Monday, February 22, 2016

The Real Jesus And The Greasy Pink Mop

A lot of people think I'm a model Catholic. A lot of people, on that note, think I'm a terrible Catholic. I'm too "conservative" for some, and too "liberal" for others. People like me, and that's okay. People hate me, and that's okay. I'm certainly not a good Catholic, and I'm not exactly a bad Catholic. I'm just a Catholic who needs all the help I can get.

I hesitate to write a lot for this blog. I started this blog at the incessant prompting of friends who insisted I have something important to say, that I'm a good writer, that people need to hear me. My writing, though, is often therapeutic. I write to get my thoughts out of my head and in front of me, so I can see them and put them together like the puzzle they are. I'm a Catholic struggling with mental illness who needs an outlet.

This past week, I've been near crippled by horrible thoughts. I won't divulge the details here, though. What I will say is that by Sunday morning, it was all I could do to get myself out of bed. Which was important -- I had plans to go to Mass with my godson and his mother. I woke up two hours early to get ready, and those two hours slowly devolved into watching YouTube and listening to a friend's testimony about alcoholism colliding with the joy of the Gospel. His story was amazing -- inspiring, and sobering (no pun intended). It was impossible not to think how much "better" a Catholic than I am he is, and how desperately I wanted a relationship with Jesus like he has. Jesus spoke to me, nonetheless, through his words and his story, and it was the first time I'd felt Jesus' love in weeks. I sent my friend a quick message of appreciation, grabbed some Cheerios to occupy my godson, and headed out for Mass.

Since the athletic shorts I slept in were undoubtedly inappropriate attire for Mass, I parked down the street and pulled some yoga pants out of a bag in the back of my car. I walked up the street with my tshirt and my yoga pants and just knew the sweet old man in the suit walking in was probably judging me. A bad Catholic, if she's a Catholic at all. Fear of what others would think quickly consumed my thoughts as I approached the steps to the great wooden door of this huge, old, beautiful church. I slid my black beanie off my head and revealed to God and the world the oily pink mess that waited underneath. Good Catholics dress up for Mass. Bad Catholics don't even go. And then there's my hot mess. #TheWorst.

Later that day a friend expressed grief over the fact that he struggles with his faith but is involved in a catechetical ministry. He spoke of needing to go "act like he had his shit together" and "pretending," and I wanted to tell him how much his honesty helps me. It is important to my faith to know that others are struggling, to know that others don't have it all together, to know that someone needs Jesus as much as I do. It's easy to see how Jesus is the God who commands and the God who demands and the God who heals and the God who approves for so many. It's almost a foreign language to me, though, sometimes. I need to know that Jesus is also a God who will get down in the dirt and pick me up and take me the way I am for -- if I dare to even dream -- the simple reality of who I am. Is Jesus a God who can love me like that?

Or is Jesus a God who looks out from the tabernacle and sees me somehow in one of the front rows of an architecturally magnificent building and scoffs at my yoga pants and slicked back pink mop, a toddler in one arm and a plastic bowl of Cheerios in the other?

Is Jesus a God who, from a distance, sees that I've once again opted to skip morning prayer to hide in bed because I want to hurt myself, but I can't because so many -- especially Jesus -- would be so disappointed?

Is Jesus a God who sees my heart screaming into the dark abyss of my human essence and hopes someone will pass on a devotional about the importance of interior silence in the Christian life?

There is this memory inside of me somewhere that Jesus is personable, intimately aware of my struggles and wants to love me through them. The same Jesus I'm often told is not "the real Jesus" because he isn't strict enough, stoic enough. He involves my feelings in my relationship with him, where "the real Jesus" has nothing to do with feelings. He offers gentle caresses when "the real Jesus" is harsh about mortal sins and dreadful habits. "The real Jesus" isn't kind like we think of kindness -- human kindness is different than that of "the real Jesus," whose kindness always involves reproach for sinners like me. "The real Jesus" is waiting for my thoughts and habits to change so he can be a part of my life again.

And still, this tiny, urgent memory of the Jesus I knew once comes to me. It brings peace and light and no ulterior motive besides to make sure I'm okay.  Like a song stuck in my head, or the ticking of the clock I can't shake from my OCD brain, I hear it repeatedly:

"Yet it was I who taught Ephraim to walk, I took them up in my arms; but they did not know that I healed them. I led them with cords of human kindness, with bands of love. I was to them like those who lift infants to their cheeks. I bent down to them to feed them." Hosea 11:3-4

Jesus is a God who sees a need and wants to fill it. He is a God who is gentle and kind -- even resorting at times to "human kindness." He is a God who adores us as a mother adores her infant, pressing us to his face and laughing at our sloppy, Cheerios-scented kisses.

And, if I am permitted to think so, that extends to me. Me in my yoga pants with my greasy pink hair and my tired face and worried eyes and thoughts of hurting myself and thoughts that are worse. Jesus sees my desperation and hopelessness, and wants to fill it, not condemn it. Jesus sees my aching and my occasional desire to give up on him, to "go be happy," and he hopes I remember how miserable I was before him. Jesus sees me roll out of bed at 11:45AM and hopes I'll pray today just as he hopes I'll remember to take my anxiety medicine.

Jesus wants me to be okay. I am allowed to think that. Jesus wants me to be happy. I am allowed to think that.

And, since I'm feeling daring today ... Maybe the real Jesus doesn't care if I'm a good Catholic or a bad Catholic, as much as he cares that I know I'm a Catholic whose only eternal hope is in him, and whose hope today lies in hearing his invitation to let him love me.