After going through some trials and tough circumstances in life, that I’m sure some of us have, if not all, experienced, my eyes have been opened to an existing truth that I had no idea about. I call it truth because the “truth shall set you free” and it set me free from things I didn’t know even existed until very recently.
Before I knew of this truth, I was just the normal kind of Christian you’ll never notice in the crowds. I was born and grew up in the Philippines until I was 23. It is still my home. About 90% of the Philippine population is, technically, Christian (Catholics). Christians were everywhere.
I was not a Catholic, however. I claimed to be a reformed Christian and I didn’t like the idea of being in the same category as Catholics. At the time, I thought reformed Christianity was superior to Roman Catholicism. I cared too much about stuff like that.
However, the way I lived my life wasn’t really any different from Catholics or anyone else’s – atheists, agnostics, etc – in ways that matter. I struggled through the same challenges that everyone else, Christians and non-Christians alike, faced and I failed on most occasions like everyone else did.
The ineffectiveness of the kind of Christian life I was living was becoming a burden as I got older and I started to doubt what I’ve been believing. I have failed at many things in life and being the perfectionist that I was, I held myself to higher standards that I struggled to keep up with. I tried hard at being a Christian but my resolve was often shaken when I saw in myself my own weaknesses and failures that I never could seem to overcome. It made me think that God was not pleased and that I was not right with God.
I worked harder at following everything in the book. Love God check. Love my neighbours check. Then I’d feel good about myself because I was doing right, therefore I was right with God. But that usually only lasted a day, at most. I’d fail and miserably at that, and I get disappointed at myself and feel terrible that I broke Jesus’ heart. My driving force was to not make Jesus sad or disappointed in me.
This was the kind of Christian that I was and needless to say, I didn’t live a happy life. I was often yearning for something, looking for something to satisfy me. The truth is, I was looking for a way to get rid of the guilt and condemnation I was carrying. I did not want to be reminded of my own incompetence and I tried to cover that up. Because I failed at pleasing God, I yearned to please other people and take pride in that.
I started thinking of ways to improve my life. I wanted to please my family and make them proud of me. I wanted to please the world by doing grand things. I could have been craving for that kind of attention but I know it was deeper than that. I wanted to justify my own existence. I wanted to find a reason that I can live a life that’s happy and satisfying. I did not find that reason in the Jesus that I knew then what with my inability to keep my promises to Him and for repeatedly disappointing Him. I really just wanted to make Jesus proud of me. Deep inside I knew that if Jesus and I were cool, I’d finally be happy.
The fact that I wasn’t, meant I was doing it wrong or that I was still not good enough. This went on for many years and the longing inside me has intensified. But life went on even if I wasn’t ready. I got a job in Singapore and left the nest, for the first time. I had to push my internal struggles to the back of my mind while I faced the task at hand.
The inner me was leaking out, however. I started attending New Creation Church and there I listened to a different kind of teaching. I wasn’t really understanding anything during my first year (I was there because I was supposed to, as a Christian, also my mother wouldn’t stop nagging if I didn’t attend). It was a big church and I didn’t get how so many people could keep on keeping on knowing there wasn’t going to be any difference. I’ve tried it and it hasn’t worked so well.
It occured to me, however, that maybe they were all going through similar challenges as me and were there because they’re Christians, just as I, and were supposed to be doing christian stuff, like going to church. Somehow, this made me feel even more miserable and I thought, maybe, I’ve been fighting the wrong battle all along. Or worse, maybe there was no battle at all.
I started developing a growing doubt in my heart, unsure of how to keep up my whole churchy, christian facade and why. I thought, if the way I’ve been living my life was wrong, then I’ve spent all those years for nothing. I didn’t know what’s right anymore and had no one to ask. Really, every person I knew just seemed to be a largely downgraded version of God.
This realisation shattered my belief system. If I had been wrong, then my ideals would have been wrong all along, as well. The perfect life I worked hard for, was not so perfect anymore. I lost my reason for waking up every day, albeit grudgingly. It would have been appropriate for me, then, to declare “my whole life is a lie.”
Then, I thought, I could start over. I was a blank slate and for the first time in my life, I experienced a different kind of freedom. I could do anything.
I still had questions, though. What did it matter? What did anything, in this world, matter? What’s the point of waking up everyday to go through something you know you won’t like and won’t make you happy in the end?
The first time I attempted suicide, I was 9. I lost count of how many times I kept trying until I was 11. That story will be for another time, not today.
Back to Singapore, ending my life was not an option anymore because the pain of cutting my wrist and letting it bleed was still very fresh to me and I hated it. As miserable as I was when I got older, I’ve still grown to love my family and couldn’t get myself to disappoint them even more, by leaving them early.
