By Jessika Harkay |

I didn’t grow up with a church background. So when I committed myself to a Christian university, I didn’t know what to expect other than telling myself that I had to remember not to use God’s name in vain and to Google Bible verses in case it came up in a conversation.

My parents, on the other hand, grew up in the Catholic Church, and although I was raised to be Catholic, the only participation I had in the church was being baptized when I was eight and going to a sleepover for free blueberry muffins.

My parents were huge advocates that if you just believed in God and were a good person, God would reward you for it.

For a long time, I believed churches were a place of brainwashing. It seemed as if a place of worship was actually a place of melting individuals into one. I remember in second grade when a little girl in my class chased my friend and me around taunting us. She was horrified we didn’t go to church and spent that recess screaming about how we were the devil’s children.

Ten years later, I still find that whole situation mind boggling and a true example of what I believed churches did to their followers.

Not only were there instances like that, but I heard so much about sexual misconduct in churches and with all the negative stigma I was exposed to, I never had a desire to attend.

Throughout high school, I battled with my spiritual identity. I loved the idea of reincarnation and debated becoming a Buddhist, but I feel like that’s a phase every teenager hits at one point— thinking they’re particularly in touch with the world and spirituality.

I grappled with Atheism too because I never understood how a god could watch his people suffer and show no signs of aid or love.

It wasn’t until a rough breakup my senior year that I really found God. And I realize that sounds so typical. But really, it wasn’t until I was crying, heartbroken and in my bed for two weeks that I decided to pick up a book my dad gave me about Jesus and asked for a sign.

I realized that if I was desperate to change my life, it was time to search for answers that were greater than the situation in front of me and my emotions.

Everyone knows the saying that you turn to God when you need Him most and I did. But my definition of turning to God was to only have conversations with Him alone and that I didn’t need any other guiding figure for help.

It wouldn’t be until eight months later when I was in college that I would find myself in the middle of a church with one of my best friends…worshipping.

My best friend is the son of a pastor so I knew that at some point religion would come up in our friendship. He would tell me how he found the perfect church, I would internally roll my eyes and he would tell me how I should tag along sometime. That “sometime” came in the beginning of the semester and I couldn’t think of an excuse to get out of it quick enough.

I had to remind myself that college is about throwing yourself into situations you normally wouldn’t and that you have to make the best out of anything that comes your way.

Don’t get me wrong though—when I first arrived at this church and saw people falling to the ground with their hands raised, it was one of the strangest things to me.

It took the preaching to really hit a chord. Every sentence related to a situation I went through. It seemed as if the preacher found my hidden black journal that I wrote everything in a few months ago and was giving me the answers I was longing for.

Since it was a college ministry, they focused on things that engulf college freshmen. The preacher described one thing that kept echoing in my head: the fact that we are enticed by comfort and convenience.

He described finding fulfillment in God when we faced uncomfortable and inconvenient situations. We should change our “what ifs” into “even ifs.” Lastly, the preacher said that our capacity to carry and endure situations only grows when it’s fulfilled, not when we quit.

I heard so many perspectives I would have never considered regarding how to face and interpret situations in light of God and faith. The experience was a lot of being able to understand God in a different way than what I thought He was and what His messages were telling me.

I wouldn’t change the way I grew up for anything, as it allowed me to find my way and ideology independently. But moving forward, I see myself searching for God in others and being willing to listen to their interpretations. I was ready to be open to future opportunities and for that I’m so grateful.

More than anything, the experience opened my eyes that there is so much wisdom and guidance to be found in others— you just have to be willing to have open ears to listen.