Finding myself in the cross of Christ

Socializing has never been difficult for my sanguine soul. Whether it’s a heart-to-heart or vibing in a large crowd, I get energy by being with people. Growing up, I was accustomed to being dropped off at random soccer camps and conferences, never knowing anyone and having to go outside of my comfort zone to make friends.

Yet as I got older, after graduating from college, I noticed a certain shame and paranoia would arise after hanging out with friends or going to events.

“What did I just say?”

“Why did I say that?”

“Why was I acting like that?”

We all have embarrassing moments, faux pas, tell jokes that don’t land right, etc. however, what I was feeling was more than a one-off awkward encounter. I felt like I wasn’t being truly me.

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In every interaction, I felt myself grasping for approval, striving to be accepted and overcompensating to cover up my imperfections. Though on the surface, I was simply putting myself out there, I came to realize I didn’t really know who I was in any one setting. I didn’t have a sense that I really belonged anywhere.

As a result, I became a social chameleon, changing my shades and stripes to fit in with whoever was there. Afterward, I would feel icky and gross for having put a false version of myself out there. I can remember sitting in prayer with stomach aches, reflecting back on social situations and feeling like an imposter.

Who am I?

In the midst of my anxiety, I felt the Lord asking me repeatedly in prayer “Who are you?”

I brushed this off at first. Being a post-college graduate, I felt I should have already figured this out. I’d been walking with the Lord for many years at that point and had all the “right” answers to this question, memorized from years of campus ministry and binge listening to Catholic talks. Yet as I faced this question in prayer before the Lord, I realized I didn’t really know.

I ran to my spiritual director, desperate for her to tell me. After listening to me vent, she was silent. Looking at me with stern tenderness mixed with mysterious excitement, she pointed to the cross. “I can’t tell you who you are, but he can. Let him show you.”

At some point after this conversation, I found myself frustrated. Though I was bringing him the question, I didn’t feel like he was answering me. I was reading all the spiritual books, going to daily Mass, praying in every free moment, yet I felt no peace.

‘Lose yourself on the Cross’

Then I came across a quote by St. Catherine of Siena: “Leave it all to Him, let go of yourself, lose yourself on the Cross, and you will find yourself entirely.”

As I read this quote and fixated my eyes upon the crucifix, the words “let go” shifted something in my heart. The invitation was then very clear: Let go of your active search and stay with me.

Before this moment, I thought surrendering to God was word-vomiting all my problems in prayer, having a good cry, praying the Rosary and calling it a day. Before this moment, giving my life to God looked like packing my schedule with Catholic activities.

Yet in the moment, Christ showed me it was precisely my activity that was keeping me from the intimacy my soul actually needed. Instead of dumping all my mess on God and ditching, I started to ponder what it would look like to share my mess and then abide with him in the mess. Instead of placing my cross upon his shoulders and then running away, what would it look like to share my cross with Christ?

Christ, my stability

Practically, this looked like “losing myself” in the drama of salvation: approaching the Paschal Mystery not as a piece of required reading but, rather, an epic love story that the Lord wanted to represent through my own story. Beholding my life in the context of the cross radically changed the way I looked at my past and, in turn, changed my outlook on the future.

Contemplating the crucifix, fixating upon the wounds of Jesus, it was almost as if I could see each of my wounds on the wounded body of the Lord. There were no longer his wounds and my wounds. There were only our wounds. There was no longer “me, myself and I.” There was only “we, us and ours.”

Losing myself in the cross helps me not get lost in the movement of life. As I go forth, participating in the life of the Church, my value, my being, my worth, my wealth is rooted in the cross. I found my place. I know where I belong: right beside my Lord, Jesus Christ. The seasons, the circumstances, the settings of life are constantly changing, yet the cross of Christ stands firm to give me a sense of stability in and through it all.

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