An encounter with God will ruin your life—in the best possible way
A Reflection for Wednesday of the Twenty-sixth Week in Ordinary Time
God is wise in heart and mighty in strength;
who has withstood him and remained unscathed? (Jb 9:4)
“How was your trip?!”
When I returned from my first Christmas break service immersion trip in college, friends asked me this question in the exact same tone of voice in which they asked other friends about their family holiday gatherings and fun vacations. On their brisk walk to class or to the dining hall, I could tell they only had time for a bite-size answer.
“It was great!” I lied.
Lying might be too strong a way of putting it. My trip to the U.S.-Mexico border in early 2018 was hands-down the most moving, eye-opening, radicalizing thing I had ever done. I was convinced I had had a real experience of God through the people I met there. It had also ruined me, making a smooth return to the new semester on my idyllic college campus impossible.
The parties, lunch conversations and even Masses I had enjoyed on campus just a few weeks earlier didn’t feel the same anymore; while my friends seemed to be breezing through the daily routine of a college student, I felt stuck in the weighty experiences of my trip, constantly worried that I couldn’t reconcile my daily life with the realities I had seen firsthand while traveling.
Jesus is a force who comes into your life and shakes it up—maybe for the better, but rarely for the more comfortable.
While I felt like no one understood at the time, I’ve since learned that my experience isn’t unique. Many people who engage in extended service or immersion struggle to reintegrate into their daily lives when the experience is over. (Jack Morris, the Jesuit who started the Jesuit Volunteer Corps, coined the phrase “ruined for life” to describe the impact the service program had on its young participants.)
The poetry of Job in today’s first reading brings this truth vibrantly to life, describing God’s earth-shattering grandeur. In a bit of a harsh rendering, he asks, “Who has withstood him and remained unscathed?”
In the Gospel reading, too, Jesus is a force who comes into your life and shakes it up—maybe for the better, but rarely for the more comfortable. When followers promise to go wherever he goes, he warns them they won’t have a consistent place to call home; it won’t be easy. When they ask for time to wish their families farewell or even to bury a dead parent before joining Jesus, he urges them to look forward, not back, and makes no bones about the sacrifices a life with him will require.
When we have a real encounter with God, life as we’ve known it ceases to feel the same, and truth be told, that usually doesn’t feel very good at first. The change is uncomfortable, and we can’t guarantee that the people around us will understand or will follow our exact timeline of knowing and learning.
It will sting, that’s for sure. But that sting is the sign that you’re growing—and even better, that God’s love is behind it.