Saturday, November 28, 2015

Jesus, my ex-boyfriend

Sometimes I read stories by former Christians in which they say they never had the sort of relationship with God that they thought they were supposed to.  De-converting just gave them permission to stop trying to hard to make a relationship happen -- they lost nothing.

But I think a big part of why I've put so much effort into this whole thing is that I did once have a relationship with God that was everything I could have wanted.  And it's the loss of that feeling of relationship that makes my current state so hard.

It started when I was twelve and had my "conversion" to taking my faith seriously.  I spent time in prayer daily.  Reading and reflecting on the Gospels, particularly at Regnum Christi events and activities, made me feel like I was getting to know Jesus more and more.  I had been so lonely before, and here I was learning that someone was always with me, someone who loved me unconditionally.  It didn't seem too much to change my whole life around for this.

Before long I'd received what I thought was my "call" to the consecrated life, and I responded . . . exactly how you'd expect a twelve or thirteen-year-old girl to respond: with enthusiasm and a lot of sentimental daydreams.  I wrote poems about being married to Jesus.  I drew pictures of myself in "consecrated clothes."  I even stopped wearing pants most of the time and stuck to skirts.  And I gave the brushoff to a very nice guy who was hanging around me, because I already had a boyfriend -- a better boyfriend.  And I no longer even desired any kind of sin, because why would I cut myself off from my best friend?

At boarding school, the whole Jesus-is-my-boyfriend thing was emphasized and encouraged.  We were discerning the consecrated life, i.e. marriage to Jesus, so naturally we were dating Jesus.  I took that very seriously, even when I wasn't as serious about the school rules.  Jesus loved me and wanted my whole heart for himself, so I refused to even think about other guys.  For the most part I did not need direct communication -- I mean, he created the whole earth, so flowers, trees, my favorite hymn in church, everything was a love note from him.  But on silent retreats sometimes I felt extra close to him.  (Pro tip: if you want the serious highs from "the opiate of the masses," go on silent retreat!  Bliss is not guaranteed, but you might get some.)

When I was told to leave, it was the direct contradiction of every communication I'd ever thought I'd received from Jesus.  It was impossible for me to believe that God had not really called me.  But it was also impossible to believe that he could call me and then not make it possible for me to answer.  I read Story of a Soul and was encouraged by St. Therese's persistence -- but all my persistence went for nothing, because they wouldn't take me back.  Finally my spiritual director told me that she was sure God's will for me was marriage, and that was it.  Jesus had dumped me.

I mean, sure, he let me down easy.  He said we could still be friends.  But who has ever been comforted by a let-down like that?  I wanted more, but apparently I wasn't good enough for him.  Prayer was never a comfort to me again, after that.  It was just a reminder of all the things wrong with me, the things I should be doing.  And guilt, for not being happy about the situation.  After all, Jesus still loved me.  He had still died for me.  But .... there was always that fact between us, that either I wasn't capable of understanding him, or he played me for a fool by leading me on with dreams he had never intended to satisfy.

See, Jesus had been a kind of terrible boyfriend, even from the beginning.  All the control in the relationship was always his, and he seemed to get off on keeping me guessing.  While I shared all my secrets with him, he remained uncommunicative.  Sometimes it felt like he wasn't even paying attention.  And the reality was, he had all these other girlfriends, and some of them were good enough for him to marry, but not me. 

So I eventually dropped talking to Jesus at all -- not knowing how to relate to him post-breakup -- and focused on God the Father.  But it didn't really help; God doesn't exactly act like the average decent dad either.  Now that I've been both a spouse and a parent, I can't see that God fits into those roles very well.  The relationship a person has with God is not truly comparable to any earthly relationship, because there is no healthy earthly relationship where one person has all the power and insists on keeping it that way permanently.  God is entirely different, and therefore it's difficult to know how to relate to him at all.

But now, I feel all the pain of that original breakup all over, because throughout it all, I had assumed that God did love me, I just didn't understand it and didn't feel it.  But if he wasn't there at all, through any part of it -- if all my fervent teenage love was poured out on nobody?

I guess it's how a catfishing victim feels -- they fall in love, in real love, and later find out that not only was their love not returned, but the object of their love never existed.  I was about to say "I can't imagine the humiliation," except I kind of can.

Up till this year, even when prayer was a struggle or downright painful and even when I spent all of my time feeling guilty for not wanting to talk to God more, I felt comfort in the idea that at least he was out there.  That if I needed to talk to somebody, I'd never be completely alone.  That whether or not I felt it, I knew for certain fact that someone did love me, did care, did notice.

