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Head over Heart: A Quarantine Story

This year so far has been a pilgrimage like no other. I think the COVID-19 pandemic knocked a lot of people out of commission in many different ways. My quarantine story as a Catholic throughout this time was beyond rough. I experienced a crisis of my interior life.

When the lockdown order hit our city, I still carried a rather positive outlook. The introvert inside me thrived for a time of removed distractions and reduced physical movement. Seeking to strengthen my interior life, I prepared to read more and pray more. I was virtually connected to a young adults ministry and we had a daily Divine Mercy Chaplet call to keep us in touch and steadfast in our spiritual lives. I was geared and ready.

It was difficult to ignore the fact that the Lenten season looked and felt different from past ones. Easter was not the same. I did not attend Stations of the Cross or the masses, and did not see friends and extended family. There was a sorrow in the atmosphere that ran concurrent with the passion of Christ, but I dismissed it.

During this time, the Catholic community seemed louder and stronger than ever. My fellow brothers and sisters were serving in the parish with technology, praying novenas, offering up fasts and so on and so forth. They appeared to be on fire with the Spirit, not letting physical barriers and social distancing keep them from completing the “Good Catholic” checklist. I did my best to attend all online masses, virtual conferences, prayer calls, and ministry duties, but the energy to keep my engine running slowly dwindled. Social media played a huge part in allowing everyone to keep tabs on each other’s “progress”. It became mentally demanding.

I wanted to feel good about myself as a Catholic, and like others, I wasn’t going to let the quarantine stop me from serving God. As I was checking off my list of “Good Catholic” duties, I started to feel a deep restlessness and sorrow within myself whenever I was completely alone. When the screens were off and the doors were closed, I couldn’t bring myself to an honest prayer, no matter how hard I tried.

I turned to distractions to numb myself from feeling guilty about being a mediocre Catholic. Everything I did was to avoid being alone with my thoughts, feelings, and most importantly, with Him.

I made every effort to lead using my head in faith, and not my heart.

By guarding my heart from the very real feelings of loneliness, uncertainty, hopelessness, and guilt, I guarded myself in my relationship with Jesus. What resulted was a severe lack of love for myself. The urge to hide myself away was strong.

Was I just completing the “Good Catholic” checklist to feel better about myself? What was I trying to prove? These kinds of questions fuelled what I like to call my mid-quarantine spiral.

Eventually two jarring realizations about authenticity in my faith resurrected.


I needed to be:

  • True to myself, and
  • True to God

Because the sacraments, conferences, volunteer services, etc. were so readily available to us before quarantine, it was easy to fall numb to the repetition and routines of participating in them. I was told by a wise person that we often use them as “band-aid” treatments for our wounds.

All of the above are tools that help us encounter Jesus, but we need to go beyond them to find ourselves so we can be ourselves with Him. In the midst of doing all the right things to pursue the greatest Love, we forget what it feels like to be loved. We forget what and who we are made for. We take the tools for granted and sometimes hide behind them when we are most in need of mercy.

It took missing those sacramental elements of my faith to realize that I needed to lead with my heart to find myself and Jesus again. I’m ready to accept that in some strange way, His plans for my quarantine were greater than my own.

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“Finding Yourself” – Ven. Fulton Sheen’s Guide to Authentic Self-Love 

“Finding Yourself”

The Frivolous Road Trip

There is something so incredibly compelling about the road trip.  Not a road trip based in utility, I’ve done my fair share of those moving with the Navy.  No, I’m talking about the frivolous road trip, where you load up the car with snacks and playlists, and hit the road.

One of my dear friends from high school took one of these road trips across the west coast.   And, in full disclosure, there was much scoffing about the foolish nature of the trip.  But, behind the scoffing, I must admit, was a fair amount of jealousy.

I think for how pragmatic our society might be, or at least, how pragmatic I was in face of this friend, we still hold a romanticism towards that road trip.  The road trip you take to explore and to discover.  To encounter new places.  To have the freedom to turn left or right, to pull off the highway to watch the sunset.  To have an openness and freedom in an unfamiliar environment.  And, in doing so, you learn something new about yourself, you “find yourself.”

