By Haley Arndt
So, this just occurred to me: some of you don’t know who I am. Sure, you have gotten to know me through reading my blogs for the past six months (wow, six months already?!?). But the real heart to knowing someone is knowing their story. It’s knowing where they came from, what they’ve gone through, and how they got to where they are today. And as I was reflecting on what to write about this month, it hit me that I haven’t truly shared my story with y’all! So that’s what’s happening on the blog today, folks—my story about how I met Jesus as a sophomore in college at a Christian retreat in the middle of a random dude’s talk, and how Jesus flipped my heart around and led me on the greatest, most freeing adventure I could ever imagine—living out my identity as a beloved daughter of the one, true King. Come, Holy Spirit, let’s get down to it!
Who am I? Well, I am a senior at the University of Wisconsin- Stevens Point studying psychology, and I’m a little too obsessed with wiener dogs, Chacos, ice cream, Fr. Mike Schmitz (he’s one holy and gifted dude), and watching The Amazing Race.
That’s all the legit truth, but who I really am is a daughter of our beloved Father. However, spoiler alert: prior to two years ago that most definitely would not have been my answer.
Let’s back up the story a little bit though. I grew up in a very Catholic family. I like to say that my family was “that Catholic family.” We were that family who was at church every Sunday. We were involved in all the church functions. We prayed before meals and before bed even when friends were over. My siblings and I went to Catholic elementary and middle school, and to top it all off my dad was ordained a deacon the summer going into my senior year of high school. Yeah, we were Catholic.
But in high school and in my first year of college, I didn’t find my identity as a Catholic or as a follower of Christ. I had this head knowledge of who Jesus was and what the Church was all about, but I didn’t have the heart knowledge—our faith didn’t impact the way I chose to live out my life. I knew the facts, and I knew the “rules” of the Church, but it was just something that was relevant when I went to Mass on Sundays, and it didn’t carry out to the rest of my life.
Instead, I found my identity in my success, in my achievements, and in how others thought of me. I centered my life on being this perfect student and basically strived to have others be jealous of me. I had to have the perfect grades, the perfect lifestyle, the perfect résumé. The perfect everything. Perfection is what I thought defined me, and it’s how I thought I would find absolute fulfillment and everlasting joy. But guess what: no matter how many perfect grades I earned, rewards I was presented with, recognitions I received, or compliments I was given, I was still left with emptiness. It was like I had this hole that I just couldn’t seem to fill. Sure, I would get an A on a paper or receive some type of award, and I would feel super great about myself. But as the attention faded and the Facebook likes stopped coming in, I was left with a longing for joy and happiness again.
This trend continued into my first year of college. I was hurting. I continued to pour myself into my academics even more, hoping that if I impressed enough people in college, then I would finally reach that total happiness I had been striving for. But the emptiness in my life grew even deeper. I was having a rough time at school. Most people didn’t seem to notice who I was. I wasn’t attending Mass on Sundays or immersing myself in any real prayer life. I was not living a virtuous lifestyle. And I was hurting. I was hurting because everything that I had placed my identity in was falling short. I didn’t know who I was anymore.
Then I answered that persistent knock on the door to my heart and let Jesus in. At the beginning of my sophomore year of college, I encountered some of the most joyous people I had ever met. They were filled with this life, light, and freedom. I was intrigued because they had the confidence and joy that I had been looking for my whole life. I wanted whatever it was that they had. And the more that I hung out with them, the more that I realized what it was in their life that made them so appealing. They wholeheartedly loved Jesus. They didn’t just know the facts about Jesus, but they lived a life centered on Him, and their actions and behaviors displayed it. They weren’t obsessed with the standards that the world measured them by. But instead they found their identity in Him. I wanted that satisfaction. I wanted that freedom. I wanted Jesus.
So, on an October weekend during my sophomore year of college, I signed up to go on a retreat with this group. And that was when I surrendered everything I had to Jesus and He took control of my heart.
I really don’t remember much from the retreat, but I do remember that at some point, during this random dude’s talk (I honestly don’t remember who he was or what he was talking about) it just clicked. It clicked that God made us for relationship with Him. He didn’t create us to center our lives on secular, materialistic things or to find our identity in the world. He created us to know Him, to love Him, and to serve Him so we could live out our identities as beloved sons/daughters of our Heavenly Father who loves us so stinkin’ much. (See the Bible for proof of this statement).
At the end of our lives, Jesus is not going to ask us what we did to make ourselves happy or successful based on worldly standards. He is going to ask us how we best lived out our identity in Him—how we best loved Him and how we best loved others (#FinalJudgementDayYo).
And that’s when it hit me.
That’s when I realized I had been living a suffocating, empty life of trying to find fulfillment based on perfection and on the world’s judgement. It was the realization that the joy I was searching for resides in knowing that my identity was not in myself or in the world, but that my identity is as a daughter of God. And THAT is what is going to bring fulfillment and satisfaction.
Jesus extended His hand and asked me to live as His daughter. I surrendered it all to Him in that moment. I told Jesus that I was His.
After that retreat my heart totally changed. I made the conscious decision to start living each day for God, not for my own pride and worldly pleasure. And guess what, I found that deep, everlasting fulfillment I was looking for… knowing that my identity is in God my Father and He will never, ever abandon me.
(And then I went through a period of my life where I rejected Catholicism because I thought I was smarter than 2,000+ years of Christian tradition. But hey, look at me now. Thriving as a Catholic. Life is wild. Anyways, back to this story…)
So, brothers and sisters, where or what do you find your identity in?
What are you centering your life on right now, and where are you trying to find that fulfilling joy and satisfaction? Is it sports, academics, your job, your appearance, your boyfriend/girlfriend? And ask yourself: is that thing deeply satisfying? Is it not just making you temporarily happy, but is whatever you are currently finding your identity in bringing unwavering and undeniable fulfillment?
If you’re answer to that first question isn’t Jesus, then I want you to take that to God and to ask Him to cut out the things in your life that prevent you from living as a completely satisfied daughter or son of God. It’s a scary thing to ask because God will provide, trust me (#BeenThereDoneThat). It’s a hard path to walk because it’s not always fun, and you’re not always going to feel joyful and happy. Crosses and trials are a real thing friends! But to live with true heart-knowledge that your identity is in Christ is totally worth it because that is what we were made for, and it is freeing. It is freeing because knowing the truth of who you are allows you to be your pure, authentic self (John 8:32).
I’m praying that we all are able to rest in our identities as sons and daughters of our Heavenly Father.