It's not a certain fact anymore -- in fact, I'm uncertain enough that any attempts at prayer seem to hit the ceiling and fall back down, like Hamlet's uncle's.  (Make of that what you will, Enbrethiliel.)  It's the loneliest feeling in the world, and I don't know how to get used to it.  I'm in mourning, mourning for the truth I thought I knew, the relationship I thought I had, the love I used to be so confident in.  It's like losing a friend.

And maybe God's still out there.  Maybe he cares.  But I'm at a loss as to how his actions, or lack of actions, can possibly be consistent with caring about me.  And since I can't actually suspend judgment about whether he's there or not, I mostly imagine he's not.  There are times when I try to make the world settle back into the comforting harmony of God-breathed creation, but it just won't come into focus because I have too many reasons not to believe in it.

But the embarrassing thing is, even after all he's done to me, I'd still take Jesus back in a heartbeat if he showed up on my doorstep.  He's one of those guys you just don't get over.

11 comments:

Enbrethiliel said...

+JMJ+

For the record, I hate the Jesus as boyfriend thing. We have so much tried-and-tested imagery for Jesus: King, Bridegroom, Suffering Servant . . . I almost added, "pelican"! =P "Boyfriend" doesn't add to what might have been missing, but it does detract.

Secondly, I actually have a suggestion that I think would help you . . . IF you do it. (But seriously, WHAT have you got to lose at this point?) The priest who explained it in a homily called it a "spiritual contract," though I don't know if that is just his term or an actual Thing. It's really simple. First of all, you tell God that you want to do something that you know you should do, but you can't. You've done everything in your power and found that you simply can't. (The example in the homily was someone who had been abused by his parents since infancy and who could not bring himself to forgive them.) Then you say that since you can't do it alone, you need Mary, all the saints, and all the angels to pray for you to receive the grace that will let you do it. But since they shouldn't be praying for you while you do nothing, you will also do something. You will, for instance, rub your chin. And then every time you rub your chin, all the saints and angels will be lifting your intentions to God. So pick the gesture you make most frequently, sometimes when you're not even thinking. (Mine is playing with my hair.)

Anonymous said...

Dear Sheila, I have been reading your blog for years. This is your best piece yet. Keep writing. You have a bold, clear voice and very compelling, interesting stories. I really admire your courage to be so self-disclosive, particularly in the C'dom/FR community. Sincerely, a fan and fellow truth seeker.

love the girls said...

Anonymous writes : "I really admire your courage to be so self-disclosive, particularly in the C'dom/FR community."

This comes across as rather unexpected and disturbing. Is instability or loss of the Faith that common among Christendom grads, especially those choosing to live in Front Royal? I wouldn't have thought so.

Anonymous said...

"Is instability or loss of the Faith that common among Christendom grads, especially those choosing to live in Front Royal?"

No.

Anonymous said...

Different Anonymous here...

I don't know how common leaving Catholicism is among Christendom grads, but, at least from personal experience, I believe its more common than we think, with at least a few people leaving quietly and not drawing attention to themselves, due to social pressures.

But that's just my opinion.

Sheila said...

No, I know very few. One in my class besides me, one in the class before me, one in the class after. So that's about one in a hundred. But surely there are many I don't know -- it's not like you'd tell your Christendom friends about a thing like this. And the number is definitely higher if you want to include people who have doubts, disagree with some bit of doctrine, or are disobedient to a disciplinary issue (marrying a divorced person, marrying outside the Church, using birth control). Still, the numbers of downright fanatically Catholic people are much higher among my Christendom friends than people I know from elsewhere.

I think what Anon meant was that it takes some nerve to out yourself as a doubter in the rather confined atmosphere of this town's Catholic community. And I would totally agree with that. It helps that this blog isn't very popular, and the sort of people who do take the time to read it are mostly pretty positive about it. But surely there are people who've stumbled on this blog and quietly disengaged from me without saying anything about it. I know people in the Catholic community who won't let their kids play with the neighbors because somehow these Protestant toddlers are going to be a bad influence! So surely I would get the same treatment, if they knew. I'm trying to get more involved with different groups, like a secular homeschooling group, but of course the Catholics are in those too so it's not like I'm talking about any of these issues there.

The really gutsy move would be to say something on Facebook. But I don't because it would hurt my family members to no purpose. They know there's a lot of iffy stuff on my blog and not to read it unless they're comfortable with it, and for the most part their choice has been not to.

love the girls said...

