Go toward God

Sometimes I’ve wondered about people who find this blog and what they might think about the content of it when coupled with the name “Catholic-esque.” I don’t talk about God all the time on here. I wasn’t really sure what direction this project might go in, but in going through it I have often had to remind myself that the content should come naturally.

What does that look like for me? It means I write what I feel like writing and I try to be truthful in how it reflects life as I know it. The only way I know how to make any of this palatable is through clarity. Sometimes I hit upon a subject that I can’t see through to its end, and it’s usually because I find that the writing lacks clarity of thought or feeling. Those would-be posts remain in my unfinished drafts–they are often useful at future points, so I don’t agonize over their incompleteness. I only regret not being able to finish one of them that I began writing after my brother’s graduation from medical school. I tried to fit too much into it–not just his graduation, but updates on buying a house and becoming engaged. I hadn’t written anything in a little while, and I had too much to say. The main point of the post was lost in all the details. I regret not finishing because it was going to be very happy. I’m not one for big events or celebrations, but my brother’s graduation affected me deeply. I had a difficult time writing about it, though.

Wanting the content of this blog to come naturally means that I’m not going to search for a Bible verse to tack onto the end of each post, and I’m not going to shoehorn God into situations where–if I’m honest with myself–he’s not playing a prominent role. God is everywhere and is present in all things, I do believe that. But if I’m sitting down to write about my problems with work, I know it’s probably not going to end up being a post about my spiritual journey. I need some room to vent. I do look toward God in times of turmoil, but I know who I am to some extent and I know I wouldn’t use those opportunities to then write about my relationship with God. God is always good to me. He is somewhere beyond those petty concerns. He is helping me in bigger ways.

I took a family vacation recently and it was mostly very pleasant. I only had some minor little brother problems–nothing worth writing about–and some confusion over how to best carve out some time to spend with just my fiancé and his son (something that I thought was important for us to do). But overall it was excellent.

We rented a house, my favorite feature being the deck. The surrounding trees were growing so near that it felt like the deck was settled upon them somehow. It was very relaxing to spend the morning time alone, on the deck, floating in the treetops.

I was trying to make a decision about my job, or to be more accurate, I had decided against taking a new job. I didn’t know that I would receive a counter-offer that would force me to reconsider my initial decision. So at the time, I was trying to make peace with my choice to remain at my current job. I was doing some writing here and there. I watched the trees from the deck.

I had going through my head so many thoughts about happiness and what causes it. It’s different for everyone. I knew I had a lot of things in my life that help to create happiness–mine always boil down to love and family. I have love. I have family. It’s hard for me to admit when I feel there’s a missing piece to that puzzle. I feel ungrateful. The knowledge that I have love and family helps put everything else into perspective, because if it came down to a matter of choice, I would choose those two things above a career, or money, or recognition. That didn’t stop the gears from turning, though. Career. Money. Recognition. Freedom. Travel. Leisure. I kept asking myself, where does my ambition lie? I tried getting myself to really imagine and feel the presence of those things in my life–what I imagine they could be like. I imagined and felt what it might be like to have a job that I loved someday. I tried to let that feeling sink in. It would be wonderful to be proud of my job. Of course it would.

I imagined what it might be like to not live paycheck to paycheck. I imagined taking my car in to the shop after the slightest hiccup, knowing I could afford the repairs. I thought of all the work we could do on the house with just a little more money in the bank. With money, I might even be able to go back to school. I could study whatever I wanted with little regard for practicality. I was imagining the kind of money that is separate from the money you work for. I don’t believe that all hard work pays off–monetarily, it does not. I just let myself imagine a life lived not hurting for money. Where that extra money would come from, I tried to imagine as well. What would I be willing to sacrifice for more money? It doesn’t appear out of nowhere. I considered what my own values were. It became more and more difficult to imagine this life with money.

I imagined myself in another scenario, one where I had more leisure time and the freedom to spend that time however I wanted. I imagined traveling to Russia. I want to visit Yasnaya Polyana before I die. I tried to feel however it might feel to do that.

I want to visit museums, cathedrals. I want to see mountains. I want to see glaciers. That’s when I start dreaming.

I return to reality. Career and money, family and friends. Love and ambition. My own limitations–what can I do with them? What can I do right now?

I watched the trees from the deck; my mind was buzzing. I couldn’t stop it. I knew the feeling, I had felt it many times before. I had read it in Tolstoy, as the screw in Pierre’s head, turning this way and that until it is stripped and no longer catches hold and keeps endlessly turning. But then mine stopped and I don’t know how. I was looking at the trees and how they moved. I forgot for a moment where I was, who I was, and what I’d been thinking about.

I had a new thought, but it didn’t feel like I thought it. I had known it already and I had known it for a long time and I knew it didn’t come from me. I wrote it down.

The only real purpose in life is to become one with God and to pursue that always.

I have forgotten it since, only to remember it again. I get to remember it over and over. One night I cried in bed because I had forgotten it. The screw had started turning again and I couldn’t stop it. I was agitated and I could not understand my feelings. The only feelings I had that I could give names to were regret and worry.

And it hit me again, I am unhappy because I’ve been neglecting God.

I think about God all the time, but sometimes I stop searching for Him. I say that I acknowledge his presence in all things, but that’s not exactly true. It’s my ideal frame of mind, but it’s not the reality of my mind. My mind easily forgets God.

God doesn’t forget about me though. I don’t know why this keeps happening, but I really feel like at some of my worst moments, God makes Himself known to me despite the neglect I’ve shown toward Him. I want it to keep happening. I have to open my heart to Him always. I hope He knows that’s how I feel.

The first time I felt God’s presence was in Texas. Howdy! I was still with my first boyfriend, and we had driven down to Tyler to visit his sister. His sister was (and I’m sure still is) a very devout Christian. I was so nervous about staying with her in her home. I was not religious, but I also didn’t talk about my beliefs (or lack thereof). His sister is a very warm and kind person and made me feel very welcome. Still, I was unsettled by how different we were. I can’t explain it. Imagine a non-believer meeting a real Christian for the first time, one who actually seems to embody everything that is Christlike and good. Again, I can’t explain it. I was so nervous about staying in her house. My boyfriend and I slept in separate rooms during our visit. I never did well sleeping in new places, especially alone. I remember wishing we could stay up and watch TV all night together, just so I wouldn’t have to be alone. I was nervous about going to sleep. When the time came, I felt panicked. I laid down in bed, overcome with nerves. I felt like crying. On the wall next to the bed hung a picture of Jesus. I gazed at it and felt like a child. I always had trouble at night. Scared of the dark, scared of everything. Monsters were everywhere.

