I will be honest, there are Sundays when I don’t feel like going to Mass. There are Sundays when my husband is called to serve our community or family in other ways, and I have to go alone. Those days, I feel the Lord specifically plants a child to blatantly stare at me from a few pews in front of me, or a particularly fussy one directly behind me. Depending on my mental state, I find it laughable, maybe even inspiring – that there is still hope in this journey for me to become a mother of my own biological child, and my heart smiles from this being a potential “God wink”. Other times, it feels like torture, like some sort of sick joke or punishment that I can’t seem to escape, no matter what I do or how hard I try, and it makes me want to turn inward, hide, and run away from the shame infertility can bring.
In the weeks leading up to Lent, I prayerfully discerned what the Lord was asking from me to sacrifice. The typical dairy, sweets or coffee sacrifices didn’t seem sufficient this year, and I felt a calling to go deeper. I purchased the lenten devotional New Wineskins by the lovely ladies over at Blessed Is She, and it inspired me to think about which old wineskins were hindering me in my spiritual growth and communion with God. I reflected on the word “shame”. Shame indicates the presence of pride, one of the seven deadly sins. It’s difficult for me to admit, but I have felt an intense presence of shame on this journey – every time I have to go to a family party or shower alone, every time I am asked if I have children, every time I am driving home from a fun date or excursion with my husband and feeling the emptiness of a barren backseat where I wish a baby was, every time I run into someone from my past life that expects me to have a bigger family by now at the ripe old age of 32. 6 years of unexpected, unrelenting shame. So, I decided to hand over all my shame and all my pride to Jesus, once and for all, with hopes to again fully trust in His plan and purpose for me and my life.
God has brought to the surface memories and flashbacks of previous times in my life that caused me to feel shame, and revealed to me the ways my insecurities and self-doubt got in the way of enjoying the blessings I had all around me. The experiences that caused me shame I can now see were redirects to bigger and better things, way beyond what I could have anticipated or imagined. God is helping me heal in more ways than one through conversations with family, friends and past romantic relationships that had damaged pieces of me I wasn’t even fully aware of (or maybe even blocked out to avoid the emotional pain they caused). When my heart is fully open to God, placing all my heartache and wounds at Christ’s feet, I suddenly feel this veil lift and I can see clearly. Throughout Lent, it has become challenging to recognize what made me feel so ashamed in the first place. In the first few weeks, it began to feel silly, childish, even absurd.
Then, on Sunday 5th March at Mass, it really clicked for me after a moving homily at my parish. I was surrendering all these feelings, memories, flashbacks and conversations to the Lord, asking for Him to help me make sense of it all, and to find healing and relief. Our priest talked about how sin results in death – a moral death and existential death. Moral death in a person causes confusion, and the person cannot distinguish between right or wrong. Existential death is when a person cannot see purpose and meaning in their life, suffering begins to have no meaning and is seen as only pain while destroying a person’s interiority. It hit me like a ton of bricks. What has shame cost me? A cocktail of moral and existential death.
A few years ago, I thought of birth as the welcoming of a child. Since then, my mindset has expanded in my understanding of the word, all its complexities and potential to make meaning out of the people, places and events that enter my life that symbolize something new. Birth could be to an intimate relationship, project, resolved conflict, fresh perspective on an old, repetitive problem, or even an unexpected turning point when I’ve reached a fork in the road and all I have left is to surrender my plans to God and have faith.
Whether we like it or not, the Lord is preparing us to enter into new wineskins. Wineskins that are not just any wineskins, but ones that have held similar space for sacred women of the Bible – Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel, Elizabeth, Hannah. Despite our resistance, Jesus comes to walk with us. To transform what seems broken, lost and abandoned – to be held, to be loved, to be risen.
“And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; otherwise, the wine will burst the skins, and the wine is lost, and so are the skins; but one puts new wine into fresh wineskins.” (Mark 2: 21, 22)
As the old wineskins deteriorate, let us remember the accompaniment that is only a prayer, a sacrament, or a vulnerable conversation away from walking with us to a new dwelling place. Closer to God, and closer to what is meant for us.
This week we invite you to pray the Litany of Humility and reflect on what comes up for you as you recite these ancient petitions. What comes up for you when you feel rejected? What comes up for you when you feel accepted? Open your heart to receive God’s love in these places we tend to want to hide or bury. I’m praying with you and for you sister. May God give you the grace you need to take good care of your mind, body, and soul on this journey of self-discovery.