BY LAURALYN FORMENTERA SOLANO
It’s been several years since I started working at the diocesan level. There are certain conversations I’ve come to expect as part of the job, but the ones that sadden me most are when someone, whom I’m meeting for the first time, feels compelled to justify or give an accounting for certain life choices.
Take, for example, a recent conversation with one of my program volunteers. She shared with me that she has issues with her Catholicity saying, “After 14 years as a widow, I have found the love of my life and we are living together.”
It makes me sad and ashamed that for many people, my position in the church is synonymous with someone who stands in judgment and condemnation of others.
When I am faced with these situations, my heart softens with compassion for them. If they only knew that I was that woman brought before the Lord. I was the one in a sinful relationship. I searched for the Lord, I longed for the Lord, yet my actions and my state in life made me feel I was unworthy. I also wasn’t the only one who made myself feel that way. Being around other “Christians” who seemed to do everything right, condemned me even more.
I remember my sophomore year of high school, I attended a retreat and experienced the Holy Spirit. I felt so on fire that I told God, “I love you and I’m ready. Bring it on!”
He definitely did.
In my senior year of high school, I became involved with this guy I was really into. Whether or not he was as into me — that’s very questionable. We engaged in things of the world, and at 18 I became pregnant for the first time. Frightened of everything, including him, I went in for an abortion. They told me that I was giving myself the opportunity to succeed in life by eliminating this distraction.
But I was broken. I felt so sinful, so unworthy.
Depression and the desire to end my life persisted. I prayed and told God to give me a chance to make it right. I continued to struggle with my love for God and my love for this man. I was torn in two. I would resolve to leave this relationship and be with God and stop all my sinful ways (including using birth control), then I would fall again into temptation. As I wandered through the darkness, I found myself pregnant again — due on the same day as my abortion.
I didn’t know what to do.
I decided to keep this baby, even if that meant hiding from the man who was threatening to end my life for keeping her. God blessed me with a beautiful girl and eventually her father came around, but the pattern and effects of sin didn’t end.
I was still a broken person, dealing with an abusive relationship, dealing with a broken spirit. I went back and forth for so long, loving God yet hurting God. My depression deepened and I attempted to kill myself several times. I tried to live the life the world said I could: be with this man, keep my little family together, just like so many other people living in the world. It didn’t work.
I found myself pregnant from an uncommitted man, two more times, and feeling my soul was already in hell, I refused to bring two kids into this world with a mother who was broken, broke, and a father who was busy searching the streets for sinful opportunities. I had two more abortions.
I knew I was going to hell.
Mercy came to me in the people who knew I was stuck in this pattern of sin. Sin, literally meaning to “miss the mark”, was constant. I continued to miss the mark, to miss God because I couldn’t even find him in my mess.
Thankfully, people ministered to me, and showed me where to go. They showed me that God continues to love me, and that he loved me first. He wasn’t waiting for me to love him before he offered himself. I grew in love and friendship, and eventually, by his grace, I was set free from the relationship and the cycle of abuse. Abuse from him and abuse from myself. It wasn’t easy. Patience was necessary and continues to be even to now.
A decade and a half later, I am here, married to a great man with four children working for my diocese and put in charge of formation for the local church. God definitely has a sense of humor.
In this place I am now, I still face temptation, I still face my humanity. The difference is that I know that God’s mercy endures forever. I know where he is, I know where my target is, and I continue to try my best to hit the mark. I enjoy God’s friendship amongst my mistakes and I ask his companionship even when I don’t feel worthy.
So what do I say to these people who feel the need to justify themselves to me? The same thing that Jesus shared, I do not judge you, but sin no more. Those two things are specific. No judgement, as the effects of sin will continue to judge us. Meaning, when we have missed the mark, we are lost. Judgement tells us where we are.
Much like God calling out to Adam after they fell, “Adam, where are you?” God wasn’t asking because he didn’t know, he was asking so that Adam might know that he wasn’t in relationship with God. The same of us, when we sin, God calls out, “Where are you?” Not so he may know where we are, but that we are able to judge where we are as we have missed the mark.
Secondly, “sin no more,” at face value can just be words of advice, but Jesus says it as a command. In this culture, we are afraid to call into account what is sinful, and more than anything to tell others to “sin no more” as we may come across as judging. This is can be a difficult command to follow, but in his mercy, God knows this. He gives us companions along the way, and nourishment in his church. “Sin no more” gives us direction, it gives us a path to avoid missing the mark.
As we approach the end of this Lenten season, I pray that we take time to remove the blocks that hinder our sight of the mark, we continue to fast from the things that make it difficult for us to “sin no more” and more than anything, that we open our hearts to those are in difficult situations, like the woman brought before the crowd, and allow grace and mercy to flow from us so that they may be moved to hit the mark.
LAURALYN FORMENTERA SOLANO resides in Northern California and believes she is a candidate for future sainthood due to the purgative efforts of her wonderful husband Jason and four children. She is currently working on her Master’s in Theology and Leadership at Gonzaga University and works full time as a Coordinator of Lay Ministry Formation and Support with the Diocese of Sacramento.