I am what some refer to as a “Cradle Catholic.” I was raised Catholic since the day I was born.
Some people may see this as a blessing – to be raised in the faith. I am not denying that it was. And I know many fellow Cradle Catholics who are incredibly devout and on-fire with their faith.
But I also know many who aren’t. And I used to be one of them. I was what is often referred to as “lukewarm.”
Lukewarm: Christians who THINK they are Christian. They deceive themselves and those around them. They go through the motions, but deep in their hearts, they do not live their faith.
During my freshman year of college, after over 18 years of attending mass every Sunday, I fell away from going to church completely.
Though every Sunday morning I woke up with a voice in the back of my head nudging me to go, I was “too busy.”
Junior year, I transferred home due to student loan debt and chronic illness. I lived with my parents and resumed my tradition of attending mass every Sunday morning with my dad.
Frank and I were only a couple years into dating at that point, so he attended every once in a while for the extra brownie points. It didn’t take long for God to work within Frank’s heart. His interest peaked in becoming Catholic and he decided to join the RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults) program.
I wasn’t sure of what type of questions Frank would have as he experienced his conversion, but as you can probably guess, I felt like I really knew my stuff… I did go to Catholic schools after all. I had every bit of confidence that I was going to be a great support system.
But then he started asking me his questions. Deep things like “How do you just accept what’s in the Bible as fact? Don’t you ever question it?”
I started to see how a true conversion happened within someone’s heart – the questions they battled with, the trouble of finding the answers, and a growing passion for knowing God.
In fact, I became jealous.
I was jealous that he was building this great foundation that I seemed to lack and he was easily surpassing my knowledge and understanding of the church.
I found myself in a pretty dark place – it wasn’t just that I didn’t understand Catholicism. I didn’t even understand what it meant to be a Christian. As hard as it was for me to admit, I noticed that I often battled with the question as to whether or not God even existed.
I decided that it was time to really evaluate my understanding of my faith, instead of just blindly going through the motions on a weekly basis.
I started with the best resource I could.
It turns out that the Bible contains stories of people who were actually in the physical presence of Jesus and still didn’t believe, so I didn’t feel so down about struggling with this question.
One man, in particular, found in Mark’s Gospel asks Jesus for his help with believing in the curing of his epileptic son.
“Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief!” – Mark 9:24
This was such a simple piece of scripture that completely encompassed my struggle. It was a perfect start for my journey. I started to pray and meditate on it multiple times every day.
Eventually I started to feel the passion begin to burn within me and decided that I had to continue to push forward. I wanted to desire God so that I could experience all the hype that Frank was talking about.
As I progressed, God began to reveal how He wanted me to find Him using what I refer to as “pillars” of my faith. They now build the foundation of my personal relationship with God.
Pillar 1 – Why Worship God?
During the Lenten season of 2012, I attended a retreat held by Father Larry Richards.
At one point, we all knelt down in silence to worship God. I remember rolling my eyes.
“This is pathetic.”
“We are not slaves.”
“Why would a loving God command us to worship Him?”
I was raised to be independent, confident, and a leader. I was not raised to blindly follow and I am incredibly grateful for this.
I had to find a valid reason to worship God or I would continue to struggle with understanding these basic questions.
Father Richards recommended a book called “Crazy Love” (by Francis Chan), which I immediately bought.
In the first chapter, Chan recommends to watch a video called the “Awe Factor of God.” I encourage you to watch this (now) and if you have time, read the first chapter “Stop Praying” which is available as a sample excerpt here. Even if you have read this book, I recommend reading it again because it serves as a great reminder.
There are over 350,000,000,000 galaxies in the universe. Earth is located in ONE of them.
(Again, I urge you to watch the video).
Ponder that for a second. Just try to grasp how big the universe is and how much we don’t know and will never know.
Do you know what happened when I watched that video? I realized just how small I was… that I am NOTHING in comparison to the vastness of the universe.
But yet it was so EASY to spend my time thinking I was something important. I was about to graduate with a Bachelor of Science degree in Chemistry and I had a GREAT GPA. I was about to enter into the world as a recent graduate who knew “EVERYTHING”.
