To love is to do what is best for the beloved. Some people are easy to love, especially when we have great affection for them besides. Some people are rather more difficult to love.
Consider God’s love for us. We rejected him from the very start of humanity, and we reject him individually now, in varied ways, every day. Perhaps the most complicated form of rejection is the refusal to accept God’s love or even to believe that it is available to us. We have to be better before we can be loved, we think, or God won’t love us until we’re good and perfect and never make mistakes. That won’t happen this side of heaven. What will get us to heaven is embracing the love of the God who stands waiting for us constantly, always seeing us and loving us just as we are and desiring more for us than we could ever imagine. It is this journey from feeling unloved and forgotten to finding great joy in the love of the Father that Sr. Miriam James Heidland, SOLT, shares in Loved As I Am: An Invitation to Conversion, Healing, and Freedom through Jesus.
The young version of Sr. Miriam sounds like the last person you would expect to become a nun. Adopted by loving Catholic parents as an infant, she pursued the path of least social resistance in college, choosing drinking, partying, promiscuous relationships with men, and a promising athletic career over holiness. Through the wise counsel of a priest and her mother’s prayers, Sr. Miriam was forced to reevaluate her life. Unpacking the pain of feeling abandoned by her teenage birth parents, forgotten by God during instances of sexual abuse, and unloved by the men who wandered in and out of her bedroom and the bottles that were always empty eventually, she was able to find healing through Jesus.
In the process of breaking down the lies and identifying the truth, Sr. Miriam offers bits and pieces of her conversion story. I love conversion stories, so I wished she had shared more. It must have been an incredible journey to go from a young woman making the poor life choices so many people do in college all the way to a joyful life of vowed religious service. I have little doubt that learning the truth of Christian love and embracing it as something open to her specifically played a large role in that conversion. Granted, not giving the details keeps this from accidentally turning into a story about how learning to be loved means you have to become a nun. Everyone likes nuns, though, precisely because they are almost unilaterally joyful and at peace. Everyone wants joy and peace. Her story has some useful strategies even for the married, single, and priestly people of the world.
Each chapter concludes with a prayer composed by Sr. Miriam and a series of reflection questions. Although I couldn’t find much useful meatiness for myself in the chapters, I greatly enjoyed the reflection questions. As a former teacher, I know how difficult it is to write truly open-ended questions. She nails it.
I was a little confused by references in the later chapters to “inner healing prayer.” I’ve heard of a lot of different kinds of prayer, but that’s a new one for me. Sr. Miriam describes it as returning to painful memories to find and acknowledge God’s presence in those situations. I am completely on board with recognizing that God was present in all of those situations; that’s true. When I read that description, though, I was reminded of a passage in My Peace I Give You (reviewed here) in which Dawn Eden, also a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, cautioned against therapeutic methods that work mainly by reliving past painful experiences. Eden suggested that, sometimes, bringing a painful memory back to the surface can do more harm than good. Both of their approaches are valid, but I’d be interested to hear more about the prayer technique Sr. Miriam recommends and how it connects to other counseling practices (Catholic or otherwise). That was my only concern with Loved As I Am.
This book is definitely one for beginners, for seekers, for those who are struggling to find meaning and purpose in their lives but don’t think Jesus could possibly be the answer. The text strikes a good balance between laying out the down-and-dirty reality of brokenness and hurt and pointing the reader toward the riches that can be found in the Lord. While reading, I got the impression of taking the first sip of a delectable wine or the first bite of a favorite dessert. The hesitation and uncertainty is finally quelled, and the experience is just enough to inspire that second sip and next bite. As Sr. Miriam and I both found out, once you decide to live for Jesus, you can never go back.
I received a free copy of Loved As I Am from Ave Maria Press in exchange for my honest review. Many thanks for their generosity!