For me a friendship with Jesus began in college.
Before then we were acquaintances, at best. We spent time around one another on Sundays and on the occasional weekend retreat in high school, but for the most part me and Jesus were in similar social circles, but never really hung out. I liked it that way. His style didn’t too much cramp mine.
This changed in college. After repeatedly declining invitation after invitation to Christian things on campus, I finally caved. I signed up for a retreat with other students from William Jewell College. It was on this weekend that I heard Truth #1.
#1 "Love the Lord your God with all of your heart, mind, soul, and strength." Luke 10:27
On this IMPACT retreat, I heard that God was supposed to be number one and everything else second, third, fourth and so on. This was a new concept for me. I was compelled by the force and simplicity of it, and how the application of it promised a new and clear horizon by which to navigate life.
But even if it didn’t hold out a better life (it did) I was drawn simply by its weight and truth. God can ask to be first because God set the whole thing up in the first place. A great freedom flowed from allowing my life to be caught up in the given-ness of the way things were, rather than the scratching and clawing against the way things were.
For the first time, living life in closer proximity to Jesus, things made sense. Hope and joy emerged. Shame and guilt subsided. Going to Mass and confession now meant something. It was Jesus who I received in communion and Jesus who forgave me in confession. It was as though my black-and-white TV was instantly upgraded to High Definition. What a difference this truth made in me.
I was on the road to integrity, no longer nagged by the awful predicament of double living. It really didn’t work to go to Mass on Saturday nights so as not to go hungover on Sunday mornings. That was the given-ness I was bumping up against. In that sort of fight, God always wins. I finally surrendered.
In the days, weeks, and months that followed I began to pray a little bit each day, read the bible, and regularly shared with a group of men my ups and downs and the implications of living a more Christ centered life. A relationship with Jesus had begun.
These habits (prayer, scripture, and accountability) were the practical outworkings of living my life with God at the top. These habits opened me to discover Truth #2.
#2 "I will never leave you nor forsake you." Hebrews 13:5
From a very early age I knew myself to be something of a people person. I could hold my own in conversations with grown-ups and even dared (quite regularly) to make cold calls to unsuspecting teenage girls whose number in the phonebook was labeled “teen line.” How else was a goofy dude who goes to an all boys high school supposed to find a date to prom?
So a year after the IMPACT retreat, I went on a “Relationship Retreat.” We learned about things like the God-given differences between men and women, what makes for good and bad communication, and the stark reality of marriage not always being ‘happily ever after.’ That stuff was all fine and good and I learned a lot. But that wasn’t what I was there to hear that day.
A political science professor of mine, Dr. Dale Kuehne, gave the last talk. He did a masterful yet subtle job of moving the conversation from relationships horizontal to relationships vertical. He proposed to us, each drawn in that day by the beauty and promise of fulfilling long-lasting human connections, that there was a relationship that would transcend them all.
+ A relationship that began before we were born and would last long after we die.
+ A relationship of love, faithfulness, and joy that we could always bank on.
+ A relationship defined by who I was (a child of God) not by how good I could be or how much I could accomplish.
More than our closest friends, parents, even our future spouse, this relationship was the only one we could trust, always and everywhere. A bell went off inside my head. This is what I had been searching for in each friendship, every silly cold call, and all manner of relationships in-between.
A friendship with Jesus was born.
And rather than negating anything that had come already, this friendship built on the foundation of hours spent in Church receiving the Sacraments growing up and the relationship with Jesus that had begun just a year prior.
Two-life altering truths.
One gave rise to a relationship, the next to an everlasting friendship. One made God a priority, the other made God up close and personal. My life hasn’t been the same since.