Even though I went to a Church of England Primary School in rural England, my family was never particularly religious. My nan, on my mother’s side, embraced Catholicism when she lost her mum, but I never paid much attention to it. Gods, angels, a book that told you how to behave.
I was too clever for all of that.
Yet throughout my teenage years, I was profoundly unhappy and, though I didn’t realise it at the time, it was due to a combination of loneliness and a lack of direction in life. Ruling God out entirely, I became convinced that the answer to this question lay in education and study. I became fixated on going to university with the intention of one day studying for a PhD.
Despite feeling a sense of direction when starting university, the feeling of solitude only increased. University can be an isolating time for the best of us, but being surrounded by people only made feeling alone more intense. My mental health deteriorated, and I experienced what I later realised was an existential crisis.
What was the purpose of my life? What was my purpose?
At the end of my first semester, with the Christmas break round the corner, I began revisiting my faith – or more accurately, the lack of it. Buffeted now by the questions that life forces upon you, foremost amongst them was “what do I really, genuinely, know?”
In the midst of all of this, on Christmas Day, when dropping my nan off to morning mass, she asked me if I wanted to come inside. Every year, she would say the same thing – “Would you like to come in? You might like it!” and every year I would decline. Except this time, I paused, and said it might be nice – and walked in with her.
I am so glad I did. That little act of curiosity opened my mind and my heart to God, and slowly I accepted Him into my life. Not all at once, but cautiously; I read scripture, I watched videos, I listened to lectures, and I slowly realised that the strength and love of God was so immense, so much greater than I anticipated, that I began to not feel as lonely as I always had, for the first time I could remember.
Moreover, I now felt that I had a purpose. There was now a reason to study harder, to look after myself, and to be a better person. It was all for the glory of God.
University was not easy, but through my faith, and with God as a constant source of support, love, and forgiveness, I was able to remind myself that I could overcome the challenges that life presented me with.