The following is adapted from Here I Am, Lord, by Lonni Collins Pratt and Father Daniel Homan, O.S.B.
A cynic once said: “Christians tell me that Jesus is the answer, but I want to know: What’s the question?” A clever remark. But maybe the cynic had forgotten what it was like to be young, and to have a million questions. Father Dan Homan and I have gotten to know many young people, and every one of them has had questions. Big questions. Why am I here? Who will love me? What’s important and what’s not? Why has this terrible thing happened to me? How shall I live my life?
We suspect that you ask questions like these too. And what’s the answer?
The answer is not a philosophical concept, or a set of rules, or a blinding flash of mystical insight. The answer is a person — Jesus Christ. He lived in history, and He’s alive today. He is God’s answer to human questions. The key to life, we believe, is getting into a relationship with Jesus.
Too simple, you say? Glib? An easy religious formula for problems that hurt, that keep you awake at night?
We’ll plead guilty to the charge of simplicity. Jesus is God’s Word, and anyone can hear Him. Men, women and children who cannot read or write know Him and love Him. So do people whose minds do not work well, who suffer from the most terrible afflictions, who are starving, imprisoned, friendless, despised. They understand because Jesus is love, and every human being has a divine capacity to give and receive love. In the end, and in the beginning as well, the answer is simple.
But the fact that the answer is simple doesn’t mean that it’s easy. “It’s not easy being green,” sang Kermit the Frog. “It’s not easy being a Christian,” we sing back. It stands to reason that this would be so. Jesus was a human being, and it’s not easy being a human being, as you well know. That means that God himself knows all your troubles and questions from the inside. He knows about failure and pain. He knows what it means to be lonely and misunderstood and rejected. He also knows the deep satisfactions of friendship, of love, of beauty and joy. Jesus is your all-knowing and all-loving companion on your journey. He is the best companion you could possibly have.
So get to know Jesus better. You get to know Jesus in the same way that you get to know any person by spending time with Him, listening to Him, talking to Him.
Many teens find that writing in a journal helps them focus on concerns, problems, life’s goals. (Using a prayer journal such as “Here I Am, Lord,” published by Our Sunday Visitor, can help guide you to better prayer.)
A couple of starting points for reaching out to the Lord include:
• Read, even if only a small part of, the Psalms. The word “psalm” means “song.” These are the ancient prayers of the Jewish people that Catholics and other Christians still pray every day. The Psalms are prayers in themselves; they are also excellent prayer “starters” — ways to begin to talk to God in a personal and sustained way.
• Engage in what we call Soul Writing. Take up your pen and write. Express your feelings. Write down what the Lord has said to you. Record any new insights you’ve had.
Writing comes easily for some people, hard for others. We encourage you to try it and stick with it even if it is difficult. Record what is happening to you. If you run short of time, jot down a few quick responses, perhaps key phrases that will jar your memory so you can write more when you have time later in the day. Just be sure to come back to it when you have more time. Write until you have nothing more to say.
Some teens prefer to praying on their own. Others will be interested in praying with a youth group, or perhaps even with friends. If you are praying on your own, try to talk to someone else regularly about the issues that come up. You will find the journey is wonderfully richer when shared with a few trusted others.
• Work on prayer sessions at a time when you can be quiet inside. Some people can quiet their spirits in the middle of chaos, but most of us need a quiet place. Turn off the music. Go some place where you can be alone. Sit in a comfortable position with your back supported or lie on the floor. Take a few deep breaths, releasing each one slowly, and as each breath flows out of you, release tension and your hectic thinking patterns. You can learn to do this in just three or four minutes if you practice. Think of your body as being very heavy, as if made out of lead. Breathe deeply a few more times and when you feel quiet inside — begin reading.
You might start with the simple four-word prayer: “Here I am, Lord.” That’s the main thing. The Lord is there for you, too.