When I hear or see something that moves my heart and uproots my perspective, my body shakes. The hair on my arms stands on end; chills reverberate from the top of my head to my toes, and I’m intensely aware of the monumental change happening around me.
I’ve felt this way a few times in my life: walking down the 18th fairway knowing I could win my first golf tournament, watching inspiring films detailing the intricate lives of my heroes — Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez — and swaying, palms out, singing praise to my God.
When I was in Colorado last summer with my church, The Crossing, I listened to a sermon at the Cottonwood Pass at the peak of a long hike, surrounded by melting snow and the vastness of the world around me. Although the enormity that was the Rocky Mountains threatened to swallow me up and make me feel small and insignificant, the beauty of God’s creation lifted me up instead. If He can create something as magnificent as the infinite presence of warmth and light, the luscious greens and deep browns that surrounded my friends and me, then my presence in the world must matter, too.
I carried this steadfast love of God into life in Columbia, but it was always so much harder to feel my faith when I walked through the halls of high school carrying out mind-numbing day-to-day tasks. In the mountains, my head was clear and each day was committed to exploring my faith. 94,780 feet below that altitude, distractions like school and friends consume my days, keeping me out of touch from the habits I developed in a place 13 hours from home, like ending the day in worship and finding God in every activity.
The “camp high,” as our church leaders called it, seemed to die out no matter how hard I tried to keep my reliance on God alive. High school drained the life out of me. I still went to church when I could, attended small groups and prayed whenever life got messy, but that didn’t fill the emptiness that hollowed out inside of me once I left Colorado. The absence felt as though a part of me was missing, a part I tried to fill with even more brokenness.
Drama is the downfall of my dedication to my faith. The toxicity that surrounds negative people, terrible decisions and the absolute crushing weight of broken relationships allowed me to lose sight of who I am. Being away from blue skies and crisp Colorado air willed me to forget I am loved, even if I didn’t feel it all the time. I made academics my idol and the relationships I built with my friends and others became my source of purpose when in my soul I knew they would fail me. And they did. Horribly. All of the disappointment illuminated the need for me to put God, not other people or experiences, at the center of my heart. Only He could provide the eternal happiness and the true self-worth I lacked.
I stumbled. I fell, and I cried as a result of rejecting God’s love in my daily life. When my friendships fell apart, it hurt. When I failed in school and failed to reach my goals, I blamed God. I didn’t have much faith anymore, and I told myself I couldn’t be loved. I asked myself: Who am I? Where do I fit in? What is it about being a teenager that makes life seem so hard?
“Being away from blue skies and crisp Colorado air willed me to forget I am loved, even if I didn’t feel it all the time.”
I think a lot of my loneliness and confusion has to do with the constant pressure of popularity. My peers and I have known each other for so long and each of us wants to be liked. Although God promises everyone immeasurable love and affection, Instagram likes and surpluses of Snapchat notifications bring immediate and short-lasting joy in our material world. If we don’t receive constant attention, validation and approval, then we feel ostracized and abandoned. This notion is amplified in high school as we see each other every day; our childish personalities lead us to believe our superficial connections are more important than trusting in God.
It’s so hard to stay on the right path and be knowledgeable about what really matters. I’m constantly checking social media to make sure I’m happy, to affirm people don’t forget about me. In reality, popularity really doesn’t matter. The most important thing is not how many people commented on my latest post, but whether or not I’m a good person through and through. A lot of the people I’ve interacted with in high school do not love the people around them, do not treat them like equals or help others when they need to be picked up. Although these people may be popular, they aren’t acting out what it means to be loved by God.
Every day I break this promise by indulging in my sins — gossiping, judging and comparing myself to others — but I’m trying. I want to give back to my community and those who need me. I work hard to respect my peers and superiors. I do fail, but that’s what makes me human, and that is the way God made me to be.
When I find myself in a whirlwind of self-doubt, I remember the Almighty Creator made me to mirror the Rocky Mountains, the spectacular sunsets over the Pacific Ocean and the stars in the sky. He has a plan, and navigating the toxicity of high school life will make me a stronger person by His hand.
Popularity in this time of my life is not my purpose; it isn’t anyone’s true purpose. We are created for a bigger reason and are promised a better life no matter our struggle. My favorite verse in the Bible, the 19 words I picked out in sixth grade, are forever etched in my brain through seasons of hardship: “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” (Romans 8:18) This verse will guide me through the ups and downs of life as I know there is a better reward waiting for me on the other side.
Have you ever had faith in something that changed your heart? Let us know in the comments below.