, made my decision different this time around. And so, I decided to walk home the long way, up to the main road, and over to my street. My friends ended up not following. Actually, I think they ended up back at my friend’s house. I can remember being so embarrassed because I had decided not to go along with what they had wanted to do. I held back tears as I walked up to my front door, and my Mom embraced me and told me how proud she was of me.
Now, my friend had called her mom on her way home to tell her what happened. And her mom had called my mom so that she would know that I was walking home.
At the time, I didn’t think of this as a big deal, or that I had done ‘the right thing’. But I found out later, that my Mom was so proud of me for not giving into peer pressure, no matter how small it may have been.
Looking back on this experience, I can see how it was my experience at youth group that helped me to see Jesus as a friend that helped me to make that decision. It was the older teenagers who encouraged me to keep that commandment of listening to my Mother and Father. These people that I encountered changed the way I saw faith and the way I saw my relationship with Jesus. They showed me that I should have a real relationship with Jesus, and that he loves me unconditionally. They showed me that Jesus wasn’t just a divine being, he was also human and he knew how I felt.
I can remember being enamored with that idea. And I don’t think I ever gave it a second thought until much later in my youth group career. This man who suffered, died, and rose from the dead, did that for us. And for me, that changed everything. That personal relationship changed everything.
Now, my faith has had its ups and downs. I have gone through times where Jesus is my best friend, and then there have been times where I want nothing to do with Him, even though I know that he always wants a friendship with me. And I think that because I went through those times where I didn’t want to have a relationship with Jesus, I can appreciate the Love he has for each one of us more now.
Today, Jesus is still a good friend. I don’t think I would be up here talking to you all, if He and I weren’t good friends. But I think that as I’ve gotten older, our relationship has changed. But I’ve come to understand that that is a part of growing up, and a part of being lifelong friends with someone. Sometimes, you’re going to be laughing together, sometimes you’re going to be sitting quietly together, and sometimes you’re going to share in each other’s sorrows. Jesus and I, I would like to believe, have a strong friendship. For me, a big part of that struggle has been helping to define what a friendship is at different points. With the help of other people, I have been able to see that Jesus can be that person I cry with, laugh with, and sit comfortable with. And all of these things are okay.
My friendship with Jesus has helped me to make crucial decisions in my life. Some of those have included: being there for a friend who was having a hard time, going on a mission trip in college (even though I wasn’t friends with anyone who was going), changing what I wanted to be when I grew up, and deciding to move away from friends and family to be with all of you. My relationship with Jesus has been much more than just a nice thing to think about. It has helped me to listen to my Mom when I was thirteen years old. It has also helped me to reach outside of my comfort zone and to experience real joy. It has helped me with the difficult parts of my life, but also helped me to see the beauty that this life has to offer. Jesus wants us to have a relationship with Him. It’s up to us to say yes and let Jesus into our lives.
This witness was given to a group of 7th & 8th Graders at CYFM’s Jesus and the Gospel Message Overnight.