My young life was chaotic, to put it politely. I survived it, though, by creating a shield around myself. I was a living papier-mache project, and each chaotic event added a layer to my armor until my coat was so thick that it was almost impenetrable.
All along, though, God kept trying to break through my protective shield, kept trying to prevent me from walling myself in. But I was resistant. Closing myself in felt safe; opening myself up created anxiety.
During my twenties and early thirties, I came to understand the disconnect between my tough exterior and fragile interior. Good manipulators saw my weakness and took advantage; what felt to me like a true connection and perhaps even love was really exploitation.
My coat of armor was not really protecting me from further harm; it was just keeping out the healing love of God.
Through all those years, though, God did not give up on me.
In my twenties, I kept getting invitations to attend retreats and workshops where I would hear about God’s desire to love and heal me. I collected buttons with slogans like “God doesn’t make mistakes” and “God don’t make junk.”
I memorized Scripture verses that reminded me of Jesus’ desire to love and heal me. I commiserated with St. Paul and the thorn in his side. My past was always with me, a thorn in my side reminding me of my shame.
Mary Magdalene became my soul sister—if Jesus could drive seven demons from her and she could come to know herself as loveable, surely he could do the same for me. I was desperate to escape the self-loathing I felt, that certainty that I was damaged goods and good for nothing.
But after a childhood spent creating a thick protective shell, breaking it down was neither easy nor quick. Messages on buttons could not effectively undo my deeply-held belief that I was broken, unfixable and unlovable.
Over time, though, Jesus was able to break through my defenses. As a child, I had seen Jesus as another innocent victim. Every Palm Sunday, I cried out with him, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” Poor Jesus; poor me.
At some point, though, the connection clicked—Jesus was an innocent victim, and he did understand my brokenness. I realized that what I had told myself was self-protection was really fear—fear of being overwhelmed by sadness or fear that what had happened to me in the past could happen again.
I came to see that unless I peeled off those layers of protective armor and touched my brokenness, I was just setting myself up to be re-victimized. I also saw that what I considered thorns were actually invitations to growth.
St. Teresa of Avila’s Prayer to Redeem Lost Time rings true for me:
While recalling the wasted years that are past, I believe that you, Lord, can in an instant turn this loss to gain.
With God, nothing is lost; everything is possible.