And, to be honest, I think that this element more than anything enamors us to the road trip.  We search for…for someone.  Someone that we might call “my own self.”  We quest and we search for who we are, who we could be.  Road trips take us out of our own patterns, or own structure in life, and invite us to examine who we are at the core.

“You’re Right There”

Perhaps my skepticism for the road trip comes from my mother.  My mother is an incredible woman who taught me so many things, among which was a great sense of practicality.  Growing up, my mother always scoffed at the idea of “finding yourself.”  Which sounds harsh, but in the end has a great truth to it. “You’re right there,” she would say.  And, of course, there was no real way of disputing her.  Of course I’m right here.  

What grounded this comment from my mother was the fact that she has this firmly rooted identity.  She is who she is, and she knows it.  At the center of that, the foundation that could not be shaken, was that my mother was a child of God.  She never had to travel around the country in a beat-up Mercury Sable to figure that out.

Careful What You Look For

I was not quite like my mother.  Up through my sophomore year of college, I had not quite yet “found” myself.  I had taken the big trip from Minnesota to Virginia to college, but that sort of adventure hadn’t yet given me the romanticism I had anticipated in “finding” myself.

Instead, I was finding someone that I didn’t really like.

See, in the process of “finding yourself,” we imagine the road trip of movies—cut scenes to good friends, smiles, a great soundtrack.  My first couple years of college left me with more than my fair share of broken relationships, tears—the soundtrack would definitely be more morose than upbeat.

Maybe this is true for everyone, but I can definitely attest to the fact that as millennials we’re told to love ourselves, to love our uniqueness, to foster a strong self-esteem.  And there’s nothing fundamentally wrong with that.  But we’re not given a roadmap as to what exactly we should do when we unearth things about ourselves that we don’t like.

I’m beautiful and unique just the way I am…but sometimes I gossip and say really nasty things about “friends” of mine.  Sometimes I lie to make myself look more impressive.  Sometimes I abuse the love and trust of a boyfriend.  I’ve been told to love myself…but how could I ever love someone who makes the mistakes I do?

How can I love myself, how can I have self-esteem, when I “find myself”…and encounter the reality of sin?

Learning Self-Love

The summer after my sophomore year, I traveled to Peru to live with nuns.  These vibrant, powerful women taught me lessons about life that I will never forget.  However, what they taught me were habits for how to live—habits that I have struggled in articulating to others.

Ven. Fulton Sheen, in his book “Three to Get Married,” has given me an incredible gift by articulating some of the things I learned about self-love in Peru.  His philosophy and insight are both so incredibly profound.  I’m a third of the way into the book, and already it’s presented me with truths about so many aspects of my life.  I wouldn’t recommend this book for everyone, it can be dense and theoretical and leave me wondering: “but what’s the point?”

But I am grateful for these four insights on self-love, which I hope will help others find a path to true self- love:

  1. On its own, self-love is just ego

“Love of self without love of God is egotism, for if there is no Perfect Love from Whom we came and for Whom we are destined, then the ego becomes the center…  If the ego is an absolute, its perfection consists in having whatever will make it happy, and at all costs; this is the essence of egotism, or selfishness” (43).

I’ve always sort of wondered about this.  When does self-love just become selfishness?  We talk about authentic self-care, but what really is the line between taking a bath with chocolate cake to relax or to just indulge your selfishness?  If we pursue self-love just to make us happy, with no other purpose, then this will lead to selfishness.

  1. What’s more, self-love alone is unfulfilling

“Loving self alone has many disadvantages: it forces us to dwell in quarters that are too cramped and squalid for comfort, it confronts self with a self that in some moments is not only unlovable but even intolerable; and it makes us want to get away from ourselves, because we find we are not very deep.  Probing into the depths of our ego to find peace is too often like plunging into a pool without water.  After a while, our self-centeredness ends in self-disruption, as we discover we have no center at all” (42).

This was incredibly compelling for me.  As I mentioned before, when I embarked on the journey of finding myself, I didn’t really like what I found.  When I searched deeper and deeper to find who I was, I kept on finding less and less.  Sure, there was goodness too.  I wasn’t all bad.  But in the end, putting myself in the center didn’t satisfy what I was looking for.

  1. Self-love requires purpose

“No one can love himself properly unless he knows why he is living” (42).

