By Franci Williamson

“…because man’s needs are infinite and infinitude can be achieved only in the spiritual, never the material”

– E. F. Schumacher, Small is Beautiful

Growing up in a practising Catholic home, people always assume that my faith has been a constant in my life; that I always desired God. But that was certainly not the case. In fact, now that I look back, it is quite the reverse. God was the last thing that occupied the thoughts of 15 year old me.

I firmly believe, from acute personal experience, that we all have an innate hunger for God; that each one of us is designed to thirst and yearn until we are satisfied in our Creator. But as a young teenager, I did not recognise that this hunger could only be filled with God. I certainly felt the hunger, I felt the restlessness and agitation, the impatience for life to start, but never once did I look in any spiritual direction for its satisfaction. I did however look in every other possible direction.

By 15 I was uninterested in school, I was unchallenged and indifferent – I was bored; and I sought to mollify this boredom – coupled with intense longing – in every way a lost teenager does. There were parties, there were boys, there was alcohol and eventually there were drugs. Every time I tried something new, thinking it would satiate my hunger and excite my boredom, I thought it worked. And it did, for a time. For a time life was grand, I thought I was living the high life and couldn’t want for anything, but then, invariably and inevitably, it wasn’t enough. It was never enough and I was constantly being pushed further and further along a very dangerous road.

I am only able to recognize this development in retrospect; at the time it felt like a natural progression from one activity and time occupier to the next. Indeed, I was not even able to identity what it was that was driving me so mercilessly. But I did know that I wanted more. That was the constant refrain of my early teenagers years – I want more, there must be more, how can I get/enjoy/have more. More, more, more, more. And with this mind-set, I quickly fell prey to all the traps of the world.

Just after my sixteenth birthday, things were getting fairly hectic and I was becoming more and more reckless. I thought I was invincible, I thought I had all the answers and I thought that, finally, I had found happiness, found meaning – that I had filled the gap. Boy, how wrong I was.

The Easter holidays came and my family had organized a two-week holiday to Turkey. It was my first time overseas, I was going with 13 of my cousins and aunts, and, most importantly, no parents. I was excited to go and I was excited to come back. I had made big plans for my return, big plans with my boyfriend and big plans with my friends about the new things we were going to try. It was at this point that God decided to step in. It was here, where there couldn’t have been a more perfect moment, that He chose to literally save me from myself and the worst mistakes I could possibly make. I didn’t even realize how I was hurting, how damaged I was, how desperately I was crying out for help, for Him. I was so wrapped up in my little ego-driven world of narcissism that I didn’t see it coming at all. It was harder than the hardest slap through the face and it was exactly what I needed.

Our trip to Turkey saved me. In more ways than one. Just thinking about that time and God’s Hand in my life gives me goosebumps still. There was no single moment of epiphany. There was no glorious choirs singing in perfect harmony as my eyes were gently opened. There was certainly no comfort and consolation in that trip. I cannot pinpoint a moment, it wasn’t a conversation, or an experience or even a prayer; it just was. It was the whole trip, seeing the history and so many of the roots of our faith, seeing the home of Our Lady, where she spent that last years of her life praying for us, her children; it was seeing the tomb of St John, one of Christ’s closest disciples and the simplicity and stark beauty of it; it was seeing the intricate detail and immense attention out into the mosaics of Our Lord in the Hagia Sofia; it was the random conversations about life’s purpose and meaning with my cousins; it was dancing around a campfire on the Mediterranean; it was hiking through orange orchards; it was playing with stray dogs and sleeping under the stars.; it was sneaking out of our hotel rooms and finding the closest bar, it was smoking hubbly, it was doing a belly-dance, it was eating real Turkish delight. God worked in my heart through every experience, through every moment, and He changed it.

I went to Turkey thinking I had all the answers, I left realising I didn’t even have the questions. Turkey opened and humbled my heart and it made me ready for the next step God had planned for me. Watching Mel Gibson’s, The Passion of The Christ and taking part, for the first time as an interested participant, in the magnificent Easter celebrations changed my life. Here came that slap. I was overcome by the deep and unquestionable knowledge that there was a God, and not only that He was, but that He did and still does sacrifice everything for me. My slap was the undeniable certainty and the tangible realisation of God’s love. And it hit me hard. Coming from a place of incredible self-obsession, where everything was about my needs, my desires, my wants – me, me, me – to comprehend the depth and magnitude, the sheer enormity of God’s love revolutionised my life.

There is only one proper response to love. There is only one way we can respond authentically. Love demands love. I could only answer God’s slap with a whole-hearted giving of myself. I knew, without any doubts, that I was a creature, made by a Creator, made for, made with and made in love, and that shook my world.

When the holiday ended I had some hard decisions to make. In fact I think possibly some of the hardest of my life. I needed to choose, and I chose God.

I broke up with my boyfriend, I explained to my friends that I could not live how I was living and in fact I even had to give them up. I changed my life completely. I went from being a complete wild-child to a Jesus-freak who, at 16, was seriously considering a vocation to the religious life. I was smitten. I couldn’t get or do enough for this Person. He showed me what love is. He showed me what life is and He filled me up completely.

 


About the AuthorFranci Profile

Franci Williamson

Tea, rainstorms and great literature are what make my world go round. When I’m not enjoying one of these I am a high school teacher who is in love with her job and the chance to help form young minds. The really and truly NEVER ending discovery of the joy of living the faith as a daughter of God constantly surprises and sustains me. I hope to always be enthralled by God, make perfect carrot cake, live in Rome and learn to play Dylan on the guitar.

 

 

 

 


 

 

  • Georgiana Keene Avery

    Being there Fran, I can remember that absolute change in you. Though I of course was just a spectator, you were and still are a wonderful example of how God works from the inside out, changing slowly yet drastically all at once. Thank you for your raw and inspiring testimony. I couldn’t have picked a more wonderful sponsor all those years ago!

  • Seb

    Wonderful, Franci! I particularly like this line “I went to Turkey thinking I had all the answers, I left realising I didn’t even have the questions.”

    I hope I might have the same courage one day to take a hard look at myself honestly and see where my own self obsession is stopping me from letting God in.