I was looking at this picture when suddenly I was struck by the most profound sense of peace I had ever felt. I couldn’t compare it to anything from before. I felt it through my entire body, I felt it envelop my mind. I kept looking at the picture, not understanding what was happening. I fell asleep shortly after. I never spoke to anyone about it. I couldn’t tell my boyfriend because I thought he would laugh at me. I still did not believe in God. I couldn’t explain what had happened. In my heart, I knew God was making Himself known to me. I didn’t think things like that could happen though, so I never told anyone. You could say I ignored it. My beliefs did not change in that moment, nor did they change in the wake of it. But it gnawed at me, and continued to do so for a long time, because I had no explanation to offer.

God did His work that night; I believe that completely. I, on the other hand, was not working toward God in any way, and I wasn’t ready to start. I did not want God in my life. God was too complicated. I abandoned the idea of God in the first place because it complicated my life too much. If I acknowledged God, that meant I would have to reckon with a lot of things that could be painful. I’m a sinner, and I sin against God in my thoughts and in my actions. If I acknowledged God, I would have to try to stop sinning (or somehow live with myself while knowing I was sinning against God). If I continued to ignore God, I could keep sinning and feel no guilt. Back then, I liked to think that living ethically was a fine substitute for living faithfully. Forget whether I actually lived ethically–I didn’t, and don’t–it was a convenient distraction. I wanted so little to do with God, but at the same time was very much concerned with how to fill the void left in his absence. If God isn’t real to me, there should be no void to fill, right? Somehow that never occurred to me.

I haven’t found a human invention that is a perfect substitute for God’s law. Our own laws are meant to ensure justice, but they lack the moral guidance of “turn the other cheek,” Christ’s comquestand (made up a word to mean halfway between a command and a request because of how nicely it was phrased so please just roll with it) that pushes far beyond what is addressed in human law in that it acknowledges every human being’s ability to grow spiritually, to be more than mere law-abiders: to become active peacemakers in the world. Our collective purpose is to create the Kingdom of God on Earth.

An aside: I say I don’t write about God very often. I write about my beliefs and values and I consider them adjacent to my faith in some way. My faith may inform my values, my values may inform my faith. It would feel unnatural for me to exclusively talk about my faith in everything I write. Still, my moniker on here is “Catholic-esque” because I think it’s important for people to understand that faith is complicated and that is does not necessarily prescribe certain viewpoints that are typically associated with folks who believe in God. I believe in God. I really don’t care if you do or not. I know that some of the most avowed atheists are doing a better job of protecting God’s creation than are some of the most vocal Christians. It often takes the courage of a non-believer (or maybe I should say a differently-believing person) to bring attention to the most callous acts perpetrated by the Church. The Catholic Church is long overdue for a good toppling. I suppose it’s possible that someone reading this blog, expecting to find more faith-based content, would be left disappointed. I’m not writing for them. I’m writing for myself and others like me. Maybe some of this content goes down easier because readers can assure themselves that the writing is coming from the point of view of someone with faith. That’s an absurd thing to even write, given that many of my posts receive zero views. Zero, and I’m thinking about my audience. It’s a laugh. Still, I consider that this content could be read, so in some way I write for an audience and imagine who they could be. End of aside.

When I look back on the events of the last ten years or so, I see clearly that God was guiding me toward Him. I feel like he began by guiding me toward some very beautiful things in life that would serve to put me in touch with God. I wasn’t going to be a person who suddenly decides to go to church again. I wasn’t going to take comfort in reading my Bible. But I did experience a resurgence of interest in reading, just one example of God providing me with a source of comfort through a difficult time. It led to me discovering many new passions that lend the spice to life. I think God gave me Tolstoy so that I might find Him. And He made sure that I continued to experience Him through other works of art as well. It’s the only way I could ever hope to make any sense of God. I had to connect Him with everything that is good, beautiful, and true in the world.

Know thyself, pt. 2

In my last post, I brought up the subject of the MBTI test and how my INFJ result has provided me with some new resources for understanding why I think the way I think, and why I do the things I do, and maybe why I’ve been feeling so tortured by all of the above.

I’ve been a little down in the dumps lately and have turned a lot of criticism my own way because I hate a lot of things about the way I am. Sometimes I can feel very lonely when I think about how I don’t really have friends anymore like I used to. I have one friend who I see occasionally, and that’s my one and only friend. My fiancé is my best friend, but I think people need friends outside of their romantic relationship in order to have a life with some balance in it. My fiancé is very different from me in that way–he has many friends, some of whom he sees pretty regularly, others he may only see once in a great while, but somehow he’s still able to maintain all of these friendships.

I have no idea how to do that. I always drop the ball when it comes to friendship maintenance. I lost contact with many friends from school after my first breakup, and I’ve never been able to get back on track. It’s difficult for me to make friends in the first place, and I am terrible at maintaining friendships with people who I don’t see anymore, no matter how close we may have been at one time.

I think this happens in part because I never think to reach out. Let’s say my work schedule allows me two days off and I realize I don’t have any plans and will most likely be alone those days. I don’t then scramble to make plans happen–I instead feel this deep sense of relief that I can just be home by myself doing my own thing. All–and I mean ALL–of my hobbies can be done in isolation. That’s probably why they’re my hobbies.

I don’t go to the movie theater anymore, but that used to be a hobby of mine and I would try to go alone if possible. I don’t really enjoy seeing movies with other people (aside from my fiancé) because I don’t enjoy the part afterward where I find out I enjoyed it and they hated it, or they enjoyed it and I hated it. I will pretend to have enjoyed something that I didn’t actually enjoy in order to spare the other person’s feelings. I am so sick of other people’s opinions that I find myself hiding my true feelings in order to avoid pointless debates about things that don’t really matter.

But I think that contributes to my loneliness. In my life, I don’t have many people with whom I can be authentic. I’ve had it here and there, and it’s a beautiful thing because it enlivens my entire world, and I have a great desire to experience that feeling. But I have no idea how to create it.

And I have no idea how to describe it. It’s about more than just finding people who like all the same stuff I like. The closest friend I’ve ever had was someone who on the surface I did not have much in common with, but we were still able to talk for hours upon hours every single day about everything under the sun. She was my rock throughout high school and had the biggest and most positive impact on me during a time when I really needed a friend to help me grow. I shudder to think about the person I’d be today without her influence. Adolescence is already such a confusing time, and a single good influence can be the difference between one following the path of truth, compassion, and light as opposed to one of emptiness, cynicism, and darkness.

Turning back to the subject of my previous post: let me link again the list for reference because everything I wrote above pertains to the #2 item said to make INFJs happy, and that is meaningful conversation.

Enough said.