But let’s be real… I can’t even figure out how to make a good vegan, Paleo muffin (seriously though… this no egg thing is killing me, please send me recipes).
On the other hand, God’s résumé is pretty impressive, especially in comparison to mine (and everyone else’s).
He is all-powerful and all-knowing, and proves His reach by creating all that He has. He could kill me at any moment if He wanted to.
Logically, if the one who created me and decides whether I live or die today tells me to worship Him… you bet your butt I will!
But I had the reasoning all wrong.
Pillar 2 – I Must Learn to Surrender and Trust
Focusing on my fear of God was humbling, but it didn’t bring me peace.
Although I acknowledged His creation, I denied His role within my everyday life.
Financial choices. Career choices. Relationship choices. Educational choices.
I didn’t see why God had to be involved in these decisions. They are completely unrelated to faith (or so it seemed). I was confident that I could still maintain a relationship with God outside of all these aspects. I was under the impression that the free will He gave to me was so that I could control my life.
Spoiler alert: I was wrong.
It wasn’t until I read Father Larry Richard’s book “Surrender! The Life-Changing Power of Doing God’s Will” that I started to realize that maybe I was mistaken.
“When we decide we want to live life God’s way instead of our way, we are going to have to give up our way and trust that God’s way is better…
We cannot even take our next breath without God saying that it is okay. We are very dependent people. It is that simple. God can take your breath away right now. So, we need to learn to trust Him. We need to know that He loves us and that He wants us to be happy more than we want to be happy.
Remember the question in the old Baltimore Catechism, “Why did God make me?” The answer is “to know Him, to love Him, and to serve Him in this world, so we can be happy forever in heaven. God loves us more than we could ever begin to love ourselves. Do you believe that? Do you live that?”
My answer was of course – no.
I lived my life my way and I didn’t see what was wrong with that.
But, I can tell you for certain that doing everything on my own was exhausting. I was stuck in my career with an uncertain future, a tiny paycheck, loads of student loan debt, daily anxiety, all while battling a debilitating chronic disease.
I desperately needed peace.
So, I took Father Richard’s advice and surrendered. I told God to take all of my anxieties and worries from me because I couldn’t do it anymore. My way wasn’t working.
“When you surrender your will daily to the will of Our Father, then you will discover the joy of totally giving yourself to the One who has totally given Himself to you. You will enter into a relationship of trust and love with the God of the Universe. You don’t have to be afraid; you just need to trust, for He promises that He will never leave you or forsake you. He promises that He will lead you and guide you. He promises that He will give you His peace.”
I learned rather quickly that surrendering isn’t easy.
Trusting is even harder.
It’s pretty difficult to just let go of all worries. Especially when I didn’t know how to hear God’s voice.
Pillar 3 – How Do I Pray?
In 6th grade, I made a promise to God that I would pray every night for the rest of my life. I have always remembered this promise and made a major effort to say prayers every single night, even while drunk during my college years. I was so dedicated!
I had a HUGE list of prayers that I memorized. I rattled them off quickly (while thinking about other things) and checked the box for the day.
But when I told God that I wanted Him to take control of my life, I realized that my prayer life was one-sided. It lacked depth. Passion. I never really allowed God to respond and I never gave myself the opportunity to listen.
What I needed to do was shut up.
I needed to stop talking AT God.
I tried to follow Father Larry Richards’ advice.
“The only way to get to know God is to spend time with Him. The only way to get to know His voice is to listen to Him when you are spending time with Him in silence every day. You need to have silence in your prayer. If you do not incorporate silence in your daily prayer time, it is not going to happen. It has to be a discipline in your life.”
So, I tried this…
I visited our local Perpetual Adoration chapel, acknowledged Gods presence, and sat in silence.
My silence immediately turned into wandering thoughts. Sinful thoughts. Embarrassing thoughts. And the constant reminder of past sins that I just couldn’t seem to let go of, despite my new relationship with God.
My demons of the past still had a hold of me.
Pillar 4 – The Importance of Forgiveness
I mentioned earlier that my fear of God did not bring me peace. Outside of my awe for His creation, I also knew He provided us with rules to live by.
But, I am a sinner. I do not always live by the rules.
I feared God’s forgiveness.