Bam.  I love this.  So concise, so powerful, so true.  When I was searching for myself, I found all of these pieces—I was extroverted, a good listener, a leader, but I was also stubborn, proud, quick to lose my temper.  What good was knowing all of this about myself if I didn’t have a why?  A why to be this way, a why to develop my strengths and work out my flaws?   To love myself, I needed a why for the way I was.

  1. We can, and should, love ourselves because God loves us

“Fundamentally, it is because God loves us that we ought to love ourselves.  If He sees something worthwhile in us and died to save us, then we have a motive for loving self rightly.  As a person feels ennobled when a beautiful and gracious friend loves him, then what shall be the ecstasy of a soul at that moment when it awakes to the shattering truth: God loves me!” (45-46).

The Perfect God, with Perfect Love, saw me, in my fullness.  He saw everything I saw in my path of self-discovery.  When I saw myself, with my flaws, I struggled to love myself.  I could not see myself as worthy of love.  But when God saw me in my fullness, He did not hesitate in dying for me.  This is the true path to finding myself, to loving myself.  To recognize that God loves me, just the way I am.  I cannot love myself on my own, but with God, I can love myself in the most true sense.

Source

Sheen, Fulton J. Three to Get Married. Scepter Publishers, 2004.

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Loving Me Through Him

image credit: https://pixabay.com/en/hiker-hiking-nature-hipster-solo-846094/

Love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:39) we are told. This is the second greatest commandment. What does loving yourself look like? The answer lies in the first (Matthew 22:37), “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.”

I realized very quickly that I could not love myself by my own strength. I needed to look beyond myself and my neighbors. My journey towards self-acceptance began in a dark place during my adolescent years.

I was bullied for being short, quiet and more plain-looking than the other kids. We didn’t have a lot of money growing up so I didn’t have the newest, most up-to-date clothes and technology that it seemed everyone else had. You know what they say– “the kids in middle school can be so cruel!” But what was more cruel were the things that I heard in the silence of my own thoughts. I was that 13-year-old girl who buried herself between the pages of Chicken Soup for the Soul. It was a heartbreaking way of coping with the teen angst–you knew that most kids had to endure and attempt to master the awful art of fitting in, yet you felt like nobody could possibly have it worse than you.

The older I got, the more and more I disliked who I was, outside and inside. I was achingly awkward and always treated as a doormat among my “friend” group. I was the last and the least among my peers. I stayed up at night wishing that I could wake up one day and be a completely different person. I didn’t understand why God had made me this way, especially feeling like the fact that I didn’t look like my peers was a punishment of sorts. I hoped and prayed that one day I would get my turn as the heroic female lead. That I would be feminine enough. That I would be strong-willed and fearless. That someday someone else would love me.

At 17 years old I entered into a relationship with someone who showed me that love was…conditional. That loving someone meant you had to compromise your dignity. The idea that “if you give me what I want, or if you measure up, then I’ll love you.” Sadly, I am one of many girls who share this experience of attaining love, whether it be from a boyfriend, friend, or family member.

Because I was young and this relationship was not Christ-centred, I had no idea how to love someone else. I had lost my self-respect, settling for giving my all to someone else in order to prove myself useful and worthy. Sometimes I wonder why God didn’t wake me up from this bad dream. Why didn’t he reveal himself to me as, putting it lightly,  the man I had been searching for all my life.

All this time I was looking to be noticed by God, He was really waiting for me to notice Him first. My insecurities broke me from the inside, enough for God to find His way in. He didn’t embrace me like a heavy storm, but like a soft, gentle rainfall. Often, only through tears did I see Him.

I truly believe that these painful growing experiences really do show you what you are made of. Our brokenness is an offering that brings us closer to God, and ultimately who we are meant to be (Psalm 51:17). It’s like starting life from taking your first steps, finding out which things are stable enough to hold onto, versus the things that falter when you lean on them. I think we often end up choosing the weaker, more unsteady foundations. Like that child, what we need is someone to take our hand and carry us. We are lost sheep, in need of guidance. (Isaiah 40:10-11).