The #3 item is a deeper understanding of themselves. Maybe I should also share that the way I found the list (titled 12 Things the INFJ Personality Needs to be Happy) in the first place was by typing “infj happy” into a search engine and clicking on the first result. I kept wondering if perhaps I was searching for happiness in the wrong places, even wondering if happiness was worth pursuing in an imperfect world. I don’t think I desire the material or external trappings of happiness; rather, I just want to be happy with myself. If anyone has read this blog, it may be clear that I’m unsatisfied with myself despite “having” things that are without a doubt satisfying to have. I have a loving relationship to be a part of, and my heart breaks for people who want that above all things, but are deprived of it in the present. I know that without mine, I would be in an even worse place because it would mean the loss of my soulmate. If I didn’t have a romantic partner, I would hope I would be able to find that connection in a friend. I spend a lot of time alone by choice because I am comfortable in my own company. When I start thinking about how I relate to the world, or just how to be in the world, I begin to lose my sense of self because I feel as if I fail in many attempts at properly being in the world and all that jazz. What role am I meant to play? How involved should I be in that which is outside of myself and my immediate concerns? Sometimes I think the most I’m capable of is being a background performer in someone else’s story. A stagehand for a play of someone else’s creation.

Item #4 on the list is human contact, not social contact, where human contact is described as “mutual human understanding.” It makes the point that INFJs are often mistaken for extroverts. I feel like a very shy person who can pretend to be extroverted when the situation calls for it. In social situations, if I’m doing well, it’s because I’m constantly reminding myself to try to be normal and say/do normal things. Let’s say you’re like me and you struggle to make conversation with people. I know some tricks that can help, and if I’m in the right frame of mind I can usually make them work okay. I’ve been told that most people really like being asked questions about themselves. I do not share that viewpoint, but that’s what I have to work with. So if I’m struggling to make conversation with someone, I’ll try to ask them about something that (from previous interactions) I already know them to be familiar with even if I personally know nothing about the subject. The only problem with this is that sometimes I get into bad situations because I know nothing about the subject, but my question seemed to indicate that I personally also share that same interest and therefore I hit a wall when I can’t do anything to further the conversation. Then I’m back to feeling entirely awkward all over again. C’est la vie.

#5 is alone time, the most obvious inclusion because without it, all who feel this way would go insane. It’s also so (all so-so) necessary to include it in any piece written about introverted people, because I suspect that these little lists and articles are often shared by introverted people with the more extroverted people in their lives. It’s a way of saying, “This is how I am. This is why I am the way that I am. I may sometimes wish I were a different way, but really, I’m comfortable being this way as long as I’m allowed to be this way.” We often feel like we have to ask for permission just to be who we are, or that we must provide an explanation for our behaviors. We really are very concerned with other people’s comfort levels. When I get the sense that my introverted nature is making someone uncomfortable, I try to “turn on” the extroverted side of myself even if it might be uncomfortable for me to do so. I take comfort in another person’s comfort, so it usually evens out. Any time I leave a situation where I’ve had to turn on my extroverted function in order to fit in, I find it difficult to simmer down. My head will be buzzing for a long time after. I hate this feeling because it feels to me like anxiety, but I know that this passes with a bit of alone time so it’s no cause for alarm.

Item #6 is structure. And I quote: “INFJs require some amount of routine and orderliness to function at their best. In general, they like planning ahead rather than being spontaneous, because it gives them time to prepare (both mentally and otherwise). Their plans tend to be fairly loose and flexible…Think: A weekly calendar with a few things penned in, not an hour-by-hour day planner.” Right on the money. I especially appreciate the specific example of the weekly calendar for what structure looks like for the INFJ. My friend recently asked me how I keep track of everything that I do. I told her that I don’t really do much so there’s not much to keep track of, but if I have an appointment I’ll usually add it to my calendar. Everything else I need to remember is just in my head. I don’t have a lot of things going on outside of my usual things, so once I know the pattern, it’s easy to follow. I never think much about the role of structure in my life. My fiancé has a son with autism, so structure plays a role in my life by association, but I don’t ruminate on structure as a concept. It’s just there, and I get to take it for granted that it stays that way.

Thank God I’m at #7, independence, because once again I’ve been thinking, “This is too long. I gotta bail. No one will read this,” followed closely by, “WHY do I care so much? I gotta be me, baby! If not here, then where?” I’ve been trying to listen to my intuition more, which is difficult when my intuition tells me one thing–the thing I know I want–and my brain is in close pursuit trying to substitute in its (intuition’s) place the thing that I think will be accepted. Yes, I want to be accepted, but not at the expense of being true to myself. It might sound silly to use my blog as an example of a time when this conflict occurs, but it happens so often with minor things in ways that I don’t realize, so why not provide a minor example? I don’t know what to think about independence, or the need for it (because in adulthood it seems self-evident), but I am aware I have a problem with authority. I don’t take commands easily. You can ask me to do something–sure–but if you command me to do something, I will fantasize about ways to sabotage your request so that you don’t get what you want because you didn’t ask nicely. Do I follow through on these fantasies? Not usually, because the self-preservation instinct kicks in before I fully go off the rails.

I feel like I recognize God as the ultimate authority figure, and I don’t even follow everything that He supposedly commands. I’m too arrogant and stubborn for that.

Scrolled up to check what number I’m at. Crazy Eight. An orderly environment. This one is interesting because I’ve only recently begun making efforts in this area. When my fiancé and I moved in together just recently, it acted as a wake-up call for me, a person who has often lived in filth. I saw how differing expectations regarding cleanliness drove a wedge between my parents. They are divorced for other reasons, but had many incompatibilities like this that are worth me thinking about if I don’t want to head down the same path. I see them both as happier people now that they’re each living life on their own terms, whatever that’s worth. The list describes an orderly environment for INFJs in this way: “They are probably not the types to alphabetize their bookshelves (attending to tiny details in their environment drains the intuitive INFJ), but they do need things generally picked up, put away, and clutter-free. INFJs tend to like minimalist environments, because too much stuff in sight can overwhelm their already busy minds.”

When I read the part about not alphabetizing their bookshelves, I wondered how this person knew that. I’m serious: HOW DID THEY KNOW? It’s too accurate. I’ve been deliberately not alphabetizing my books (and music, and movies) since before I was born–that is how ingrained this practice is in me. Alphabetizing seems to me one of the least intuitive ways to organize my belongings. Instead I start with two books: Middlemarch and Anna Karenina, my go-to “favorite books” (there are many more, but I try to start simply). I put them at eye-level in separate nooks. We have those Massive Kallax Shelves from Massive Scandinavian Chain that people also like to use for records (and frankly are way better for records than for books, but it’s hard to beat the price and the amount of stuff you can fit in them) so everything Eliot and Tolstoy are in the central eye-level squares and I just kind of expand outward from there. Proust, Fontane, Turgenev, Nabokov, Hardy, Mann, Woolf–they get their own squares of prominence as well. I guess I organize by author and how much I like them, then by nationality (or time period, movement, etc, because I separate Soviet writers from pre-Revolutionary writers on the basis of being totally and completely different). If bookstores were organized this way, I could find things with much less effort. With that said, I’m still a human mess, but I make a concerted effort not to be out of deference to the stability of my relationship with a person who is VERY neat and orderly. He’s the first person I’ve been with who is neat and orderly on a consistent basis, which makes it much easier for me to meet him on that level because I know that he’s keeping up his end of the bargain. I’m no longer left to deal with the mess created by two people as I was in my last relationship.

