Throughout the ages, people have come to God in diverse ways. Sometimes the encounter is sudden and unexpected, sometimes it is prepared by circuitous paths of searching, doubts and disillusion. Occasionally God ‘closes in’ on us, catching us unawares, while at other times we discover God and turn to Him on our own. This conversion may occur sooner or later, in childhood or in youth, in adulthood or in old age. There are no two people who have come to God by identical paths. There is no way that has been followed by more than one seeker. I am a unique traveler; I must take my own road, to discover a personal God, to Whom I can say, ‘O God, Thou art my God!’ (Ps 63:6) God is one and the same for all people, but He must be discovered by me and become mine.
Conversion is always both a miracle and a gift, whether it is sudden and unexpected or gradual. Often a person searches for a long time before coming to God; yet it is not the individual who discovers God but rather God who captures the individual. Nevertheless, there may well be a connection between the endeavors and zeal of the seeker and the object of the search: encounter with God. St. Augustine, for example, passed through many trials in the search for truth. He read many philosophical and theological books before coming to understand, in his thirty-third year, that he could not live without God. In modern times people often begin their search for an abstract ‘truth’ through books before coming to a revelation of the Personal God.
Some have come to Christianity in a roundabout way, through other religions and cults, others after experiencing a catastrophe, such as the loss of a loved one, an illness, or a sudden collapse of lifelong expectations. In misfortune we feel our poverty very keenly, through the realization that we have has lost everything and have nothing else or nobody other than God. It is only then that we find ourselves crying to God de profundis, out of the depths (Ps 130:1), from the abyss of profound grief and despair.
Conversion may also happen as a result of meeting a true believer, a priest or a lay person.
There is, finally, what appears to be the most natural way of reaching God: to be a child born into a religious family and raised as a believer. But here, too, faith received through our families must be thought through and suffered by each individual: it has to become a part of his own experience. There are many people from religious families who break with the faith of their ancestors: the miraculous encounter with God does not occur. How this happens, we do not always know. What we do know is that nobody is born a believer. Faith is a gift, though often it is given though the efforts of the person who has sought it.