Today, I still have times when I don’t love who I am. Loving myself was never about seeing myself as a new person healed from all the hurts of the past. Loving God showed me that my brokenness had a purpose. It’s about seeing yourself as God sees you, even with the cuts and bruises of our sin. What does loving yourself look like? It looks like mercy. Our journey towards holiness is learning how to love as the Father loves. This doesn’t mean we will be able to love perfectly, but we know that we aren’t able to love ourselves fully without knowing and loving God first.

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Charla

When a friend no longer loves you…

brokenfriendshipAbout nine years ago, a person who I thought was my best friend, a lifelong friend of 21 years at the time, came over to my house with a notebook and a list. She proceeded to tell me all the things wrong with me, all the bad or wrong things I had ever done in the past 21 years: I teased her too much, I was too honest about my feelings, I was too opinionated, I was a hypocrite, I was selfish, I was materialistic. She gave me examples and instances in which I did or said things she didn’t approve of. Apparently, all those years, instead of telling me what bothered or offended her at that moment, she let it fester. She kept a running inventory and then wrote it all down and blasted me with it. I didn’t argue. I probably did do or say all the things she charged me with. I apologized and said I never meant to hurt her or anyone else with any of my behaviors or words. I sobbed, as she sat stoic. I was eight months pregnant at the time, so I was a vulnerable, hormonal, emotional mess anyway. She finished by saying it was now up to me. I told her, “What is up to me? You don’t even like me.” She said if I changed, we could still be friends. I asked her again, “Why? You don’t even like me!” All our mutual friends sided with her. I was now left with none of the friends I thought I’d have forever.
So, where does my faith come in to all of this? Where is God? I allowed someone else to make me feel so unlovable, so unworthy and so very flawed, that it was difficult to feel like there was anyone else who could possibly feel differently about me. It felt like everyone must hate me like she did. After all, she was my best friend, and if my best friend couldn’t love me, why would my husband, my kids, my sister, my other friends, or even God, love me? Was I really that unlovable?
I don’t think she has ever thought it was wrong to do what she did to me. I deserved it after all for being such a horrible person. I deserved to lose my friends, according to her. That list of bad things negated everything good or positive I had done the past 21 years. I was shocked, stunned, angry, and overall, devastated. The memory is still so surreal. I don’t believe we really understand how much one individual can hurt another so profoundly– until it happens to us. There had to be something good to come from this; my faith told me so.
worthyThe lesson I learned is two-fold. One: The only thing that brought me peace was introspective prayer. I had to search inside myself for God. I had to remind myself that God was within me and always a part of me. How could that part be hateful? I learned to re-love myself through the love I had for God, because I believe He resides in me. I am made in His image and likeness. He was the one who would be strong for me, and He was the one to be the goodness within me. Two: God loves me. It is the first thing I learned during my childhood; God loves me. It doesn’t matter what I have done, what I have said, or what other people think of me. God’s love is unconditional. I apologized to my former friend, but I asked for forgiveness from God. I know I am imperfect, but God doesn’t hold it against me. Realizing God’s love for me helped me to allow other people to love me again: my husband, my kids, and my other friends. I was in such a depressed state, due to this episode, I pulled away from people. I didn’t see myself worthy of their love and affection, because that one person did not find me worthy. God changed that in me. If God, who is perfect, loves me and will always love me, whether I allow Him to or not, then I have to allow others to love me. My trust was so broken, but God mended my heart. I began to see God more in those other people, especially my husband and kids.
I suppose the there is a third thing that occurred to me and that is the idea of forgiveness. Forgiveness is a funny thing. I know the wise advice that forgiving someone is more for me than it is for the person who hurt me and holding a grudge is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die. I get it. I agree with it. It’s so much easier said than done. I want to forgive her, and there are days that I have, and then there are days, even nine years later, that I revert to the hurt and yes, anger. Do I need to forgive her? Do I need to forgive myself? She caused me hurt, or had I actually caused it myself? I very well could have compiled my own list for her, but I wouldn’t. I could not inflict the same pain even on her.
It’s taken me a very long time to get over the hurt of that day nine years ago. I’m even nice to her when I see her. There are times I think I’m over it, then the hurt comes bubbling up to the surface days when I think too much, or when I’m feeling extra insecure or vulnerable in some way. It is those moments in which I remind myself of God’s love for me, my love for God, and my love for myself.
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