After discovering the true source of my back pain, the first person I consulted was the Lord. I wrote to Him using simple pen and paper, in a little black journal I'd won in a game. On its cover was printed, "God understands our prayers, even when we can't find the words to say them". I didn't know if I had the right words, but I had to try.
Journal Entry for April 7, 2013
Let Me in, Mary…Say it to me, who loves [you] as no one has ever loved you or will love you again—how are you?
I am hurt, Lord—not a little, but big and deep…I am hurt as a living fact.
Say it to me, repeat after me: I am hurt, and cannot heal myself.
I am hurt, and I cannot heal myself.
I believe you can heal me...
I believe that you will heal me.
I crushed my pen between my fingers, feeling miserable and confused. I'd written the words on paper and knew they were true: I was hurt and needed healing. Still, my heart protested this change of the status quo. For twelve years now I’d been in this wounded, self-sabotaging state. It was the only way of thinking that I could remember.
I’m frightened, Lord. What will happen if You heal me?
In crammed and hurried letters, I recorded the Lord's next words:
I cannot heal this without your knowledge of it.
I’d just discovered the truth about my back pain six days before. I couldn't un-learn it. I could no longer pretend that everything was okay with Sister Mary Joan.
Instead, the truth. The ugly, broken, beautiful truth.
I am hurt, and I cannot heal myself.
The Girl Within
The Motherhouse grounds were bursting with flowers on the day of my next conference with Sister Anna. She called me from outdoor recreation on the front lawn, then led me to a spot outside the cemetery. A beautiful statue of the Blessed Mother stood near the cemetery's entrance, surrounded by spring blossoms and the Motherhouse's signature pink rosebushes. After we'd settled down by this peaceful spot, I told Sister the news.
“I…think I figured out the psychological source of my back pain.” I hesitated, willing myself to continue.
Come on, Mary. You need Sister's help.
In stilted words, I told her what had happened when I was 14.
“They apologized, but didn’t tell me why,” I whispered, capturing my face in my hands. “So…I started thinking there was something wrong with me. And whenever I make a mistake, which is always happening as a postulant, I believe it.” I stared into my lap, smoothed an invisible wrinkle from my polyester skirt. “I know God loves me,” I concluded, “but I have a hard time believing He wants me to be happy.”
Sister Anna responded with surprising vehemence. “Inside, you’re still that 14-year-old girl."
I winced, absorbing her words in numb shock.
She must have noticed my distress, because her expression softened. “I’m sorry, Sister. What I meant is there’s a part of you that still acts like that 14-year-old girl, trying to punish yourself for what you didn’t do 12 years ago. You need to let go of that adolescence, so that you can learn to love God truly.”
My head throbbed as a familiar roar surged inside my brain. You’re nothing useless worthless garbage why don’t you just give up nothing worthless just go away disappear
I laid cool fingers to my temple, then nodded in determination. “Yes, Sister. But how do I do that?”
“First, instead of focusing on your mistakes, try writing down a list of things that you do like about yourself. Physically, spiritually, et cetera.” She met my eyes and smiled. “The wonderful gifts that God has given you.”
Ugh, I thought with distaste. That sounds terrible.
“Let yourself enjoy or find pleasure every day. And feel, so that you have the power to make a truly virtuous choice. A choice made out of love, not false guilt.”
Oh no. Feel? Even more?
“But…I just feel things so strong.” Too strong, I added in my head.
“Your feelings give you the energy to act and choose the good,” Sister Anna said. “And they’re part of who you are, as a human person.”
“Okay,” I gave her a weak smile. “I will try.”
A few hours later, I got to work on Sister Anna’s tasks. I started with the unpleasant assignment of listing my positive qualities.
At first I felt like an impostor. I hadn’t written anything like this since my stirring listicle from the 7th grade, “100 Reasons to Be Happy”. Alongside the Star Wars jokes, cheesy friendship maxims, and my brother’s bathroom humor, I'd included many positive compliments about myself.
Where did all those positive thoughts go? I wondered. Well, here are some new ones:
What do you like about yourself? (The gifts God has given you?)
I have pretty curly brown hair. Good eyes and a nice smile. Don’t need much sleep.
Made to run and move. Broad shoulders, good knees, solid figure...
My brain was hurting again, but in a good way. I was making some brand new wrinkles in it, re-training it to think positively about myself:
I am…encouraging calm in crisis affectionate loyal and conscientious joyful open passionate obedient empathetic critical thinker intelligent Trust God know Jesus will always love me faithful hard-working and brave serious good listener good at writing can always find beauty in everything I rarely hold grudges
I love Jesus!
I stared at all the positive words I’d written on the page. It was nice to write happy words for once, rather than obsessing over my flaws and shortcomings.
I flipped the journal to a brand new page: I used to treat myself badly, but I won't do that anymore. It goes against my dignity as a child of God.
Sister Mary Joan. A child of God, made in His image. A woman worthy of love...and happiness.
Thank you so much for reading! What positive words are on your list? :)
Please join me next week for more sisterly wisdom, reflections, and my postulant home visit!!!
Also, please check out my latest post on Life After Convent blog:
About the Author:
Mary Rose Kreger lives in the metro Detroit area with her family, where she writes fantasy for teens and blogs about her spiritual journey: before, during and after the convent here and at www.maryrosekreger.com