A gift painted by Caroline Papa in 2018. This image has provided much healing for my heart.
Hello friends! It is a joy to have the opportunity to share this area of my story with you. Though the Lord has impacted me in numerous ways through the Theology of the Body, I felt called to share about a particular season in my life that required much healing. This is an experience that I have only shared with a few people, and to be honest,it’s a bit scary to share this area of my heart with such a wide crowd. This story has never been my own, all of this is for His glory. Welcome to sacred ground.
My identity as a good daughter has always been something that I’ve struggled to understand. Certain circumstances throughout my childhood, including the death of my father, left immense wounds that I am continuing to heal from. I perceived that love was something to be earned or bought, never freely given. As for my relationship with the Lord, I failed to see him as a good father that delighted in me. My perception of love overflowed into my relationship with God, causing me to fear failure. The youth group at the non-denominational church that my mother and I attended placed a strong emphasis on purity and living righteously. Basically, if you didn’t live the way that the pastor thought you should, you weren’t holy enough. In high school, I wore my purity ring and kept my bible in my backpack as a badge of honor, turning my nose up at anyone who disagreed with me. My identity was rooted in being the “good Christian girl,” and this was mainly influenced by a toxic purity culture within the church we attended.
That identity slowly became an act as I got into a harmful relationship. Though I desired to have a chaste relationship, the man that I was dating refused to respect my wishes. I was no longer the girl that everyone perceived me to be. However, I kept up the act and continued to pretend that I had it all together. I was in a period of desolation, and instead of looking to the person that I was dating as an icon through which I could see God more clearly, I saw him as an idol that I could find security in. A few months into this relationship, I encountered Jesus Christ in the Eucharist for the first time and decided to convert to Catholicism. Though I caught a glimpse of authentic love and knew that I deserved better, I continued to settle for a person that did not respect my dignity. Looking back, I settled out of security and the fear that no one else would care for me. I was grasping, just as Eve did. In the garden, Eve failed to trust that The Lord would give her the desires of her heart, and in eating the fruit she bought into the lie that the Lord was not trustworthy. But our Father is the God of redemption, and he will always seek out his beloved.
After months of struggling to end this relationship, I decided to attend a Theology of the Body weekend retreat hosted by Dumb Ox. Though I was adamant about staying with the guy that I was dating, all of the teachings that I was learning screamed the opposite. The Lord began to gently illuminate that I had great dignity. I sat in front of Jesus, and I began to trust that the Lord would lead me to the best of places. He encountered me as he encountered St. Mary Magdalene, the Samaritan woman at the well, and the woman caught in adultery. He saw me as a good daughter in need of healing. This was the first time that I was told that I wasn’t meant to be used. By the grace of God, I ran to the sacrament of confession and made the decision to end the relationship. The healing process that occurred was not an easy one. Due to my upbringing in which purity was emphasized in an unhealthy way, I still experienced shame and hiding. I was still tempted to get back into the relationship because it seemed to provide security. I was still struggling to understand how the person of Jesus Christ could love me despite all of my wounds. This is still a great mystery that my heart continues to unravel.
Looking back on this particular experience, it is clear that all of these things stemmed from not knowing my identity. Rather than knowing who I was to The Father, I was trying to earn His love by being good. Throughout my youth, when the issue of chastity was mentioned, no one ever mentioned redemption. No one ever mentioned that God was a good father that would pick up His children when they fell. No one ever mentioned the encounter of Jesus with the woman caught in adultery or the woman at the well. When we encounter the person of Jesus Christ, we can’t help but leave our water jugs and proclaim all that He has done for us. As I have gotten closer to Him, he has gently revealed all of the places where I was failing to trust him. I’ve continued to grasp in numerous ways, and He continues to redirect my eyes towards him.
During our formation week, the Lord invited me to be completely honest with myself about the desires of my heart. He asked me to surrender certain areas of my life, and I actually trusted Him enough to be obedient. This is something that I have always struggled with, but when you know who your Father is, you take the leap without knowing the next steps. He will only lead us to the best of places.
“For the Lord will comfort Zion; he will comfort all her waste places, and will make her wilderness like Eden, her desert like the garden of the Lord; joy and gladness will be found in her, thanksgiving and the voice of song.” // Isaiah 51:3.
We are beyond blessed with an amazing community of teens, young adults, priests, consecrated men and women, and families who are striving to live out Christ's invitation to authentic love and who have gifts to share their journeys through writing.