The semester is drawing to a close, simultaneously too fast and not fast enough. I’ve thought at length about what God has taught me over the past months, and as always there’s too much to fit into one blog post. College is, for me, a sacred place. Not because it’s been perfect. Quite the opposite, actually– Harvard is sacred because it’s been hard. And hard means sanctifying. Every semester here seems to bring a deluge of challenges and growth.
This past semester has been one long invitation to cultivate intimacy with Jesus. For most of my life, I’ve understood in my head that Jesus is the only true, unchanging, sufficient source of satisfaction. But I’ve long struggled to know exactly what being filled by Him– or further, being near to Him– actually looks like.
The past couple months have begun to change this, but not because they’ve been easy. Humans are fickle creatures, and in comfort we tend to rely on our shifting circumstances for security and fullness, even when we know that only God can satisfy. It’s typically only when we lack other options that we are motivated to take the step towards relying solely on Him. Sometimes, invitations to intimacy with Jesus come not by way of abundance but by insufficiency.
Over the course of the semester, God slowly stripped away things that I’ve typically looked to for security, future direction, or importance. Some of these losses were tangible; others were rooted in the invisible world of broken expectations and unfulfilled desires. There have been moments of deep frustration, disappointment, and emptiness, and at times it was easy to view my circumstances with a tinge of hopelessness. At times, everywhere I turned it felt like usual sources of joy were either gone or inaccessible or wholly unsatisfying. Eventually, Jesus was all that was left.
After weeks of wrestling with disappointment and frustration, I began to understand that satisfaction in Jesus comes only from knowing Him intimately (Hebrews 13:5). This sweet, personal knowledge required that I started treating Him like an actual person— for even if He isn’t present in the flesh, Scripture promises that we are never alone (Matthew 28:19-20, Exodus 33:14, Psalm 139:7, 1 Corinthians 3:16). Treating Him as such meant that He was the person I started turning to to debrief my day; it meant going through the Gospels to know Him as He reveals Himself; it meant thinking of Him in much more tangible and present terms than I was used to. It meant taking God up on His promise that “You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart” (Jeremiah 29:13).
To treat Jesus as a real person seems basic in theory, but in practice it requires a step of faith that He is present and responsive even when He cannot be seen. I had to intentionally change my view of God from being wholly different and set apart from humanity, choosing instead to see Him as close, familiar, entangled in the messiness of my emotions and mundane routines. I suppose the beauty of the incarnation is that Jesus can be intimately present and divinely incomprehensible all at once (John 1:14, Colossians 1:15-20).
Given that all of our daily interactions are with people who are physically present, turning to an unseen but ever-present Jesus is simultaneously very unnatural and the most natural thing we could ever do. I’ll admit that initially, my efforts to actively cultivate intimacy with Him felt a little strange. An exerted pursuit of nearness to Him was uncharted territory and to be honest, I had no clue what would come of it. Yet, sure enough, the more I sought intimacy with Christ, the more I sensed His wonderful nearness. And the more I tasted this sweet closeness to Him, the more I saw how foolish I was to think that I could be satisfied by anything or anyone else. Unlike our circumstances and relationships, Jesus never changes and never fails (Hebrews 13:8).
Jesus is enough, and He is absolutely better.
So while this semester has been full of different losses, it’s also been full of the deepest, fullest joy I’ve ever experienced– indescribable joy that is rooted in growing intimacy with Christ (Psalm 16:11). Nothing about my present circumstances has changed, but I now see that every disappointment was necessary to bring me into deeper communion with the Living God. Every loss was an invitation to turn to Jesus. And when I was finally pushed to fully accept that invitation, He showed Himself far better than I ever could have imagined.
I hope it’s clear that none of this was due to my personal piety or worthiness. When I look at the semester, all I see is unmerited grace. All of this is, in some ways, a slightly embarrassing admittal that it took several moments of disappointing loss before I was pushed to really depend on Jesus alone. I didn’t voluntarily choose to begin cultivating intimacy with Him; He was the one who initiated the process by taking away sources of earthly reliance so that I would have no choice but to cling to Him. And when I did begin to seek Him in new ways, only the Holy Spirit can be credited for ushering in sweet nearness and joy. Really, all I can say is praise God that He would let me experience loss so that I could have more of Him.
In John 6:35, Jesus says “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” This is one of several “I Am” statements in the Gospel of John, which Christ offers to describe His relationship to us. When I was first tentatively exploring what it would look like to treat Jesus as the only true lover of my soul, I often recited this verse to myself as I walked to class. It is a reminder that He is more than sufficient to fill all spiritual hunger, to quench the deepest longings of our hearts.
Perhaps it takes a season of gnawing hunger and dissatisfaction with the fruit of this world before we are pressed to partake only of Him. No matter. Jesus doesn’t show up for us based on how and when we come to Him; He just cares that we come. Seasons of loss can be beautiful invitations to take His promise of sufficiency seriously, and the fullness He offers is free of cost. As Isaiah prophecies,
“Come, everyone who thirsts,
Come to the waters;
And he who has no money, come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
Without money and without price.
Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread,
And your labor for that which does not satisfy?
Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good,
And delight yourselves in rich food.” -Isaiah 55:1-2