Every Mennonite home of consequence featured the same ceramic plaque. It involved a long-haired and doe-eyed Jesus, glowing like an extra-terrestrial in his classic creamy toga look; forever frozen with his right hand up in a door-knocking fist.
The door had five planks and a little square opening covered in a tiny wrought-iron grill. The ivory-coloured walls around it were in shadow and covered with ivy and branches. The door had no knob because you had to open your heart from the inside. Jesus wasn’t going to force His way in. You had to sincerely repent and confess that you were a wretch and a sinner and then ask him to come in and save you from your sad sorry self.
The scripture from Revelations surrounded this pleasant tableau. In raised golden letters it read, “Behold I stand at the door and knock. If any man hears my voice and opens the door, I will sup with him and he with me.”
How hard hearted would you have to be to not open the door to someone so nice?
For Heaven’s Sakes! Jesus was just there to help.
But in spite of my very real fear of the horrific consequences of being cast forevermore into hellfire, I couldn’t seem to make myself confess the Lord as my Personal Saviour. I didn’t know really know why not.
Instead, I twisted on my tortured thoughts of what a horrible person I was, unable to accept, believe and obey. My childhood was spent guilty and ashamed for all that I was incapable of doing.
It was the ultimate fight or flight conundrum; I knew that I was a shameful sinner. And. I lived in constant fear of Hell.
Because I didn’t have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, I also lived in abject fear of the return of Christ and the subsequent judgement that would reveal all my failings. I was most assuredly damned from below and damned from above.
I believe this might be referred to as a no-win situation.
You would probably not be surprised to know that about ten years ago I spent many sessions in therapy.
If, prior to these sessions, you had asked me to attribute emotional states to myself, it would never have occurred to me to use the word anxious. I would say I was optimistic, extroverted, cheerful, a risk-taker, someone who got things done, dammit!
What I discovered was that running below all those aforementioned happy-clappy states was a darkly-twisted anxiety. Who knew!? Apparently, it had been there all along.
Once I was blind. Now I could see.
I have no idea how much can be attributed to the daily servings of guilt and shame or just plain old genetic roulette. The point of the therapy wasn’t about attributing blame or pinpointing the source. Instead, it was about self-awareness. More importantly, now that I knew that my default state was one of unremitting anxiety, it was up to me to do something to counter it.
Hence the writing, the exercise, the meditation, travel, the investment in friendship and family, social connections and seeking out of the absurd and the funny.
But let me tell you this. This whole self-examination thing is not very pretty. It can be akin to pulling open the breaker box to find a tangle of frayed and sparking wires. The task is daunting, but I’m slowly smoothing them out, carefully deciding what needs to stay and what needs to be cut and occasionally blasting the whole mess with a fully-loaded extinguisher of martinis (I never claimed to have a perfect handle on the best fix).
A gal’s gotta do what a gal has to do.
It’s one step forward, two steps back and a couple of side-shuffles in this wacky dance called life.