For many years, I kept God and my faith in a neat little box. The box was very attractive because it was convenient and comfortable. It was comforting to know it was there if I needed it — basically, only in emergencies. I closed my faith box during the week and opened it only on Sundays, when I went to Mass and closed it again after I came home from Mass. Within a few short months after I entered college, I had even stopped going to weekly Mass. There were those emergency moments when I would rush back to the local parish on campus with the lovely little faith box in hand. When my prayers were answered, though, the box went back into hiding. All was right with the world, or so I thought.
This attitude toward God and my Catholic faith didn’t happen overnight. There wasn’t one incident that catapulted me out of the Church. I was simply too involved in trying to forge a path for myself in the very competitive field of news broadcasting. Competing for coveted news internships, working at the radio station, and writing for the campus newspaper took up all of my time. Soon God just didn’t fit into my life anymore. It was a gradual drifting and desensitization. I still identified myself as Catholic if classmates or friends asked about my religious affiliation, but God just wasn’t at the top of my priority list.
My parents had spent a nice chunk of change sending me and my sisters to Catholic school. Thank the good Lord it was an excellent school that taught the Faith well. You might be wondering, “Well, if they did such a good job, why did you fall away from your faith?” For me, personally, the pull of the world was too strong.
But, since I was still living at home, regular Mass attendance was a must. I obliged my parents but really didn’t give the God thing much thought beyond that, as everything was going so nicely and according to plan. At that point in my life, my faith box was still sitting on the dresser or table, so to speak, where I could grab it quickly if needed, but it remained for the most part closed.
Slowly, the box was placed up on a shelf inside a closet — out of sight, out of mind, only pulled out occasionally, or in those moments of emergency. The pattern of keeping God and my faith neatly and tightly packed away in a box became routine. I was far too sophisticated and modern to need God for more than the occasional pick-me-up or 911 call.
This inside-the-box faith approach lasted until my early thirties, several years into my marriage and a high-profile media career. Sounds cliché but, basically, I hit rock bottom. It’s as if one day I woke up, finally started to look around, and everything I had spent so much time and effort building was crumbling.
You might be wondering what caused me to hit rock bottom and to wake up and finally realize that my life was literally going to hell in a hand basket. Well, some of us are more stubborn than others, and in order for God to get my attention, he had to take me out of my comfort zone, big time.
My first major “come to Jesus” moment happened when I was stripped of what I unfortunately held most dear: my job. At the time I thought my world could never be put back together. I thought it was the worst thing that could ever happen to me. But it ended up being a major blessing in disguise. It was the start of my long path back to healing my relationship with God.
Unfortunately, my second “come to Jesus” moment was realizing my husband and I had grown far apart. We had both sacrificed our personal lives to quickly climb the career ladder. My husband started to feel that we were like the proverbial gerbils on the wheel, constantly running and getting nowhere fast.
As painful as the firing experience was, and realizing my marriage was in trouble, the time off of work was crucial when it came to stepping outside my comfort zone and taking a good, long look at myself and my priorities — or lack thereof. My husband meanwhile was invited to a Bible study. He accepted that invitation, which started him on a journey back to God. Eventually, I joined him in the study, and we started to attend Mass, we learned to pray, and discovered more about our Catholic faith and what it taught. My husband eventually became a deacon, and my journey led me to spreading the word of God full-time. Here’s a news flash, something that it took me way too long to learn: God doesn’t belong in a box. What’s more, there isn’t a box on the planet immense enough for who he is and how much he loves us.
Sadly, leaving our faith in a comfortable container, never allowing it to be part of our lives beyond Sunday (if we even take it as far Sunday Mass) has become the norm rather than the exception.
So now would be a good time to start examining your own faith box, to take a closer look at its size, its contents, and its location. Where do you keep that box?
Think about the important relationships in your life, as well as the most important activities. These are people, issues, or efforts to which you’re dedicated. They are not tucked in a box that is packed away somewhere. You grow to love someone by spending time with them. You’re passionate about your work or a particular cause because you have learned a great deal about these things and why they make a difference. Think about what your faith life, and in particular your relationship with God, might be like if you took a similar approach.
Once you find and open your faith box your life will again have more meaning. You will start seeing things differently. If you open your heart, healing can begin. Growing and nurturing your relationship with God will lead you to new ways to discover who you are meant to be and God’s purpose for your life, which will lead to real happiness – even joy. Take courage and go find that faith box and open it. Let God in and your life will change and you’ll be amazed and how much better it can be.
This is an adapted excerpt from Teresa Tomeo’s book “Beyond Sunday: Becoming a 24/7 Catholic” published by Our Sunday Visitor.