Also “Hardy Man-Wolf” is mine. I like how that sounds. I’m claiming that.

I also relate to the observation that “too much stuff in sight can overwhelm their already busy minds.” When I started Big Girl Art School, I was mildly put-off by the decor in one studio in particular. The walls always seemed to be papered in student artwork. The first class I ever had in that space was called “Creative Strategies,” and it was one of those classes where we didn’t really make art per se; rather, we engaged in projects that were meant to expand the way in which we thought about and approached our art practices. It seemed incongruent with the nature of the class to then have to look at other students’ poorly-executed drawings and whatnot pinned up all over the walls. It felt like a barrier put in place inside my head to have to look at all of these mediocre artistic attempts while simultaneously trying to make conceptual breakthroughs in our own art.

Or maybe I’m just a judgey asshole.

Love Potion No. 9 is an outlet for their insights. This blog is that; whether it contains insight has yet to be determined.

Item #10 is an outlet for their creativity. I do feel an emptiness of spirit when I’m not working on something (which is a regular occurrence these days as I’m not currently engaged in any artistic/creative projects and the most I’ve done are some goofy drawings on my laptop that I hesitate to show anyone). Combine numbers nine and ten and and they pretty much explain every interest I’ve had in life (minus sports). One change I’ve noticed in the past few years is that I’ve tried to become more of a vessel for other people’s insight and creative output. I got sick of knowing nothing and trying to create my own work because the work itself seemed like the product of a shallow, ignorant mind.

Eleven is beauty. I don’t know what it says about me that I gravitate toward beauty in prose and in film, but have less of a need for it in art. But I’ll try to explain where I’m coming from. On the rare occasion that I do see a movie that is “new” and has a wide-release in theaters, I find little to nothing that is beautiful in what I’m watching. I’ve lost enjoyment in many types of movies that in the past I wouldn’t have had any qualms about watching (let alone enjoying). I shun whatever is excessively violent or rotten; in addition to that I avoid films that are aggressively ugly not just in appearance but in their outlook on humanity. I can’t abide by it anymore. Where prose is concerned, I know little about what is being written today. I can get down with Modernism, but after that I grow skeptical. I have a disregard for plot. A book could be “well-plotted” and I probably wouldn’t notice or care. I love many books where nothing much happens and I suspect I enjoy them in part for that very reason. The same applies to film. Art is a different beast. People seem to not only desire, but require, that beauty be present in works of art in order to see their value. And I simply disagree. I also find it funny to demand that art be always beautiful while accepting absolute trash that takes on the form of books and movies.

Finally we’re at #12, at least one person who “gets” them. I do have that person, thankfully, and I plan to marry him. From what I’ve read/seen/heard about other INFJs, we seem to struggle with being able to share everything about ourselves, even with the people closest to us. Part of me always wants to keep certain aspects of my life, my thoughts and ideas, my dreams and fantasies, completely private and inaccessible to anyone. I feel like there is something I’m always trying to protect in myself so that it doesn’t leave me forever. And I don’t know what to call it. Those times when you know you could say something (read: share something), but you stop yourself without really knowing why–I wish I had the ability to remember every time this has happened, and what it was that I was thinking of sharing only to then stop myself before I did so, because perhaps I could then compile all of those “almost-said”s, see what they have in common, and figure out what I’m trying so hard to protect and why. I think I have a lot of trust in people, and faith in people, but not when it comes to me and things about myself.

Finished for today and I hope this can be helpful for some.

Achievements of another kind

Why is the bathroom shower one of the best places to do some thinking?

It’s not as if you get into the shower with a plan in mind to do some thinking. In that way, it’s totally unlike the spaces we create which are intended for productivity–an office at work, a desk at home. I’ve talked before about the importance of rituals, and the mindless ritual of showering lends itself well to facilitating more abstract thought processes. When I was in art school, I had two places where my abstract thought went into overdrive: the shower, and in bed right before falling asleep.

I didn’t make any big breakthroughs in the shower today, but I did feel like my thoughts during that time were the good kind that put me in the right frame of mind to go to work and try to make the best of the day. I contrast that with the times I’ve been assailed by bad thoughts that seem like they’re out of my control. I want to clarify that I do believe that our thoughts are usually well within our control, and our bad thoughts only tend to get out of hand and “beyond our control” when anxiety enters the picture.

Today in the shower I was thinking about how my perspective on “personal accomplishments” has changed over time. It has been a gradual change. The change hasn’t been drastic, either. I haven’t totally redefined what personal accomplishment looks like for me. I do think the change has been significant enough, though, that if I write about it here it’s possible that someone could find it helpful.


As a kid, I would have defined an accomplishment as having won something. Accomplishment = winning. Did I win something? If I didn’t, then no accomplishment took place. No achievement was made.

Awards weren’t the only way to win, though they were still the best type of accomplishment to make. An award is concrete proof that you are the best. The bigger the pool of candidates and the more prestigious the award, the more significant that award became and the more it helped to bolster my ego.

I was very preoccupied with winning awards in my three main areas of interest: sports, art, and academics.

And I did. I won a lot of awards. I didn’t win all of them though, so I was still a failure. A winner would have won every time.

I look back on that kid and I know that kid was too hard on herself. Today I realize that my problems with anxiety were taking root back then. I was the kid who would silently cry at her desk if my test score came back and I only received 98 points out of 100. I had to be perfect. I often went home from school with “stomach aches.” Looking back, these stomach aches were just the physical manifestation of my psychological issues. I didn’t make a connection between the two until a little later. I knew by Grade 8 that my excessive worrying was causing me to feel sick a lot. I wasn’t aware of any possible solution to that problem.

In Grade 8 we used to write daily journal entries in response to a topic selected by our homeroom teacher. Out of many journal entries, I only remember a few of them clearly. One question asked what our greatest wish was. My response at the time was that I wished I wouldn’t worry so much, followed by a couple elaborating paragraphs to fill the space left on the page. My teacher approached me about it afterward. She said she thought it was a wise response. I felt a sense of accomplishment from that, as if I’d won my teacher’s approval in some way. At the same time, that journal entry was a cry for help of sorts. I didn’t write it to impress my teacher, unlike many other things I did with the intention of impressing people. Because of the response I received, my screwed-up brain turned it into just another thing I used to bolster my pride.


The great thing about adulthood, so far, is that the awards are few and far between. A kid who has been accustomed to receiving awards in competitive settings has to wean themselves off of that feeling. At first, we find different ways by which to judge our own worth. Maybe we get accepted into the school of our choice. When it comes time to apply for our first “real job”, a feeling of accomplishment can arise if we are chosen for a position out of a large pool of potential candidates.

I haven’t gotten there yet. It’s something I’ve spent most of the last decade beating myself up about. My inability to secure a job in my field still weighs on my mind–even after the realization hit that I don’t really want to be in “my field” anymore.

