As a teenager I was told Jesus used to hang out with prostitutes and “sinners.” I had no idea that Jesus still likes to hang out with these people.
And by “these people” I mean me.
A big part of my journey to faith was seeing The Passion of the Christ in theatres. It was powerful for me, but I didn’t know what to do afterwards to figure out what was happening to me. Someone close to me mentioned that I should try going to church and that seemed like the logical next step.
But man, was I scared.
I had done just about everything a church-goer shouldn’t do. I thought maybe I would spontaneously combust as I walked through the doors of the church because of all the sketchy and downright awful things I’d done in my past.
I pulled myself together and went, even with mass being at 8 am (?!). I parked my car next to some swing sets a good distance from the church and set out for a long, awkward walk.
To make things worse, one of my old friends (that I had smoked a ton of weed with) drove by at the very second I approached the front doors. We both caught a glimpse of each other and although I couldn’t hear him, I vividly remember what he said. I could see his mouth moving, like it was in slow-mo, saying, “What the &@#$!”
My next few steps turned into a sprint and I opened the door as quickly as I could.
To my amazement I didn’t fall through any trap doors to eternal damnation. Instead, I felt an immense amount of peace. A feeling that the man upstairs was happy I was there. I started to believe He was behind this whole thing.
With the going-to-church thing being a confidence boost, a confirmation that this was a good thing to be exploring, I asked the same dangerous question I’d asked after seeing that Mel Gibson movie:
That was the answer from a friend at church.
Now my fear transitioned into panic.
You mean, say everything bad I’ve done to some super holy dude, all in one sitting, face-to-face?
“Umm,” I thought, “let’s make that a rain check. Forever.”
After a week of putting it off I finally grew some spiritual cojones and went. I didn’t prepare much and was shoved into a long line of Filipino ladies and church bingo hustlers. I was given a pamphlet that had the ten commandments on it but I had no idea what to do. The time in line went so fast and before I knew it I was face-to-face - not even behind a screen! - with a priest.
Not knowing what to do I said, “Forgive me for I have sinned“ (thank you, habitual Catholic upbringing), and then read the ten commandments one by one:
“I worshipped false gods, didn’t keep holy the sabbath, committed adultery…”
You know, the usuals.
The priest just smiled and said a prayer over me before I left. Back then I didn’t know much about how this forgiveness thing worked but I was confident that saying “I coveted my neighbor's wife” was not how this was supposed to go down.
I called my Catholic grandmother and told her about my experience. She knew my past and said, laughing, “Oh Jakey-cakes, you need to make an hour appointment with a priest for all the things you’ve done.”
So I made an appointment with the local priest. I knew I had a lot to tell this poor guy, so I thought it would be a good idea to start writing down the sins I could remember. One page turned into two. Two turned into ten.
By the end, I was confident the tax collectors and prostitutes in the bible didn’t even have a laundry list of sins like me.
I was a nervous wreck when the day to see the priest came. What had I gotten myself into?! I seriously considered canceling, but a weird peace came over me as I drove to the church.
The priest met me at the door and walked me in through a small, crowded hallway. The walls seemed to be closing in on me like a scene from Indiana Jones as we made our way to his office. I planted myself in an old wooden chair that probably needed a fifth of whiskey because of everything it had heard over the years. But, then again, it could have been worse…
As the priest said, “Go ahead son, let’s begin” I pulled out those ten pages from my pocket. I smoothed them out on my lap and as I looked up at the priest I saw that his eyes were wide.
“Is that your autobiography?” he asked.
“Get ready,” was my reply.
I started to go through the list one by one as this priest listened patiently. I had purposely saved the sin I was most ashamed of for last, but when I said it the priest didn’t flinch. He just smiled and gave me a Hail Mary for my penance.
“Really?! That’s it?!” I thought. “Shouldn’t I have to climb Mt. Everest or something?”
As we finished, tears started flowing down my face. Not “oh my god I hate my life” tears, but tears that felt like nothing I’ve experienced before.
I had lived through my parents’ divorce, friends’ suicides, my dad’s drug addiction, and homelessness. I couldn’t remember the last time I cried and yet I couldn’t get these tears to stop.
I quickly thanked the priest and hopped in my car. While driving home I tried as much as possible to hide my face for fear that one of my friends would see me crying like a teeny bopper who just heard Zac Efron got fat.
As I pulled into my driveway the flow of tears got stronger. I couldn’t even get out of my car and for some reason every time I thought of Jesus I would cry even harder. What was happening to me!?!
This wet snotty mess lasted for close to an hour. My brother was in high school at the time and was used to his older brother being the pot head in the driveway rolling a doobie, so when he saw me in the driveway crying like a baby saying “Jesus” - well, it was a little shocking for him.
Something significant was happening. I felt like I was being healed.
What I love about Christianity is that we believe Jesus is a healer. Jesus said he came for the sick, not the healthy (Matthew 9:12). He wants to take care of us even if we feel like we aren’t worth it, like our woundedness is too much. All He needs is you to give Him a chance. If you do, get ready to feel His joy. The bible says that Heaven rejoices more over one pot head high school dropout converting than 99 righteous people (my paraphrasing of Luke 15:7).
Jesus loves getting into the mess of life, and boy was my soul a bit trashed. He loves to hang with people like me who didn’t, and still don’t, have their life together. I know that I don’t have to have my life together for Him to love me. In fact, He gets pretty excited about making the mess into something beautiful. 2,000 years ago He chose prostitutes and tax collectors as his disciples, turning their lives around, and, back in 2003, he chose me.
If this sounds crazy but cool or if you have questions that are just burning within you, then send me an email and ask me anything. I’d love to chat.