When I was 19 I made the mistake of seeking love from a man I dated in the wrong way and I started down a path of impurity that lasted, on and off, until I was 29 years old. I won’t say that I didn’t know better, I was completely aware of the gravity of the sins I was committing and I was mortified that I allowed my desire to be loved become more important than the salvation of my soul. There truly was no excuse for my taking a long ride down the slippery slope of immorality and I won’t offer one. I will offer this insight though:
I remember hearing James Dobson say that women give sex when looking for love and men give love when looking for sex. That was the mistake I made and how I wished I had been taught that bit of knowledge when I was in my early teens, it would have saved me from SO much heartache and sin.
During the years I lived in sin, there were dozens, if not hundreds of times when my shame would envelope me in a dark and ominous cloud of fear and regret. I would shut my eyes and visualize my soul, blackened, twisted and damaged as a result of my sins. At times I would hang my head and weep with the knowledge that for each mortal sin I had committed, my Lord and Savior had to endure yet another stinging lash of the whip as it ripped off one more piece of skin from His already aching and bleeding body; or perhaps it caused the centurion’s hammer to come pounding down again on the nail in Jesus’ hand, sending waves of pain so excruciating through His arm and body that words alone can not adequately describe the depth of His agony. MY sins caused this. I could not escape from this fact and in the end, it was this knowledge that gave me the strength to finally choose to once again live a life of sanctifying grace and leave sin behind.
My guilt for my former actions haunted me, even after I had gone to confession and began to practice my faith in earnest . I did not volunteer information on the mistakes I had made in my past to others, nor did I hide them when asked. I especially recall the reaction of one Catholic man who wanted to date me, ‘Wow, you were so much worse than me!’ Those words rang through my mind and heart for months afterwards and caused my self-loathing to increase by leaps and bounds.
I could not erase the pages I had written in the book of my life, as much as I desired to, and I wasted precious time repeatedly leafing back through them, berating myself for my weakness, foolishness, gullibility and general lack of appreciation for God’s love. I began to think I would never find peace in my soul due to my past. Perhaps, I thought, this was part of the punishment for my sins-to scald my soul in a bath of remorse at frequent intervals.
I began dating a very intelligent, kind Catholic teacher named Eric about three years after I returned to practicing the faith. Inevitably, after a few weeks, the time for my, ‘this is my past’ monologue arrived. Eyes cast down, face burning, I once again reopened the wound in my soul that my actions had created. When I finished speaking I reluctantly raised my eyes to meet his, completely expecting derision and shock. Instead, kindness and compassion were reflected in the depths of his eyes and he uttered these words.
‘My opinion of you is not based on who you were in the past, but who you are now.’
This may not seem significant to others, but for me, it was as though I had been handed a key to my self-imposed prison of shame. Never had I heard or even thought that I, God, or anyone else could see past the mess I had formerly created in my soul and life. Those words changed all of that. Over the following days and weeks I turned his words over and over again in my heart. I allowed them to open my eyes to the realization that when I had received forgiveness for my sins in confession I was also given the gift of forgiving myself. However, I had hidden this gift away and forgot about it for years, not retrieving and opening it until I heard the words Eric spoke. Eric and I ended up taking different directions in life but he remained my friend and my debt to him can never be paid. He allowed me to see that although I had scuffed, damaged and tarnished my soul for years, I had also spent years repairing that damage, polishing and shining it with the sacraments, prayer, Eucharistic adoration and a life of morality.
I know that there are some out there who have not experienced falling so far from God’s grace and I truly hope you thank Him for the strength and grace He gave you to preserve your souls. I direct this piece at those who have fallen repeatedly, those who have, as I did, fallen into sin, struggled to get up and to confession, only to fall again. I also address this to those who have done something in their past they deeply regret and yet, despite going to confession, they continue to harbor pain and self-loathing over this past indiscretion. I say this to you: It is not who you were, or what you have done in the past I see, but the person you are now, the one who struggles to live a life that brings them closer to God, the valiant soul that attempts to die to self on a daily basis, or the parent who begs the Lord for the strength to model the virtues of a good Catholic parent and give those children the tools to save their souls. THAT is who you are, take your gift of self-forgiveness out, dust it off and open it up. It will enable your soul to soar and bring you that much closer to God.