Fighting in Church

Making a Deliberate Choice to Serve Jesus


If you were to walk into my church, you’d see me pretty well, because I stand out. I don’t particularly like standing out, but it’s a small parish, and I’m the fat middle-aged woman sitting alone and wearing a probably purple mantilla. I’ll be over on the right-hand side where you can see out into the garden. I can assure you that although I (might) look relatively pious at the time, I’m the worst of the bunch. I will never be the good, sweet, church lady.

My church is a sacred, holy space for me, and when I’m there I breathe in the energy. I sit on the right hand side because I have OCD and I’ve been unable to bring myself to sit on the left. I won’t freak out if you’re in my seat, but I will freak out internally if I don’t sit on the right. Don’t ask me why, because I don’t know either, but I suppose that it’s a result of being mentally ill and attending church.

Some days while in church participating in the liturgy, bolts of electricity shoot through my body, and I begin to feel sick. I feel a strong need to hurt, and I have a silent panic attack. Sometimes I can no longer speak. I deliberately stay in my seat because I’m determined to win this fight. I recognize what this is. I’m doing battle and I’m going to win because Jesus is with me.

It’s a result of where I’ve been and what I’ve done and who I’ve served before choosing to serve Jesus. It’s a very agonizingly painful process that is coupled with grief. My body attempts to reject the sacrament and the more it does so, the more stubborn I become. I will recieve Jesus despite whatever feels like trying to stop me at the time.

It’s a deliberate, purposeful, intentional act to come to the altar and recieve despite what everything in me wants to do, and it’s probably when I need Jesus the most. Fighting that battle is it’s own version of hell. The thing about fighting that hell in the liturgy is that heaven meets hell there at that altar. I’m always glad that I deliberately walk up there, kneel, and receive Jesus.

It is the best “fuck you” to the past that I can give, and it’s a powerful one. This process is physically, emotionally, and spiritually painful. Time and time again, though, I choose Jesus. I serve him now. Having this happen gives me the opportunity to choose Jesus again and again. It reminds me of where I’ve been and even more importantly it reminds me of where I’m going.

I feel grief over what I’ve done in the past that makes things think that they can demand it again, grief at what I’m asked to do again, because it would not be something I desired if I had not desecrated the sacrament before. I have to wrestle with the grief, and with the feelings of unworthiness. I have to believe that Jesus wants me to receive him regardless of everything I ever did. After all, I have repented and he has forgiven it all. It’s hard, exhausting, but healing, work.

I rest in the knowledge that I’m forgiven, but there are things that don’t go away easily, and I’m caught in between. Sooner or later my past will take the hint that I don’t belong there anymore and that I refuse to go back. It’s too late for wishes, as far as wishing I didn’t do those things, but I know and am quite clear on who I am serving these days. We all serve some thing or some one. It’s important for me to be clear on who or what I’ve chosen to serve. Some things demand much more than other things, but I’ve evaluated the price and made my choice.



MaryClare StFrancis, M.A. (she/her)

I write nonfiction essays about a variety of topics, as well as memoir pieces.