“I really thought I found ultimate freedom when I went to college,” said Jarred Long. “I did whatever I thought would make me feel good. I had inappropriate relationships with girls and started drinking and doing drugs. It was a very selfish time in my life.
“Before then, my rebellion as a young kid only consisted of an occasional cigarette and staying out past curfew. My parents’ divorce gave me a little more freedom than I was used to, but it was nothing compared to the freedom I thought I had in college. Still, because of my Catholic background and upbringing, I thought I was doing OK. I knew who God was and what He did, but I didn’t live like I believed it in my heart.
“When this season in college resulted in unhappiness, I thought moving would make everything better. But I just started doing the exact same things in a different place. Through all this destructive behavior, I still would’ve told anyone who asked that I had a faith.
“Eventually, I met, began dating, and then married a girl named Kathryn who also was raised in a Catholic family with a very similar background. Together, we followed the motions and traditions of how we were raised. We didn’t know how important it is to have a relationship with Jesus, and that took its toll on our relationship with each other.
“I like learning about history and new things, so when a friend gave me a copy of Spurgeon's Morning and Evening devotionals, I dove in. This sparked something in me and challenged my faith. I realized Spurgeon was writing these devotionals to God in his late twenties; meanwhile, in my twenties, my life looked very different. I wanted to know the God that he was talking about.
“There was an air of arrogance in me thinking I’d done enough and that I was good enough because I’d met the minimum requirements at my church. But as I read Spurgeon’s experience with the Holy Spirit, I realized I was missing something. There wasn’t an immediate change in my life, but that ignited a curiosity in me about a relationship with Jesus.
“Although I did not have a positive opinion of big churches, we ended up going to Watermark one Sunday after a recommendation from a friend. This felt like a huge departure from our long history and family background with the Catholic church. But now I remember that day as the beginning of a timeline when the Lord grabbed my heart.
“The speaker spoke of acceptance-based performance as opposed to performance-based acceptance. I felt like I had to do good things to earn my salvation, but I realized that was all wrong. It is freely given to us by the Lord. I should simply want to do God-honoring things because salvation has already been given to me (Ephesians 2:8-10). That little shift in my thinking showed me what I’d been missing for so long.
“Since then, the fire has been lit. Together, Kathryn and I surrendered our lives to Christ and immediately ran after everything we could in the local church to learn more. We said ‘Yes’ to so many serving opportunities and equipping classes. We were surrounded by people who also desired to model their life after Christ. We learned how to confess to God and each other and then encourage one another toward repentance.
“Kathryn and I spent our early days with Christ trying to fill ourselves with truth, and now we can pour out what we know to others. Through an abundance of devotion, there has been an abundance of truth that overflows to our children.
“When we first became parents, we did what we knew and learned from our families. But now we have a new truth to inform us on how we parent our kids. Hopefully, this change in our faith will have generational positive effects on our family. We are realizing we need to slow down and direct energy and time into our children, so they might have a strong faith as they grow (Proverbs 22:6).
“To parents who are just now taking steps in a relationship with Jesus, I say, have patience with everything. It’s all new, and it’s okay not to get everything right away. It’s OK to ask questions and explore the faith. Find a safe place to ask questions – whether that’s a friend, your own research, or a ministry like Great Questions.
“I’m still only four years into this walk with the Lord – a walk that some people have been doing their entire life. I talk to people who know their Bible back and forth in multiple translations, and I know I’m not there. But the fire is still in my heart. I cannot imagine not having the Bible as the basis of everything in my life. I almost feel foolish because God gave me this book and I sought so many other things for so long.
“God has done miraculous things in both my life and Kathryn’s life separately, but I rejoice that He pursued us at the same time. The ability of God is unfathomable to us, but everything we experience is a glimpse of who He really is. My story is just a small example of God doing what God does.”