By: Frank Wilcox, Parishioner
Last summer Father Talbot gave each of us an assignment to write our faith story. I'm guessing a lot of you have been working on yours as diligently as I've been working on mine (i.e., not at all). I completely forgot the assignment until Father Talbot reminded us at a recent weekend Mass.
When I finally started the assignment, I was surprised to be confronted with some uncomfortable questions:
- Do I even have a faith story?
- If I don't have much of a faith story, what's holding me back?
- Are there different ways to write a faith story?
- Do my sins and character defects preclude me from having a faith story?
- How does my faith story compare to others' faith stories?
My answers to these tough questions provide a good illustration of my spiritual life today and the struggles that get in the way of being able to develop a deeper relationship with Jesus Christ.
Most of the faith stories we hear are those of sincere and dedicated people developing and growing in their faith by being virtuous, charitable and prayerful. I find these people amazing. However, there is another group of people. These people came to faith in Jesus Christ by doing some "not-so-virtuous" things and failing miserably. I find this group of people just as amazing. In case you're wondering, I belong to the second group.
My story of surrender
A major development in my faith story began when I was a manager in the tax department of a Fortune 500 company. I had an amazing wife, two phenomenal kids, a nice home, a minivan, a boat and two beagles. From all indications, I was living the dream. However, behind my persona, I was lonely and isolated, in tremendous pain and spiritually dead. I was self-medicating my pain with Smirnoff and eventually found I couldn't stop. In a moment of utter powerlessness on February 3, 2004, I cried and prayed in the basement bathroom of our home. I had tried unsuccessfully to stop countless times before. I pleaded for God's mercy and help. I had hit bottom and was crying for help. Since that night in February 2004, I have not had a drop of alcohol. I can only attribute my sobriety to a miracle.
The journey since that night hasn't been without detours and bumps in the road, and life continues to be a struggle sometimes. I'm still learning to let go and surrender - often having to remind myself every hour and sometimes every five minutes. This will be a life-long lesson and that's okay. My biggest challenge is a desire to run the show instead of surrendering all of my life to God. But let me be frank, surrendering to God is the greatest liberation you will ever experience. I believe God meets us in our weakness and failures. I don't wear my recovery on my sleeve, but I don't try to hide it either. It is what it is, and I want others who are struggling to know they can talk to me. There is no "spiritual component" of recovery. The whole program is spiritual. I am alive today only by the grace of God. This is my faith story.
Five barriers to consider as you deepen your relationship with Jesus
A week after Father Talbot's reminder about the faith story assignment, Michelle Gelineau gave a presentation at St. Mary's entitled, Knowing Jesus: Nurturing our Most Important Relationship. This was the first of three presentations in the parish's Intentional Discipleship series.
Michelle discussed these five barriers to developing a relationship with Jesus Christ:
- Doubt - How could He love me?
- Past sins/bad decisions - What are you holding onto?
- Painful wounds/betrayals - Do you need to let go?
- Unforgiveness of others - Who do you need to forgive?
- Unforgiveness of yourself - The hardest part?
I found that Michelle's talk meshed nicely with Father Talbot's faith story assignment. Her five barriers pose essentially the same questions I confronted.
Doubt: How could God ever love me or want a relationship with me? There are many variations to the ways we tell ourselves that God could never love us. The parable of the Good Shepard tells us that Jesus will leave the 99 in search of the one lost sheep. He is searching for us and finds us where we are. I try to remember that God knows me and is searching for me when I'm lost.
Past sins/bad decisions: What are you holding onto? I think that believing our sins are too big for God to forgive might be a form of pride. God wants to forgive us and free us from the prison of past sins and regret. I think the actual letting go of our past sins and regrets might be more of a journey than a destination, a journey that Jesus walks with us.
Painful wounds/betrayals: Do you need to let go?
Unforgiveness of others: Who do you need to forgive? These are especially tough ones for me. When someone hurts or betrays me, I want my pound of flesh. Fictional Mafioso's Tony Soprano and Michael Corleone did not let go and forgive. However, since I'm a law abiding citizen, I usually get trapped replaying the event in my head. The result is that I'm the only one getting hurt. The only way to freedom is to forgive the person who hurt me, but my pride won't allow me to do that. God wants us to be free of resentment. In order to give ourselves completely to God, we need to be free.
Unforgiveness of yourself: The hardest part? I think this one sums up the five barriers to developing a relationship with Jesus Christ. These barriers describe the different ways we hold onto mistakes we've made and the ways others have hurt us. We are the ones who suffer the most from our unwillingness to release others and ourselves from past hurts and mistakes. Our "un-freedom" forms the barrier between us and God. I think a good place to start is to remember that we are all flawed and to work to "become willing to become willing" to open ourselves to God's forgiveness and love.
Lent is the time of year set aside by the Church to reflect on our journey to develop a deeper relationship with Jesus Christ. I wish you good travels.