Getting a job–the kind of job you go to school for–is just one achievement I wanted to have under my belt by this time in my life. Most chances at an “entry level” job in my field have passed me by. I’m not a recent graduate anymore. I’m not even in my twenties anymore. My resume is a cornucopia of unrelated, unskilled part-time jobs that would impress no one.

If I don’t achieve my dream of getting a job, what else is there?

As it turns out, I have plenty of other options–other ways to keep “achieving.”

I have had to redefine what that means for me.

One time at work, I overheard someone refer to me as a “nice person.” I don’t think I’d ever gotten such a HIGH off of being called nice before. Why? Because it doesn’t happen that often. I have spent a lot of time in my life being a jerk to people. I experienced a series of “rude awakenings” that all culminated in me realizing I’d been acting in a way that was contrary to how I believed I was acting.

These days, it’s an accomplishment to be viewed as being a kind person.

But a truly kind person would not be kind to others just to out-do other people who are also being kind.

If you decide you want to follow the path of kindness, you have to change something about the way you see other people. This is where my faith has helped me. My faith tells me that we are all children of God. We all have an intrinsic value, no matter what our actions might indicate. Even the worst, most undeserving people are included under the banner of “God’s children.”


Practicing kindness began with practicing patience.

I used to have zero patience. Now I have a lot of it. Now, I get taken advantage of more often. Part of having patience is opening yourself up to the possibility of being taken advantage of. No one wants to be a sucker. No one wants to be seen as naive. No one wants to have one of their virtues used against them.

But having patience allows us to do something that I see as a kind act: to withhold judgment.

As a teenager, I was very into myself and my own interests. I often looked down on people who didn’t share my specific views or tastes. I was quick to judge others and made no reservations about letting my opinion be known. Do you ever meet people who talk more about the things they hate than the things they enjoy? Do you ever get the impression that they experience a kind of joy when they discover yet another thing to dislike? It’s really obnoxious, but that’s how I think of myself at that age. And I know many people who are still stuck there, even as grown adults.

Practicing patience has allowed me to get to know people for who they really are. I don’t put a person on a pedestal just because we might have some superficial tastes in common. When I’ve done that in the past, it has led to me ignoring some of the more unsavory aspects of that person’s personality. Because at least we like the same music and can commiserate about our shared views on politics! Right? Gross.

I feel secure enough today in who I am that I don’t look for other people’s approval. My views are my own.

And I don’t feel compelled to inflict my views on other people. Here’s a scenario: You’re taking your lunch at work in the communal break room. A few people at your table are having an enthusiastic discussion about something they all enjoy. You very much do not enjoy that thing. In what way do you contribute to that conversation?

If the answer is something other than “listening politely,” we’ve got problems.

Have patience with people. Your opinion–my opinion–is not so important that you must take it upon yourself to ruin a pleasant conversation.

A while back I had to listen to my supervisor run down a much younger coworker–to his face–simply because this young man enjoyed the show The Big Bang Theory.

Is there anything more pathetic than an almost 40-year-old taking such offense at the TV-watching preferences of his younger subordinate to the point where he feels compelled to get into a heated discussion about it, the purpose of which was to convince this younger person that he shouldn’t enjoy a show that he currently enjoys?

I don’t know what he hoped to accomplish. Using your TV-watching preferences to demonstrate your superiority over another person is sad. It’s television. It’s all meant to be easily digestible in a 30-minute or hour-long format. I don’t care if it’s Game of Thrones or Peppa Pig–you sit there passively and watch it according to your interests and tastes. I don’t understand what there is to feel superior about.

And when someone is open about the things they enjoy, your first instinct should not be to run that thing down–I don’t care how much you dislike it. You’re being a jerk to someone who apparently made the mistake of showing enthusiasm around the wrong person. That wrong person is you.

Do you want to be the type of person who no one can be honest with? Because they fear your judgment, I mean. How’s that working out for you?

When I started to shut up and listen to people better, people started talking to me more. They know I won’t mock or ridicule them for something of no consequence.

I feel good about my newfound ability to shut my stupid face hole. It’s been a major accomplishment I’ve made as an adult and it’s helping me on my quest toward kindness.

Another thing I stopped doing: nitpicking the people who I’m supposed to love the most. The individuals on the receiving end of this nitpickery were most often my boyfriend and my brothers.

There was a time when everything annoyed me. I had no reservations about expressing my annoyance. Little brother cracking his knuckles? I would have lost my freaking mind. But it doesn’t bother me to that degree anymore. It bothers me so little, that I don’t comment on it. And I’m not just seething with anger, either. It’s just not a big deal. He doesn’t crack his knuckles to annoy me. He does it because it’s a habit he developed, and that’s it. I’m trying not to take things like that personally. It has nothing to do with me and it’s not meant to annoy me.

He is a very fidgety, anxious person at times. Sometimes when we’re sitting on a couch together, or eating lunch at a restaurant, his foot tapping is enough to make everything start shaking. I used to snap at him about this. I’ve stopped commenting on it altogether.

I try to look away when someone chews with their mouth open.

If someone is having a loud conversation via speakerphone, I quietly leave the area if it’s bothering me so much.

People don’t do these things to annoy me, so taking it personally would be a waste of energy and a totally misplaced reaction on my part.


Perhaps if I’d been given my dream job right out of school, or had other desires of mine easily fulfilled, I would not have seen any reason to change anything about myself. Sometimes when you get everything you want in life, you unconsciously see that as an affirmation of sorts. Just keep doing what you’re doing! Why change when being a jerk didn’t have any negative consequences?

But even if you’re a successful jerk, there’s a pretty good chance that if you look at the people surrounding you–especially people on a lower rung of the ladder, or perhaps your friends and family who’ve provided you with support along the way–you might find a lot of people who were inadvertently hurt or taken advantage of because of your ambitions.

It doesn’t matter what stage you’re at in life–there is absolutely nothing that should preclude you from practicing kindness.

It’s something we can achieve as individuals as well as collectively in our social groups. Why wouldn’t you make that choice? Kindness is not a competition, but we can certainly achieve it. And unlike most other awards and honors, we can make achievements in kindness without limit–starting now, and until the day we die. The possibility is there.

It’s a dog’s life

This blog is called Catholic-esque for a reason. I was raised Catholic and confirmed within the Church, but like many other people, I no longer belong to a parish or attend mass. Though I’ve entertained the thought of starting back up again, a few aspects of joining a church in an official capacity give me great pause.

great paws indeed

I would like to discuss the tendency of religious organizations to target and prey upon people when they are at their most vulnerable. This could be during times of great financial loss, or even following the loss of a loved one. Churches seem to have an incredible gift for offering comfort and support in exchange for free labor.

Note to self: Dial down the cynicism.

Note to self: Ignore first note. Always be yourself.

Certain denominations of Christianity are more evangelical than others. That term, used in this context, refers to their greater efforts spent in spreading the “Good News,” or the Gospel. I’m not here to make a judgment on the various recruiting tactics employed by different denominations. I’m trying to focus on what happens after a person has affiliated themselves with a church.

