Some of my most vivid memories are of myself, kneeling in church, staring up at a crucifix. Jesus, held there, with His mouth downturned, and His lifeless eyes in a fixed in a steady gaze. I’d stare with intent at his anguished expression, almost willing myself to feel what He must have felt. I’ve lived life keenly aware of my deserving of punishment. Guilt can be a handy thing, but I think it’s safe to say, looking back now, I lived too long under the weight of not simply guilt for my inborn sinful nature, but shame as well.
The kneelers were padded but after a few brief minutes, my knees ached and I’d catch myself slouching just enough so that my rear end could rest against the pew. Resting there for a minute, the shame was quick to convict me. Needed to ‘rest’ during this sacred prayer time was a sign of weakness–I was sure of it.
I told myself that kneeling was a small sacrifice to make, considering Jesus’s sacrifice. I’d guilt-trip myself through the prayers on my knees, flogging myself with shameful barbed words about how weak I was to complain about 5 minutes on my knees on a padded kneeler.
I made a habit of comparing my various discomforts during church to Christ’s suffering on the cross. I told myself, if He could endure what He did, surely I could suck it up and handle both the boring service and the painful prayer portion of the service.
In essence, I told myself I was taking one for the team–team Jesus.
I wish I could say that this method of comparing my own “suffering” to that of Christ’s ended after leaving the Catholic church. I only know it now, as an adult, but the truth is, I shamed myself over various perceived weakness for most of my entire life. Actually, it would be a great many more years before I stopped telling myself to “endure” the discomfort of kneeling during church for Christ’s sake.
I’d always felt a sort of kinship with flagellant monks. Kneeling until my knees ached felt like penance for my mounting sins. The longer I could endure it, the more likely Christ would deem me worthy of forgiveness. I wasn’t good about praying the rosary, so I hoped I could make up for my failed efforts at prayer by kneeling long without rest.
I hadn’t yet met grace. I didn’t understand that Christ loved me, rosary prayers or not, and that whether I could stand or kneel during prayer, had no impact on whether or not He heard me. Salvation was in my own hands. Surely I needed to endure something to gain His acceptance. Didn’t I needed to do something to earn a spot in heaven? Last I’d heard, space was filling up–
I had never read in Jeremiah, where God says,
Thus says the Lord:
“Cursed is the man who trusts in man
and makes flesh his strength,
whose heart turns away from the Lord.” (17:5)
Jeremiah was a bullfrog. I knew a boy in my class called Jeremiah. But I did not know then, about the weeping prophet.
I grew up believing that salvation would come by way of my efforts, and through my own willingness to suffer. I believed that God’s mercy had limits, and that God helps those who help themselves. (That last one there–it’s not buried in Proverbs like I thought it must be. Nor will you find it in the book of “Hezekiah.” It’s NOT scriptural, at all).
I spent my whole young life trying to help myself because If I didn’t, who would? Not Jesus. How could He when He was fastened to a brass cross week after week? I worked fiercely to become good enough, strong enough, decent enough–just enough. You can imagine I always fell short.
I didn’t know grace, not how to give it, nor receive it. I all but shut my heart to the notion that God helps those who CAN’T help themselves, which, by the way, includes me.
It’s been a long journey from my 6 year-old self in my white first communion dress, to today. It took 20 years for me to finally see Jesus not as bound to a cross but as the risen Savior.
My current church doesn’t say prayers while kneeling. We don’t even have kneelers attached to the pews. I still gaze up at the cross when I pray but Jesus isn’t on it. He lives. He’s out and about in the world, helping us, because, Lord knows, we can’t help ourselves.
When Michelle asked me to guest post for her, relating my own Spiritual Misfit story, the only struggle I had was deciding which one to tell you. I think, if we’re honest, we are all spiritual misfits in some way or another. Michelle’s book is for everyone who tries to love and live Jesus and feels like they are always missing the mark by just a bit. You’ll laugh. You’ll cry. You’ll see yourself in her story–but better than all of that, you’ll see Jesus in her words.
As a sequin-wearing, homeschooling mom of four, Kris is passionate about Jesus, people and words. When she’s not writing, she enjoys taking gratuitous pictures of her culinary creations on Instagram. Once upon a time, she ran 10 miles for Compassion International. She is the author of Holey, Wholly, Holy: A Lenten Journey of Refinement, and blogs at kriscamealy.com.