I’ve Got a Lot of Past, and Not All of It’s Good

I’ve Got a Lot of Past, and Not All of It’s Good May 1, 2014


Like everybody my age, I’ve got a lot of past.

Not all of my past is good.

In fact, a portion of it is seriously miserable.

I try to forget.

And forgive myself for the things I’ve done.

I try to forget.

And forgive others for the things that have been done to me.

But there are days when that load of past can get heavy. Especially in church. My miserable past includes a couple of bad times with church. I’ve experienced the rejection of unforgiveness. Even though I forgive as best I can, the memory still comes back from time to time, like an ache in an old break in a bone when the weather changes.

The two greatest challenges this poses are a loss of trust and a deep feeling of unworthiness. The bad opinions of others can imprint on a person and leave their ugly image. Trust, once it’s cut away, doesn’t re-grow. It callouses over, but the nerves are dead.

I have periods of time in my life when the hardest thing I have to do is go to mass. Not because of any latent anger, but because of the deep sense of unworthiness. I have no right to be there in the presence of the Presence, and I know it.

I had an exceptionally rough bout with this recently. I actually left the church during mass, left my husband there, holding the hymnal and looking at me with uncomprehending eyes as I left, driven away by the unworthiness that is branded into me.

I used those moments away to gather myself to myself and then I went back in. But it wasn’t easy. I got through that mass by looking at the tabernacle and talking to Him.

Because it’s true, you know. I have no right to be there, in the presence of the Presence. I am unworthy, as John the Baptist said, to untie His sandal. Yet the reason, the only reason, that I am there is that He invited me.

In the final analysis, the Presence does not belong to any priest, or even to the Church itself. They are its guardians, and the conduit by which God graciously consents to dwell among us in the Eucharist. But the Presence is God Himself, and as such, that Presence belongs to no human being. It is It’s Own Self.

I came to the Catholic Church and asked to come into full communion because Christ in the Eucharist called me to Himself. It was a call that was so clear, persistent and patient, that, in the end, it worked its way past all the obstacles to what was at the time a rather bold step of faith.

Jesus called me to Himself in the Eucharist. That is why I am Catholic.

And on that day when my own unworthiness flared into a blistering flame inside me, when I wanted to run away, to paraphrase St Peter, because I am a sinful woman, He was there, not to call, but to strengthen me past my focus on me and bring me into a fresh focus on Him.

I kept looking at the tabernacle, at Jesus, present in our midst. I don’t know if it was a prayer, or a conversation, or a vow of a sort. I only know I spoke directly to Him and He heard me.

“You are my Lord,” I told Him. “You are the reason I am here. You are the One I trust. You and only You.”

There was more. But that’s the gist of it. Shattered trust is like an amputation. It can’t grow back. We can never undo the things we’ve done or forget the lessons of the things that are done to us. Forgive, yes. But forgetfulness would be to unlearn the life lessons and forego the spiritual depth these things give us.

If you live long enough and do enough hard things, you will lose your trust in people, in fate, in your own good luck. The illusions of personal invincibility die a hard death, but Christ can and will raise up a new trust and a new invincibility from the ashes on that pyre of self-sufficiency.

“You are my Lord,” I told Him, and it was as much vow as prayer; an open acknowledgement of the truth of things, bound up in a promise. “You — and You only — are my Lord.”

“You are the reason I am here.” I said, not because I enjoy the liturgy or find affirmation in the friendships, but “You — and You only — are the reason I am here.”

“You are the One I trust,” because You have proven Yourself trustworthy time and time again, because You loved me first and because You forgave me and walk with me and endure me and keep forgiving me over and over again.

“You and only You,” because people, even the most lovable and precious of people, will let you down. Because, I, you and everyone, will let ourselves down. We will betray one another and we will also betray ourselves. Only Christ will never fail us.

I was not the only wounded person in the church that day. I am never am. We are all wounded, in one way or another. We shatter our self-righteousness by the things we do, and we face the terrible isolation and aloneness of the things that are done to us.

The many cruelties people practice against one another — our gossip and slanders, violence, lies, betrayals and deliberate degradations — are all at base an isolation of the other person, a way of putting them outside while we remain inside.

We draw lines around ourselves and our group, whoever that group may be, and then we push everyone outside that line into a sub-class of one sort or another. This hurts and maims all of us.

So many times on this blog I see angry, harsh comments, coming from people who at base are just trying to express their sense of isolation and rejection. The truth is, no one of us, not a single person of us, has the right to stand before God.

But He is our Lord. And He has invited all of us — ALL of us — to His table. No one of us has a right to be there. But, by the miracle of His love, no one of us is too wounded, too sin-sick, too disreputable, too female, too gay, too poor, too fat, too ugly, stupid or lost to be refused a place at that table. We are all welcome.

He is always with us, even when others fail us or turn us away. He is always ready to accept us and forgive us. We don’t have to stop sinning and get perfect to come to Him. He accepts us just, as the old hymn says, as we are.

We may have to jump through more hoops that we can manage to find surcease and acceptance from other people. But all we ever have to be or will ever have to do with Him is put our hand in His and say “Yes.”

“You are my Lord,” I told him. It is as simple as that.

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9 responses to “I’ve Got a Lot of Past, and Not All of It’s Good”

  1. Thank you for writing this. It speaks perfectly to why I am Catholic as well.

  2. Rebecca,

    I read your moving post several days ago and am just now getting to respond. Thank you for sharing your beautiful, loving, and intimate conversation with the Lord.

    I know that the remainder of this is not a normal com box comment, however, I wanted to share it with you as I thought you might find it helpful. Post or not as you deem appropriate.