Before I continue, I want to give “church” a fair shake. So…

What do I like about the idea of attending church?

A few things:

Number One: Setting aside a specific time that is dedicated to God. Ideally, Christians would then use this time as a reminder that every moment of every day is God’s time. That challenge is the most difficult part of being a Christian. We can get so wrapped up in our everyday problems to the point where we forget to acknowledge the beauty and wonder of God’s creation. We forget to treat others as the children of God that we know they are. If you believe that. It’s fine if you don’t <–italicized because I’ve used this before and will use it again and again. I want anyone who isn’t a total asshole to feel welcome here, and I’m not in the business of trying to convert anyone.

Number Two: Engaging in rituals of worship can be helpful in connecting God with the rituals of our everyday existence. I’m talking about the most boring, mundane aspects of being alive. Church is boring for a lot of people, yes. We do the same thing there every week. The responsibilities and obligations that come with being alive are also quite boring or monotonous at times. Feed the pets, water the plants, take the kids to school, pick them back up, make dinner, do the laundry–only add about a hundred-or-so other things in there and you’ve accounted for an entire day’s worth of activities you’ve done before and will do again until the day you die. It can help to think of these obligations as a way of serving God and His creation. Participating in rituals of worship can help us direct our thoughts toward God. Consider how many preparatory rituals you might engage in at home before leaving the house for the day–taking a shower, brushing your teeth, making coffee–whatever they are, once you have your daily rituals down, you tend to repeat them day after day. Whenever you have a day where you feel rushed, or something gets in the way of these rituals, do you ever feel a little “off”? Like you might not be in the right head-space? My point is that observing rituals can be necessary to maintaining our own sense of inner peace. It’s no wonder that they factor into most religious services.

Number Three: The sense of community and belonging. Sounds great, but I struggle with this because I don’t actually feel like I belong in church. I remember times of feeling disgusted by what was being said during the priest’s homily. I know I would still have that reaction if I went to church and heard those same things today. I don’t want to be disappointed all over again. This is the main reason why I lost interest in my religion and why I abandoned my faith. Only later did I start to regard organized religion as a method by which the state keeps its citizenry subdued and “in check.” Today I still acknowledge this–I can’t find a convincing argument against it. If you’re a part of the militant atheist movement and want to “convert” believers to your side, I would suggest following that thread because it certainly worked on me for a while. In my first post here, I said that I didn’t want to blame God for my failures or my perceived failures of other people. So that’s how I believe in God while still agreeing with the view that religion is used to subjugate people.


I’m about to delve more into the reservations I have about getting involved in organized religion. Let it be known that I strongly dislike the following:
-getting up early
-being told what to do
-being recruited for volunteer activities

Those are minor things though. Maybe I should never, ever go back to church. Maybe. I’m not sure yet, and I’m trying to figure that out.

One major aspect of organized Christianity that gives me the creeps is…the creeps: the people who seem to be lying in wait to take advantage of you when you’re in a vulnerable state and seeking guidance. I don’t like seeing church leaders target people who are hurting. I feel like I’ve seen this time and time again–the people who are targeted are often women, and they feel compelled to increase their involvement in church functions and activities. Have you ever noticed how many parish volunteers are women? Are we so lacking for legitimate positions within our chosen spiritual communities that all we’re good for is selling raffle tickets at the church picnic, or serving scrambled eggs at a church breakfast? Add in a thousand other tasks and you start to wonder if any religious organization could possibly stay afloat without women providing consistent, unpaid labor. Women clearly want to get involved on some level, but we’re often prohibited from taking on actual leadership roles within our churches. Women are left doing the work no one else wants to do. They are expected to volunteer for it–and they do.

Women who are single may have more time to give to their church. Women with grown children may have more time to give to their church. Women who are recently widowed may have more time to give to their church. Women whose marriages have failed may find themselves looking for support, and even if they don’t have any more time to give, you may often see them giving that time (that they don’t have) to the church. Women give a disproportionate amount of their time when compared to men. It’s not necessarily related to their station in life or their circumstances–it’s just easier to take advantage of them when they are already struggling. I think these churches know that.

I tried looking up some stats on women’s over-representation in the area of unpaid work within Christian organizations, and I was only able to find some tangentially-related articles from the Pew Research Center about women in leadership roles. I’ll link them in case you’re interested:

Women relatively rare in top positions of religious leadership

The Gender Gap in Religion Around the World (this one is incredibly thorough and spans multiple pages)

I also found this while surfing the world wide web::

When Women Start Saying “No” to Church Activities

and I know it’s anecdotal, but it’s important. I should add some kind of disclaimer that I’m not affiliated with the writer in any way. I hesitate to link to anyone’s personal website when I don’t know much about them. I also hesitate because I highly doubt anyone in the Christian community wants to be affiliated with me. My views might be at odds with theirs in some way and I wouldn’t want to cause offense. Regardless, I think that post is worth reading.

Women disproportionately volunteer more than men do. I see this every Friday when I go to the Humane Society for Kennel Enrichment (in layman’s terms, we spend one-on-one time with the dogs). I’ve been there for a year and some months. In that entire time, only one man has volunteered with us (us women, I mean). You always hear guys talking about how much they love dogs…if they love them so much, tell them to contact their local animal shelter. They could use the extra help, I’m sure.

If you want a source for any of this:

Why Don’t Men Volunteer as Much as Women?
which directed me to the U.S. Department of Labor:
Volunteering in the United States, 2015

I don’t go to church unless I’m there for a wedding or a funeral. Sometimes I attend the occasional baptism. I did take my dog to the Franciscan Sisters to receive a blessing on the feast day of St. Francis of Assisi. I always loved taking our family dog to the “Blessing of the Pets” when we were kids. This was the first time in my adult life that I chose to participate in a religious service of my own accord. It was also the first time I witnessed a group a women performing a blessing. It was great, because my dog and I are both independent women.

doesn’t she look blessed? hopefully some of it rubbed off on the cat

What do you want to do with your life? pt. 2

Continued from Part 1

I wish I could be in college right now, for the first time. I love a lot of things today that I had no clue about back when I was actually going through college. The first book I read after graduating was Middlemarch by George Eliot. I had always loved to read, and I thought I read a lot. But I really didn’t. I barely even knew what I liked to read. I can’t say I’d ever read a book before that was “life changing”. Middlemarch was revolutionary for me because when I was reading it, I kept thinking to myself: Is this the best book I’ve ever read? I think this is the best book I’ve ever read. Why have I never read this before? What the hell have I been doing?

This is my copy and I love it so much.

And I’ve spent the years since then hyper-focused on making up for all the reading I didn’t do back when I was in school. I always say that the one constant good about my job is that it affords me a lot of time to read.

I’ve learned so much in the process. Reading Tolstoy during a time when I felt spiritually lost was the catalyst for me renewing my faith in God. Who, in a time of spiritual crisis, could possibly be left unaffected by Levin’s story in Anna Karenina? Or Pierre’s in War & Peace? Resurrection was so bold and unapologetic in its didacticism and I felt so challenged by it that I was left with a greater sense of confidence in my convictions I had previously been ashamed of.

