When I applied to grad school, one of the essays asked me to describe my journey of faith. This is what I wrote.
I have a mentor that I call Scott the Wizard, because his name is Scott and he is wise like a wizard.
One day he told me that the core of the Christian life was summed up in the story of the prodigal son. The prodigal son is living in a pigsty, having lost all of his father’s money. And his response is not to earn the money back, nor to enroll in a 12-step program or buy a self-help book. Instead, the son gets up, and goes home, and when his father sees him, he runs to embrace his son.
Scott the Wizard explained that the core of the Christian life is simply to come home and be in the presence of the Father. Once you’re home, there is time for cleaning off the smell of the pigsty or resuming the responsibilities of sonship. But the first step is just to come home and receive the love of the father.
Or, as Henri Nouwen puts it, “The question is not ‘How am I to find God?’ but ‘How am I to let myself be found by Him?’… God is looking into the distance for me, trying to find me, and longing to bring me home.”
As my faith has grown and matured, I have been profoundly influenced by this truth. I believe that the core of my Christian faith is not about right behavior or right doctrine (although both are valuable), but instead right identity and right relationship — to know myself as a child of God and to let myself be loved by God.
My understanding of how to relate to others has focused on that single point as well. My role is not to convince or fix or save — it’s just to love and let my love point to the love of God. Others tell me that I have a gift of encouragement, and I feel I have a calling to people who struggle with identity and acceptance.
But I think it’s simpler than that. Mr. Rogers said, “When we look for what’s best in a person, we’re doing what God does all the time.” That’s what I try to do.
I want people to know they are lovable, so I try to offer unconditional acceptance and invite people into community. And I want people to see themselves the way God sees them, so I try to offer affirmation and point to the beauty God placed in them. Sometimes this takes the form of formal ministry roles (like the care team at my church) but mostly I just try to love the people God puts in my path.
Of course, it took me some time to reach this point. When I was in elementary school, my faith was strictly a matter of hope — it was something I clung to when nothing else was okay. When I was in middle school, my faith was like a workout regime — reading my Bible and praying made me “spiritually stronger”, and being strong was an end in itself.
It was not until high school that I started to realize that faith was about loving other people, not until college that I began to realize how much God truly loved me — and not until the past few years that God has crystallized my calling towards people who feel they don’t belong.
Today my faith plays out in a variety of ways. I faithfully attend a wonderful church called Vox Veniae, which I love because I feel part of the liturgy, not an audience member. Henri Nouwen and Brennan Manning live on my bookshelf and tell me that God loves me and that I can join Him in loving other people. I am good friends with lawyers and artists, teachers and strippers, and I see Jesus in all of them.
In everything, I do my best to set my sights on home — where my Father is waiting to embrace me and remind me that I am His child. There are many distractions and detours on the path homeward, but I believe that I will one day fully realize the truth expressed by the Apostle John:
“See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God. And that is what we are!”