Instead, I determined to live my life, my way. I stuffed my brain with anything I could, tried to overload myself with information, chasing the limelight of the cyber world, and filled my free hours with recreational stuff that I thought would help get my mind off the occasional thirst for meaning. I had to push that thought in the farthest caverns of my brain so to not have it distract me while I have my way and, at last, I thought, enjoy living.
I stopped going to church completely and explored cyber space. There, I discovered the world of video games; World of warcraft, to be exact. I had no rules to live by and I wanted to live life to the fullest, but I did not want to give up the facade I worked hard to build. I had a reputation to maintain back home. I still was the churchy, christian that I was and my mother’s a pastor so there was that too.
I thought, then, being overseas had its advantages. I was able to spend most of my days playing video games and hanging out with people I would normally not be seen in public with. It was fun. I dated an online guy I met from a game and made friends with people from thousands of miles away. Having not seen my weaknesses, they were not in the place to judge me, they were the perfect friends. I found new meaning and identity in the way my anonymous friends viewed me and I embraced my new way of living, my guild buddies, and my online boyfriend.
Oh but life and reality caught on.
I had a full-time job. A family overseas. Parents who were always concerned about me. Siblings who missed me and friends who cared for me. I had a future waiting to happen and a Way of life calling out to me.
My virtual life and my reality were in a constant battle for my attention. I was blinded by the temporary pleasure I got from living my fantasy that I had no idea how messed up my life had become and I gained discrimination from my colleagues (for justifiable reasons). With no time for anything else, I made no friends, living in a foreign land with strangers. My fights with my parents and even my siblings became a regular occurrence. I had no bright future in sight, only a brewing storm. Yet, I continued to ignore the signs.
If I’m honest, I may have been bothered by the signs but I did not know how to escape and acknowledging the signs did not give me a solution.
At last the storm hit me. My own decisions and personality, birthed from my non-existent identity, pushed me to the edge. My online boyfriend broke up with me. It was like a lightning that hit me. The online self-worth that I’ve tried so hard to build and fight for came crashing down when a major piece of my castle fell off. Everything I spent my precious time on, fought against my family for, all amounted to nothing. The friends I have gathered online, even in their most sincere offering of care and support, were not really there and they did not really know who I am. They cared for the online me, not the real me, behind the computer. The me who was imperfect, wounded and suffering. The me that existed in reality.
I hit rock bottom and learned what it was to be truly depressed. The hole in my heart was so big, it wasn’t just the heartbreak anymore. It was the accumulated need for that one thing I have been searching for. The right way to live my life. The way of living that would lead me to a truly happy and satisfying life.
In my desperation, I was willing to do anything, even just to get back on level ground. I started going back to church and listened to the sermons my mom sent me (thank God for moms). I read books about brokenness and broken people. There were so many things that happened. All I knew then was that I was tired of not knowing and pretending to not care about what happens.
It was a few weeks after this, then a few months, then several months, then a year that I understood what I had been missing. I was very close! My average Christian life was very close but I missed it. It was very craftily concealed by the many good-sounding doctrines, by the hypocrisy of people and by my own hardened heart.
It was the perfect sacrifice of Jesus that I missed, of all the things in this world! His work was not just a one-time deal that expired on that day after I accepted Jesus. My salvation is everything.
When Jesus died for me and my sins, He died for the future me. When I came into this world and accepted Him as my Saviour and Lord, I had been stripped of my old nature, received His love and became a new creation in Christ. I became perfected and righteous in Him; completely accepted, faults and all, into His loving embrace letting His love, grace and mercy wash over me, making Him not see anything ugly in me anymore, not even sin and curse. In His eyes, I am a beautiful creation, made by His perfect image and crafted in love to live this world and find true happiness in Him; as a vessel, or a channel for more of His grace to flow through and reach so many other people that are like the once-me.
After knowing this, everything finally made perfect sense.
The bible is a book of what God can do through the people who let Him be God. It lists all of the blessings that He had given me and the dangers that He had saved me from. It is full of stories of victory and how God cares about all those who call on His Name.
Instead of a step-by-step guide of things to do, the bible shows who Jesus is and who I am in Him, letting Him work through me. That doesn’t mean doing more stuff. It actually means doing less. It is resting in His finished work. Just like what Mary did when Jesus was speaking while Martha is out being a busybody. She was literally sitting at Jesus’ feet.
The more I read the bible to learn about Jesus, the more I listen to sermons that magnify Jesus and tell of the gospel and the more I read about Jesus’ sacrifice the more change is happening in me, resulting in good works. I don’t have to keep a list of good deeds to do anymore. It is in my nature. I don’t have to worry about how things will turn out in my life as long as I keep my eyes on Him, I’ll be alright. God’s daily supply of grace is enough to sustain me today while He works on my tomorrow. He will lead the way to a life truly happy and satisfying. This is the grace of God.