I'm glad to know the numbers are low, I received the impression there were a number of quietly suffering Christendom grads in Front Royal cheering you on.

As for the ostracizing, I'm not surprised by it because of my own wanting to strangle more than a few traditionalists and homescoolers myself because of their ostracizing my own children because I didn't measure up to their absurd american jansenist standards.


Sheila said...

No kidding - I've seen it happen too, and for stupid things like letting your daughters wear pants. I accidentally made a friend at Christendom who counted me worthy because I wore only skirts .... Except she just hadn't seen me in them YET.

Enbrethiliel said...

+JMJ+

The descriptions of the Trads strongly remind me of TLP's explanation of narcissism. One of the things he said is that it is narcissistic behaviour to choose friends because they are the sort of people you imagine the sort of person you are would have for friends. For the catch is that "the sort of person you are" isn't really who you are; it's the ideal you're desperately trying to pass off as real. So basically, you just want those friends for the "cred" they give--and not just "cred" in the world's eyes, but "cred" in your own.

And yet I guess I'm a Trad now, too. After nearly a year of Latin Mass attendance (though not to the exclusion of the Ordinary Form), I finally feel like I'm part of the group. And I'm really glad about that: they're the only friends I've ever had with whom I could share an "order of life." (I have other Catholic friends, of course, but since Mass and devotions are things they do with their families, we don't share that.) There are times when I feel like saying, "Hey, guys, lighten up!" Sometimes it seems that they see the devil in everything that isn't explicitly approved by the Church. Which is, ironically, not a traditionally Catholic view.

I don't think they'll dump me if they learn that I have J.K. Rowling's and Rick Riordan's books in my collection (though, haha, I'm not going to volunteer the information, either!). We're such a small group as it is and it's not as if I'm trying to change other people's minds about Middle Grade lit. If they do find out, I won't be expelled as a potential "contaminant," but I will suddenly be the "weak" member who has to be supported by the stronger ones. LOL!

What I'm trying to say is that social groups and communities can't really be engineered. There seems to be a "bare minimum" (just my term!) that it takes to properly belong to a group, apart from which anything goes. So for instance, if someone genuinely loves Jesus and Mary, is attracted to traditional Catholic things, and regularly shows up events organised by a TLM group, then that someone, simply by being himself, already belongs to the group. Weird hobbies are beside the point. Trying to make them part of the point is unnatural. And if it goes far enough, scapegoaty.

Sheila said...

Ah, but groups do that, you know. You join up because you have one simple thing in common with the others, and pretty soon you start sharing weird hobbies. Healthy groups won't shun you for not doing those things -- for instance, when your average attachment-parenting group finds out one of its members doesn't breastfeed, they are usually really non-judgmental about it. But at the same time, after hanging out with that group for a couple of years, that mom is almost certain to breastfeed her next kid.

Unhealthy groups take it a step further, coming up with a spoken or unspoken list of things people have to agree to, and the list just gets longer and longer. Some trad groups are like that, but it sounds like yours isn't.

Enbrethiliel said...

+JMJ+

Of course I know that! And I'm already getting weirder in their sort of way and hope they're getting weirder in mine. =P But it's not exactly what I mean. What I'm getting at is that there are things which groups (or individuals) turn into non-negotiables that aren't really non-negotiables. "Excommunication" should be a rare last resort, and always done out of love--so that the one who has been cut off knows that it's truly serious.

By the way, my Trad friends they were the group I had brunch with the other day. And one of the stories I got to hear after the seating arrangement was changed was from someone I only met that morning. She has a really nice smartphone case with Our Lady of Guadalupe on it, and when she went to a high school reunion, one of her old classmates saw it and said she wanted one just like it. Of course, my new friend was pleased, but she was also concerned that someone seemingly devoted to Mary had told dirty jokes all evening. She didn't want to lecture anyone, but as she put it (and I paraphrase): "I never want to think that someone ended up in hell because of one of my sins of omission. So I always say my piece. If they listen, thank God! If they don't, at least I won't toss and turn over it." (At the end of that particular incident, she was happy she had said something because the classmate said she hadn't known that and was glad she had been told at last.)

And that's my long-winded way of explaining why I think that if my new friends learn about my personal library, they'll just remind me about the three recent cases in which children had to be exorcised because demons were able to use Harry Potter as a door (another cheery topic that came up at brunch!) and leave it at that. But by "leave it at that," I mean that they'd double their prayers for me and probably not let me talk to their children unsupervised. LOL!!!

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