    I may have mentioned in an earlier comment that I am a devoted follower of the late spiritual writer Fr. Henri Nouwen. Fr. Nouwen was asked by a close secular and non-religious friend to “…speak to us about something or someone greater than ourselves. Speak to us about…God.” The result was one of Nouwen’s most popular works– “Life of the Beloved, Spiritual Living in a Secular World”–and one I highly recommend. Your comments brought Nouwen’s book immediately to mind and I thought I would share some excerpts with you from the first chapter, Being the Beloved. Fr. Nouwen writes:

    “Ever since you asked me to write for you and your friends about the spiritual life, I have been wondering if there might be one word I would most want you to remember when you finished reading all I wish to say. Over the past year, that special word has gradually emerged from the depths of my own heart. It is the word “Beloved,” and I am convinced that it has been given to me for you and your friends. Being a Christian, I first learned this word from the story of the baptism of Jesus of Nazareth. “No sooner had Jesus come up out of the water than he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit, like a dove, descending on him. And a voice came from heaven: ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; my favor rests on you'” (Matt. 3: 16-17, Mark 1:10-11; Luke :21-22). For many years I had read these words and even reflected upon them in sermons and lectures but it is only since our talks in New York that they have taken on a meaning far beyond the boundaries of my own tradition. Our many conversations led me to the inner conviction that the words “You are my Beloved” revealed the most intimate truth about all human beings, whether they belong to any particular tradition or not.

    Fred, all I want to say to you is “You are the Beloved,” and all I hope is that you can hear these words as spoken to you with all the tenderness and force that love can hold. My only desire is to make these words reverberate in every corner of your being — “You are the Beloved.”

    The greatest gift my friendship can give to you is the gift of your Belovedness. I can give that gift only insofar as I have claimed it for myself. Isn’t that what friendship is all about: giving to each other the gift of our Belovedness?

    Yes, there is that voice, the voice that speaks from above and from within that whispers softly or declares loudly: “You are my Beloved, on you my favor rests.” It is certainly not easy to hear that voice in a world filled with voices that shout” “You are no good, you are ugly; you are worthless; you are despicable, you are nobody–unless you can demonstrate the opposite.”

    These negative voices are so loud and so persistent that it is easy to believe them. That’s the great trap. It is the trap of self-rejection. Over the years I have come to realize that the greatest trap in our life is not success, popularity, or power, but self-rejection. Success, popularity, and power can, indeed, present a great temptation, but their seductive quality often comes from the way they are part of a much larger temptation to self-rejection. When we have come to believe the voices that callus worthless and unlovable, then success, popularity, and power are easily perceived as attractive solutions…

    Self-rejection is the greatest enemy of the spiritual life because it contradicts the sacred voice that calls us the “Beloved.” Being the Beloved expresses the core truth of our existence.

    I am putting this so directly and so simply because, though the experience of being the Beloved has never been completely absent from my life, I never claimed it as my core truth. I kept running around it in large or small circles, always looking for someone or something able to convince me of my Belovedness…

    (a few paragraphs later)… So if you are interested in starting on the journey of the Beloved, I have a lot more to say to you, because the journey of the spiritual life calls not only for determination, but also for a certain knowledge about the terrain to be crossed.”

    Nouwen then goes on to describe his approach to Becoming the Beloved using the words from Eucharist: Taken, Blessed, Broken, Given. He concludes with a comment on “Living as the Beloved” and an Epilogue regarding his friendship with Freed.

    Peace and all good.


  3. You probably are a better person than most and certainly than those likely to judge you harshly. It’s a sign of goodness that you feel bad about some of the things you’ve done, Most people don’t spend much time at that.

  4. Ray, I saw this beautiful comment a couple of days ago, when you first made it. I delayed putting it up because I wanted to think through my answer.

    I’ve read that Fr Nouwen was a homosexual who lived his vows with fidelity. I don’t know is this is true, but I’ve always thought that his words come from a personal understanding of self rejection that self alienation because of his homosexuality. God gives us crosses and we can either allow them to push away from Him, or we can turn to Him with them. If we do the latter, those broken places become our strongest witness and most profound point of union with Him in His passion.

    Thank you for this wonderful comment Ray. I treasure it.

  5. Thanks for your feedback. Your observation about Fr. Nouwen is correct. In the book “Genius Born of Anguish: The Life and Legacy of Henri Nouwen”, the authors Michael Higgins and Kevin Burns quote a close friend of Nouwen who said,

    “From the very outset, Henri was clear that everything had to be subsumed under his vocation to proclaim the Gospel, to use his particular gifts to help people connect in a healing way with their suffering and the suffering of the world. He was insistent that his own struggles at the affective level needed to be put in the context of his evangelical mission…

    Now there were people in the gay community who felt that the most important contribution he could make would be to become more prominent as a gay priest, given his prominence, credibility, and influence. He was tempted to do this, because he felt that the more public he was about his own sexual orientation and his personal struggles to remain faithful to his priestly vows, the greater the possibility for personal healing. But he was also very much aware that in doing so, he risked politicizing his ministry and compromising his commitment to a universal and not selective audience. He lived with this enormous tension and did achieve something of a resolution following his breakdown.”

    Nouwen experienced a severe emotional breakdown after his arrival at L’Arche Daybreak in Toronto where he lived the last 10 years of his life. It was while recovering from this breakdown that Henri did much of the reflection that led to his most popular book, “The Return of the Prodigal Son: A Story of Homecoming” – a book that I wholeheartedly recommend. I first found it for sale outside of Mass at the cathedral in Singapore at a time that I really needed to find and read this book. The Holy Spirit works in wonderful ways.