Russian literature became a focus of mine. I have yet to make peace with the fact that it was left out of my formal education almost entirely–“almost,” because we did read The Cherry Orchard once in high school. I guess that was sufficient? I could go on for ages (take this as a warning) about how depressing it is that American students are only really exposed to American and English literature during their high school years. We talk a lot about diversity in authorship these days, and how to make room for more women and ethnic minorities among the authors of standard “classics” normally touched upon in the high school curriculum. I don’t really care to get too involved in that debate. We’re failing at including female voices and black voices, without a doubt. It’s a major failure in the culture at large. Remember seeing that incredible breakdown on film dialogue? I’m sure the dialogue in today’s best-selling books would fare much better, but that isn’t necessarily reflected where authorship is concerned and how it’s addressed in the high school classroom.

I’m getting a little off-topic. The reason I don’t want to get too bogged down in that specific debate is because if I’m “speaking my truth,” I think of Americans’ fixation on America as just as large of a problem. Do we even care at all about the rest of the world? The less we engage with the artistic output of other countries, the more foreign they’re going to seem to us as people. Americans have no qualms about practicing cultural isolationism, even in institutions of higher education. When we study literature, we study our own literature. We create an echo chamber and then we’re delusional enough to award degrees in it.

In the years following college graduation, I’ve learned that I have no particular affection or preference for American literature, film, or art. I used to think I preferred it, but that was all I knew. It’s pretty easy to have a preference for something when you have nothing to compare it to.

I entered college thinking that I knew what I liked. My focus was always on the arts, so I’ll keep these remarks along those lines.

I had no clue how great a book could be because I’d never read much of anything outside of the texts assigned in school. I rarely watched films that weren’t American productions, or at the very least, films with English-speaking actors. And I thought I loved these things! They were critically acclaimed! I was having fun and getting “cultured”–L to the O to the L. When I first signed up for Netflix and was getting DVDs mailed to my house, I watched a new movie nearly every night. This was one of my passions.

When I entered college and declared as an English major, it didn’t last long for various reasons. See previous post.

I should probably be glad that I took a different path. I was friends with enough English majors to know that they didn’t get to read Middlemarch either, anyway–at least not in school. Is it too long or something? I don’t get it. Here’s a hot take: books you read in school should be difficult. You should feel challenged by them. Your teacher is not mean or evil just because they might make you read something that isn’t easy to digest. Just the other day I had to listen to my 70-something-year-old coworker rant about a book he was assigned to read for class. In his words, his professor is a stupid idiot for assigning it and shouldn’t be allowed to teach anything. Why? Because it’s written in a stream-of-consciousness manner and my coworker thinks any book written in such a manner is garbage. God help his professor. It can’t be easy teaching a bunch of young adults who think they know everything, let alone a 70-year-old man who thinks he knows everything. Why even be in school at all? You know everything. Leave.

Maybe the books I enjoy now would’ve been lost on me when I was a teenager, or possibly even in college. It’s difficult to say for certain. I would love to have the chance again to study with intensity something that I love. I don’t mean to imply that college is wasted on young people. I do think that expecting any significant level of insight from young people whose brains are still developing is a Big Ask. And yet we expect them to know and decide what they want to do with their lives before they’ve ever really lived. If college were free, this would be no big deal.

I don’t know if I’ve actually gained any insight in regard to a future “dream” career. I was hoping to someday discover deep within myself some kind of passion for accounting that had been lying dormant all my life. Then I’d just go into the family business and I’d be set. I don’t think that’s going to happen though. Maybe some of us aren’t meant to make loads of money. Maybe it’s a good thing that I’m one of those people, if indeed I am. Maybe I’m able to deal with it better than someone else would.

What I’m saying might contradict what we’re taught to believe about the American dream. Plenty have called it out as a bogus concept, often citing examples of how opportunities for success simply aren’t made available to everyone equally. It’s a good point, and I get it. I just want to question what makes it worth pursuing in the first place.

Being able to choose your own path in life regardless of your background is a relatively recent human invention. Sometimes I think true happiness would be easier to find if we weren’t seeking the answer in our choice of career. Your job is just one small part of you.

Right now I’m thinking of those faith-based organizations that preach the “Prosperity Gospel.” Here’s another hot take: they are gross and they should be ashamed of themselves. If you’re reading this and you think God not only cares how much money you make, but wants to actively help you make MORE, you’re gross. Close this tab, exit your browser window, throw your computer out the window along with yourself–whatever you have to do. You are gross. You are harming yourself and the people around you.

It’s easy to mock prosperity theology, and to tell its believers to off themselves, but I think a lot of us live by its principles without realizing it. We idolize money. We idolize people who have it. We’re taught to pursue it even if the pursuit of it destroys our soul. We refuse to be content with what we do have. We assign value to actions based on how lucrative they are. Just recently, I skipped a shift I was supposed to work at the Humane Society because it got in the way of me going to my new part-time job. The only reason was money. One pays me, the other doesn’t. Which one I actually enjoy doing more–that didn’t factor in at all. I’d rather be with the dogs (note to self: new epitaph idea). But I didn’t go because they don’t pay me to go.

It’s almost time to end this. I meant to talk about a lot of other things–mainly just movies and books I’ve loved. I can’t find an easy way to go back and add any of that in among what I’ve already written. I’m sure I’ll have other opportunities in future posts. This is getting long enough as it is. I’m at work right now, but I’d rather be with the dogs, if ya know what I mean.

The Song of Bernadette

Beginning this past summer, my boyfriend and I have spent many nights together watching movies, most of which are new to us while some are old favorites. We go a bit wild whenever the Criterion Collection movies are discounted by 50% at Barnes & Noble. Half-Price Books has also been a great source–up until recently I’ve only ever browsed for books there, but I’ve found some incredible movies there in these past few months. My favorite find so far has been The Nun’s Story starring Audrey Hepburn. I cannot recommend it highly enough. After I first saw it, I believe I said: “This movie makes all of my other favorite movies look like trash.” I’m exaggerating a tad when I say that, but watch the movie if you haven’t and try to tell me it isn’t of a higher order than most movies.

Another movie I found at HPB was The Song of Bernadette starring Jennifer Jones. It has been sitting in our “to watch” pile for too long. Two nights ago we finally put it on. With our opposite schedules, it can be difficult to carve out the time for a movie over two hours long so we tend to save those for our shared days off.

The story of Bernadette Soubirous first entered my consciousness when I was about 8 years old and attending Catholic school. We would attend mass three days each week in the morning before classes began. Each mass would be “run” by students of a different class ranging from grades 1 through 8. We had two classes per grade, so every class of every grade would alternate throughout the year doing the readings during mass, bringing the offertory gifts, and singing in the choir. I was assigned to give a reading on the life of Bernadette Soubirous for what I assume was during the feast of the Immaculate Conception.

