It happened on the first Sunday I ever spent in my college dormitory, my first residence of my own, away from my family. I was asleep when my alarm went off at exactly 7 a.m. Instead of getting up, I hit the snooze button. This may not seem particularly momentous, but it was a first for me—for the first time in a multitude of Sundays (938, to be exact), I was not being awakened by my mother or called by my father urging me to get ready for the 9 a.m. Mass at our parish.
I was enamored with this newfound freedom; when the alarm rang a second time at 7:10 a.m., I hit the snooze button again. There I was, a cradle Catholic, baptized and confirmed, lying in my extra-long, super-springy-yet-oddly-hard dormitory bed, feeling empowered by my small rebellion and wondering whether or not I actually would go to Mass.
In the end, I went. I chose my faith. But it was not easy. And this decision did not come as the result of a grand conversion or one glorious moment of realization. It was a choice I had to make over and over again. There were many, many, many prayers to St. Anthony and St. Jude and quite a bit of time spent in the various chapels on campus praying for, well, anything. And at times I doubted God was present. And even though I knew that I was not the only person to feel this way, for a very long time I was ashamed of this feeling. I was ashamed that I—even for a second—thought that God had forsaken me because of the intense struggles I encountered during nursing school.
My classes were challenging, demanding, time-intensive, mentally exhausting and, at times, caused such emotional turbulence that to say the experience was a roller-coaster ride would be an understatement. The amount of tension and anxiety that surrounds examination periods is inexplicable and can only be understood truly by fellow nursing students. College has been hard for me, but it was even harder when I was praying and felt like absolutely no one was hearing me. But I believed in God, or so I told myself, and kept praying.
During my junior year of nursing school, I hit rock bottom. I failed a class for the first time. I lost a few wonderful friends, the friends that I thought would be those friends, the ones you meet in college and who stay for good. I was in constant internal conflict. I felt like I was watching all my friends pair off into cute little couples while I was left alone, the eternal fifth wheel. I saw engagement photo after engagement photo, wedding after wedding and at one point looked in the mirror and wondered what was wrong with me, what was so undesirable about me. And then I became disgusted with myself for this small, recurring moment of insecurity, vulnerability and desperation. I was always waiting; I was always wanting more and asking for more and praying for more. I was always looking toward the other side, the greener grass, where I thought everything was better. And once a week, my alarm would go off at 7:00 a.m., and I would hit the snooze button and then, eventually, get out of bed and force myself—and I mean truly force myself—to keep praying.
Some days I honestly thought I no longer believed. Some days I felt so alone that the world seemed dark and despondent wherever I was, whether in my room, in my classrooms or in a pew at Mass. Some days I looked up at the crucifix and felt nothing except tears messily sliding down my cheeks and my fingernails digging into my hands.
Still, the pews became my hiding place. I was there for every exam, every moment of terror, of panic, of anxiety. I went to the chapel before work and would wander in on a “bathroom break” during class. Any time my heart felt heavy and I had no words to speak, I could be found there, sitting in silence and begging God to speak to me. But God was silent too, so I would take a deep breath and whisper another prayer. And then I would turn my back and leave.
Now, as my senior year concludes, I can say that my alarm has sounded at 7 a.m. every Sunday that I have been in college. And every Sunday I hit the snooze button. And then, after each 10-minute snooze, I get up, get ready and go to Mass. I am thankful that I have done this. I would not have made it through nursing school without my faith. I, like countless others, have suffered through heartbreak and insecurity, have had to make decisions that at times seemed pathetic. I have understood the fear that accompanies peer pressure and the pain that follows both refusing to succumb to it and succumbing to it. I have made many, many mistakes and yet through every trial and every rock-studded, mountain-filled path, my faith has brought me joy. I know that as I accept my diploma and carry with me my family, my friends and my dreams, God will be carrying me, just as he has (without complaint) these last four years.
If someone had told me, four years ago, that the decision to get out of bed after hitting the snooze button would be among the greatest challenges to my faith, I would have laughed. There are so many other things that people warn you about when you are growing up. They tell you to beware of peer pressure, of getting mixed up with the “wrong crowd.” They tell you to be careful about how you consume television, movies and the media. They prepare you for big decisions. But what they do not tell you is that our faith is made up of those small yet significant moments: the months spent in class, the hours spent studying, the 10 minutes following the time you hit snooze, the 10 seconds it takes to make that decision to get up, every day, and keep going.