Sometimes they come back

Sometimes they come back, those irrepressible demons of my youth...

I write my sermons on my laptop and then email them to my work computer to print out. About every third or fourth sermon, the emails end with a statement that says something like “don’t forget to do X… you moron.” Moron, idiot, and dumb-ass are my favorites, or at least the ones I use most often when I write a note to myself.

They are the private words I use when I talk to myself. These words come automatically, my fingers reaching deep into my unconscious and ripping them from the dark places they inhabit. Before I know it they are tapped out on the keyboard; before I can change it, the message is traveling down the cyber-highway waiting to meet me again on early Sunday mornings.

I reasoned that if no one likes me then I must be stupid, I must be who they say I am. It was middle school, the first time I ever understood, felt loneliness. I remember withdrawing, pulling every thought, every feeling inside. It wasn’t a careful act; it was violent, intentional, calculated. If they were going to make fun of who I was, then I was going to be nothing. Day after day we would attend classes together, sometimes we would gather to play together after school. Every moment was one of panic; constantly scrutinizing my actions, wondering if I gave them anything, if any movement or addition to the conversation could be used against me the next morning. My goal was to deprive the fire of oxygen so that it might die out on its own. If they couldn't get to me, then there was nothing to feed on.

But they did get to me, there were times when I wept out of loneliness, sadness, or anger, but never in front of them. That would have given them more fuel, would have fed their comments and remarks. Each morning I would don a pock-marked and ragtag suit of armor that had seen too many battles; from inside I could hear their words echoing inside my steel cage and I could refrain from fighting back; Each swing of the sword would glance off of that tough exterior and inside I would grow more cold, logical, cynical. With each battle, I became more like a museum piece, solid, stoic, nice to look at but increasingly empty on the inside.

All the while I internalized their messages; told myself that if they said it, it must be true. My world grew smaller and smaller, my younger brother became my cohort. I lost the ability, the desire to communicate with others. Hell, I didn’t even like talking to myself anymore, so I quit. What little social abilities I had withered like a weed with a fresh coat of Round-Up. What was left was a monosyllabic teenager, who could only answer the questions asked of him. I could not offer information because that could be used against me. I feared betrayal above all else, sometimes I still do…

Sometimes these are the last words I read before printing out my sermon. I try and laugh them off, calling myself stupid for writing that I am a moron.

becomes reinforcement
becomes belief

Shrugging them off only makes them stronger, only makes them more real. With each smile I choose to let them grow, and I cement them into the reality of my mind. That is why they are automatic; I let them in one time and refused to believe that they weren’t true.

I am beginning to know that these words are not who I am any longer. I can mediate and medicate their presence. I know myself better now; for the most part, I have stopped being a wounded and broody fourteen-year-old. I talk; I share stories; I even laugh at myself now.

But sometimes, sometimes the ghosts of my past haunt me again. Sometimes the nightmares return and I forget who I am; I forget about how others who care about me see me. Sometimes I can’t help but be fourteen again, to be frightened, to be lonely, to be angry. It is then that I remind myself about my failures, my irresponsibility, my lack of discipline. I pull out my armor piece by piece and battle myself, batter myself.

What I am beginning to realize is that this rusted beaten suit of armor doesn’t fit so well anymore. I am not ready to give it up yet, but it just feels too small. In these epic battles of the self, joints and muscles are now exposed to sword, and the wounds I inflict are no longer shielded by the ragged metal that clings to my flesh. As sword cuts through sinew and tissue, I feel the pain of my self-loathing, but strangely absent is the fear of these woundings. I know that they must happen, that these battles must be fought. By opening these wounds, I give them air, I make them visible so that they may be tended, so that someday they might heal…

grace and peace



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