Being the especially tightly-wound kid that I was, I practiced the reading for days on end until I had it memorized. I didn’t want to have to look down at the paper while I was reading it during mass. I thank my Mom for helping me practice. I have a memory of lying in bed at night, reciting the words from memory while my Mom stood by checking it against a copy of the reading.

Watching The Song of Bernadette caused many of these old memories to come back to me for the first time in a very long time. Most of the movie fell in line with what I remember about her story–the initial visitation, Bernadette’s successive pilgrimages to the grotto, the discovery of a fresh spring when Bernadette dug into the ground using her hands, the request to build a chapel on the holy ground, the revelation that the vision was of the “Immaculate Conception” (a term Bernadette was said to be unfamiliar with)–it was all to be found in the movie along with a vivid portrayal of Bernadette’s family and their struggles with poverty and Bernadette’s own fragile health.

From what I understand, the movie (and the book it’s based on) have embellished certain events for dramatic effect. The “antagonists” in the movie, represented by the prosecutor Dutour (played by Vincent Price) and his cronies, display not simply mere skepticism toward Bernadette’s story, but rather they condemn her outright and aim threats at her that include imprisonment of her and her family.

Hints at a never-to-be romantic relationship between Bernadette and a neighbor boy are included despite having no basis in reality (though they were indeed friends).

The figure in the movie who I found to be of great interest was that of Sister Marie-Therese Vauzou, who in the film is highly suspicious of Bernadette’s visions and whose condemnation of her rivals even that of the prosecutor’s. The film gives Sister Vauzou an incredibly powerful scene toward its end in which she laments her own treatment of Bernadette, recognizing that her skepticism arose from feelings of jealousy (among others). Vauzou, played by Gladys Cooper, is an unforgettable presence throughout the movie. The scene that finds her in church, begging for God’s forgiveness, is particularly moving. Many liberties were taken in this portrayal of her, because in reality she never got beyond her initial skepticism and even opposed Bernadette’s canonization (investigations for which were postponed until after the death of Sister Vauzou).

Despite some of these incongruities, the film is much more than a simple religious propaganda piece. I think it raises a lot of questions about our willingness to believe in certain things and what it is that holds us back from claiming certain beliefs for our own. Do you ever find yourself stuck in this line of thinking? “I don’t believe it, so I won’t believe it.” That sounds simplistic, but it makes me wonder what I’m cutting myself off from in life.

I had an experience once–one that gave me an overwhelming feeling of peace and security–and I knew in my heart that this feeling was coming from God, but because I was a committed non-believer at the time, I was unwilling to accept God as the source of this feeling. Maybe someday I’ll elaborate on the particulars of the experience (and don’t worry! no visions were involved), but today is not that day.

I’ll end this post with three recommendations:
The Song of Bernadette, directed by Henry King and starring Jennifer Jones
The Nun’s Story, directed by Fred Zinnemann and starring Audrey Hepburn
Mariette in Ecstasy, a short novel by Ron Hansen

Hitler isn’t in hell, but I am.

The title of this blog post is not supposed to be provocative. It’s something that came up in counseling while talking about self-forgiveness. Thinking about those words from time to time since then has been helpful to me because they’ve been keeping in check my tendency toward self-flagellation. I have a bad part of my brain that thinks I deserve all the worst things in the world and that in the afterlife I only deserve the harshest judgment from God. I don’t even know how to accurately or objectively assess my own moral standing, if that makes sense. I don’t know whether I’m a good person or a bad person. I guess I think I’m a pretty bad person. I’m a bad person because I think bad thoughts. Even when I was questioning the existence of God, I was sure that my thoughts were going to send me to Hell. And I didn’t even believe in it, really.

The thing is though, that when I articulate these thoughts about myself to my counselor, I begin to see what’s wrong with them.

I often categorize myself as “not a superstitious person”. People who don’t believe in God may scoff at that, because belief in anything that isn’t tangible is sometimes relegated to the realm of superstition. I do believe my faith suffers when I approach it from a superstitious angle. Let me try to illustrate what that looks like, in my experience:

I think a particularly abhorrent thought, therefore I will go to Hell.

I consume media that has no redeeming qualities and is morally bankrupt, therefore I will go to Hell.

My actions are not a reflection of my thoughts, therefore I am a hypocrite and I am going to Hell.

Basically I have created a way in which even my good actions will send me to Hell because I’m not being true to my bad thoughts. I think of any good actions as a way to make amends for my bad thoughts, but even that isn’t enough to escape Hell because God knows what my thoughts actually are.

I’m trying to accept that this is B.S., but it’s like I have to rewire my brain for that to happen.

I’ve gone on long enough about this, so let’s get back to Hitler.

My counselor asked me if Hitler was in Hell. I think he knew what I would say before I even responded, probably before the question was even a thought in his head. You don’t counsel someone for months without getting a sense that you’re talking to the kind of person who thinks there’s a good chance Hitler might not be in Hell. I am one of those people and maybe I’m very obvious about that, despite never having talked about it before because frankly the topic is done to death.

Why wouldn’t Hitler be in Hell? So many reasons, each of which is as improbable as the next, but it’s what I believe, so let’s get typing:

  • None of us can truly know what goes on inside another person, even the people closest to us.
  • None of us can know if, or to what extent, another person has sought forgiveness for their sins.
  • We pray for the release of all souls in purgatory in order that they may go to Heaven. If Hitler was able to escape eternal suffering in the afterlife, there’s a chance he could be in Heaven right now. I don’t know, I’m just typing insane things. Bear with me.
  • No matter how evil and destructive a person is on earth, it is not up to me to make a judgment that is reserved for God alone to make (this ties in to why capital punishment is also wrong, again, for so many reasons, but having the hubris to act like God is surely a great sin).

I can make every excuse in the book for why Hitler might not be in Hell. But I can’t make the same excuses for myself. Why? Well, I’ve had a pretty nice life. I was brought up well. I have great parents. They did a good job instilling a sense of right vs. wrong in their children, and I credit my Mom with adding empathy into the whole equation. Without empathy, the entire effort would’ve been pointless.

At this point, anything I do that is evil or destructive is entirely my own fault. That is why I think even the littlest things could send me to Hell.

At the end of that counseling session, as I was walking out the door, I said, “Hitler isn’t in Hell, but I am.” And it made me laugh. So now I like to say it in my head, all the time, and especially when I need to add some perspective to my bouts of self-judgment.

My counselor told me that he questions the existence of Hell because of what that says about the God who would create Hell. I do agree with that. I can’t say that I believe in Hell either, because to me it only surfaces as a concept when I’m approaching my faith in the most superstitious manner possible. My thoughts about Hell are indicative of the worst parts of my faith that I would like to challenge and hopefully dispose of. A person should not believe in Hell. A person of faith should believe in God. I only believe in Hell when I want to punish myself.

Self-forgiveness is the theme of this post.