A few years ago , I didn't know where my life was headed. I'd just begun college, and I had a growing feeling of uncertainty about the future, which turned into a fear of the future. I didn't know which major to choose or which friends to hang out with, and I found being a college student was more of a struggle than I'd ever imagined.

There were a couple of things I knew I was good at—running a bowling league and heading up the Christian Science organization, or CSO, on my campus. But I really considered these activities more like hobbies that supplemented my academics. Because of my fear, I felt overwhelmed and unprepared to make big decisions.

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Gradually I stopped studying and began drinking with friends, partying, and getting involved in shallow relationships with women.

During one semester, I lapsed into a depression for a few months and was left wondering if my life had any purpose at all. I just couldn't see how I would crawl out of the hole I was in and get past any of the choices I'd made. I turned to a school counselor who suggested that I take antidepressants. But after trying the pills for a couple of weeks, I felt worse.

So I stopped taking them and called a Christian Science practitioner for treatment through prayer. I knew, deep down, that taking a spiritual approach to these troubling problems could really make a difference. We prayed together for a little while, and this helped, but I knew that facing my problems prayerfully wouldn't be a quick fix or a one-time call for help.

I needed to sort things out between God and me.

Fall semester turned into spring, and even though I felt comforted by my prayers, my mind was still in turmoil. I condemned myself for choices I was continuing to make, but didn't confide in anyone.

After months of feeling this way, I decided that I didn't have much to lose. So I gathered up enough courage to let go of all these negative thoughts, and confided in a girl I knew and respected. She was aware that I was a Christian Scientist and saw the good in me. I poured out my mistakes and fears, and she shared hers.

I told her how hypocritical I felt living two distinct lives—one as a member of the CSO who liked helping people spiritually, and another when I was hanging out with my friends. It was the first completely open conversation I'd ever had. And it set me on the path to leaning even more on God for help.

As I talked with my friend about spirituality and our relationship to God, the Bible story of Paul came to mind. Here was a man, I realized, who'd done some pretty egregious things, definitely worse than I had, and he was still redeemed. This suggested to me that I still had a chance to crawl back out of the pit of guilt and confusion. I often returned to this comforting idea throughout the semester. Even though facing my fears felt like an uphill battle, I was gradually establishing some inner strength and making better decisions.

When summer approached, I thought about what I really wanted to do with my time. I considered applying to an internship program focusing on youth activities within my church. This seemed like a progressive step because it would allow me to be true to myself and work toward a larger goal that would bring good to others.

Before I knew it, I'd been accepted into the program and was on a plane, headed for a new city—Boston. In a way, it felt like a relief to leave some of the confusing stuff behind. But I knew that it wouldn't be helpful to run away from my problems or ignore them. As I let go of the mental baggage I'd carried with me and committed myself to continued prayer, I began to look forward to this new adventure. This opportunity would lend itself to spiritual study and growth—my main goals—while at the same time drawing on my CSO experience.

Even though facing my fears felt like an uphill battle, I was gradually establishing some inner strength and making better decisions.

As the summer went on, the Sermon on the Mount became an important part of my daily spiritual study. This sermon, given by Jesus, includes the Beatitudes, the Lord's Prayer, and instructions on how to heal. It was the first time I'd ever explored it, and I was amazed by what I found! Jesus' instructions presented ways for me to live a happy, meaningful life.

I loved his advice, "Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink" (Matt. 6:25). I realized that I didn't have to worry about anything, because my needs would always be met. Then there was the Golden Rule, "Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them" (Matt. 7:12). I'd heard it all my life, but now it made so much sense. Finally, I felt that I had a better understanding of how to pray, and I had plenty of opportunities to practice what I was learning at work and in social situations.

As I filled my thought with these spiritual ideas, prayed with them, and found ways to live them, the fear lessened. I'm not quite sure when it happened, but I quit worrying about my life and my future. I began to live with confidence and to identify myself with solid, spiritual qualities.

This was reflected in better thoughts about myself and others and good decisions about how to spend my time. I was expressing my true spiritual identity, and it was totally fulfilling. The fear and depression disappeared, and my selfworth improved as I drew closer to God and began aligning my spiritual study with my actions.

Partway through my internship, this spiritual growth was tested when a friend suggested we go grab a beer. Rather than passively shrugging it off with a "whatever," I took a firm stand, based on my spiritual values, something I hadn't done in college. I explained why I didn't have a desire to drink and the reason I was comfortable with the decision. After that, the topic never came up between us again.

Learning how to pray effectively changed my life. Seeing how my life functioned with and without prayer convinced me of its importance. Prayer has given me a whole new view of myself and others. It's led to fulfilling employment, a happier day-to-day life, and a relationship with my girlfriend that's substantial and healthy. Sure, I still have some growing to do, but now I know I have a purpose—and I'm ready to keep on growing spiritually.


This article first appeared on on October 11, 2007.

December 17, 2007

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