I feared punishment. I feared the Sacrament of Confession within the Catholic Church. I convinced myself that after 10 years of avoiding it, the priest would look at me in disgrace (and possibly yell at me).
Even though I started to accept God’s presence within my life, I continued to ignore this part of my past, hoping to forget and move on. But the devil always reminded me.
I felt like I hit a wall in my journey to building a better relationship with God. Maybe a break from the “heavier” material of the books I was reading would help.
So, after finishing Surrender! and Crazy Love, I picked up a book called “Devil at My Heels.” Many of you may know the story from the book or movie “Unbroken” about Olympic runner and prisoner of war, Louis Zamperini. (The “Devil at My Heels” version of the book includes his conversion into faith while “Unbroken” leaves it out).
Nightmares plagued him while he was a prisoner and continued on after returning home once the war ended. He turned to alcohol to cope.
Facing divorce from his wife, Zamperini was moved to attend a Billy Graham evangelical crusade. He experienced a re-conversion and became a born-again Christian.
Guess what he did?
He forgave the prison guards that had beaten him so severely, but not just in his heart. He traveled to Tokyo and forgave them in person.
Overnight (literally), he was freed. Freed from the nightmares and the drinking. His cold heart was completely changed. He no longer felt the hatred, but instead, compassion for the prison guards, and desperately wanted to show them love so that they may see God’s love.
I was so inspired by this. Zamperini was a sinner just like me and somehow, he could FORGIVE the hatred that he experienced as a POW.
The parallel between Zamperini and Jesus was very clear.
What did Jesus do after he was so brutally beaten and humiliated?
He said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” – Luke 23:34
If Jesus could forgive those who treated Him so poorly, then how could I possibly think that He wouldn’t forgive me? Immediately I decided it was time to hand over my sins to God.
I went to confession. Bawling, I told the priest everything from the past ten years. And you know what? He didn’t yell at me. Nor did he laugh at me. He was so happy I was there to receive God’s forgiveness and start with a clean slate and changed heart.
I now understood God’s love for me. His mercy. His compassion. I had nothing to fear.
Just like Zamperini, I was freed. I no longer sat in silence with my past plaguing me, and if the devil ever tried, I told him to go to Hell. I had God on my side.
Having the knowledge of being closer to our Lord and knowing His love for me changed me.
He took his time, but God revealed Himself to me through each of the pillars I have mentioned. He has since shown me more pillars that are just as important:
- Treating my body as a temple
- Service to others
Related: Why YOU Should Be a Christian Hippie
But the 4 that I focus on were the first ones needed to release me from my “lukewarm” Christian ways.
I find that as soon as one of these pillars weakens, so does my faith. I make a strong effort to ensure that even when life is at its busiest, I maintain my foundation so I do not lose traction.
So if I am still a practicing Catholic, you may be asking why I didn’t title the post From Cradle Catholic to On-Fire CATHOLIC, instead of Christian.
I am well aware that many Catholics believe that Catholicism is the one and only TRUE Christianity. But while experiencing my re-conversion, I ignored much of the traditions and sacraments of Catholicism (such as understanding why we received the Eucharist).
It was just too overwhelming for me to learn while also trying to answer the most basic of questions that would allow me to build a REAL relationship with God.
Once I started to understand the basics of Christianity, I was able to learn, expand, and grow my knowledge to appreciate what the Catholic Church is and what it truly offers.
Often times I think that many of the Cradle Catholics that I grew up with, and fell away from the church, will return in the future. I pray that they learn what it means to be a true Christian, even if they start by attending a non-Catholic church while they grow and re-build their relationship with God. It is my hope that after re-building their foundation, they seek that relationship and start to understand and appreciate Catholicism.
Whatever the means are, the mission is to be with Jesus.
What is your story? When did you start to embrace God? We would love to hear it!
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Hi! I’m Anna, co-founder of Healthy Habits Reset. After managing my own autoimmune diseases using lifestyle, habit, and mindset changes, I now work to teach others how to navigate the treacherous and confusing journey of chronic illness living. I firmly believe YOU hold the power to question, think critically, and become your own rock-solid advocate in a world full of unhealthy habits. Consider me, and my husband, Frank, your autoimmune disease health coaches. Are you ready?!