Monday, 8 September 2014

Meaningful Encounters

I am often afraid of what I need the most. Intimacy is one of them. And I'm not just narrowly talking about 'romantic' intimacy. I'm talking about the kind of intimacy that all human beings need to function: a slightly higher degree of closeness, trust, and vulnerability with certain people. 

While I'm definitely working on it, intimacy still scares me -- mostly because of the vulnerability it takes to open up to closer encounters. I like my distance. I like my private space. But I also love people. And I know nothing is more worth it than to open oneself up to deeper relationships, since it is a blessing and privilege to take part in other people's lives.

When it all comes down to it, life is about having meaningful encounters. 

According to Pope Francis, sickness isn't just physical: sickness comes from a life that is devoid of ENCOUNTER -- of encountering Christ in the scriptures, in the sacraments, and in the people around us. It comes from a life that is entirely self-centred, unwilling to give, and purposely ignorant of the needs of others. Or it comes from a heart that is too afraid to reach out or let people in. See, a heart that is not loved is sick. But a heart that does not love is even sicker.

We were made to love and for love -- it is who we are and who we are meant to be. But if we live a life that is detached from this, we become sick. 
"My mission of being in the heart of people is not just a part of my life or a badge I can take off; it is not an 'extra' or just another moment in life. Instead, it is something I cannot uproot from my being without destroying my very self. " Pope Francis (Evangelii Gaudium, 273)
"Sometimes we are tempted to be that kind of Christian who keeps the Lord's wounds at arm's length. Yet Jesus wants us to touch human misery, to touch the suffering flesh of others."  - Pope Francis (Evangelii Gaudium, 273)  
"When we live out a spirituality of drawing nearer to others and seeking their welfare, our hearts are opened wide to the Lord's greatest and most beautiful gifts. Whenever we encounter another person in love, we learn something new about God. Whenever our eyes are opened to acknowledge the other, we grow in the light of faith and knowledge of God." - Pope Francis (Evangelii Gaudium, 372)   
It may take courage, but let's stop being ignorant of other people's needs. Let's make more time for others, to witness their lives. People need to feel seen, cared for, or at least acknowledged. It might be scary to draw near or to let others draw near, but always remember that it is ultimately Jesus Christ drawing near to us in other forms. Don't miss out. 

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Monday, 11 August 2014

The Primacy of Love

This short chapter I'm about to share is from a book called Time for God by Fr. Jacques Philippe. A few of my friends shared it with me in times when I really needed it, so it's my turn to share it with you. Every time I re-read it, something new pops out to me. Hopefully this chapter speaks to you too. Here it is below. 

PRIMACY OF LOVE

The second principle is also absolutely fundamental: the primacy of love over anything else. St. Teresa of Avila says, "In prayer, what counts is not to think a lot but to love a lot."

How liberating that is! Sometimes one can't think, can't meditate, can't feel; but one can always love. Instead of worrying and getting discouraged, those who are tired out, tormented by distractions, and incapable of doing mental prayer, can always offer their poverty to our Lord in peaceful trust. If they do that, they are making a magnificent mental prayer. Love is king, and no matter what the circumstances, love always triumphs in the end. "Love draws profit from everything, good and bad alike," St. Therese of Lisieux liked to say, quoting St. John of the Cross. Love draws profit from feelings and from dryness, from profound reflections and from aridity, from virtue and from sin, and much more besides. 

This principle is connected to the first, the primacy of God's action over ours. Our main task in praying is to love. But in our relationship with God, loving means first of all letting ourselves be loved. This isn't as easy as it might seem. It means we have to believe in love, and often we find it very easy to doubt it. It also means we have to accept the fact that we are poor. 

Often we find it easier to love than to let ourselves be loved. Doing something, giving something, gratifies us and makes us feel useful, but letting ourselves be loved means consenting not to do anything, to be nothing. Our first task in mental prayer, instead of offering or doing anything for God, is to let ourselves be loved by him like very small children. Let God have the joy of loving us. That is difficult, because it means having a rock-solid belief in God's love for us. It also implies accepting the fact of our own poverty. Here we touch on something absolutely fundamental: there is no true love for God which is not built on a recognition of the absolute priority of God's love for us; there is no true love for God that has no grasped that, before doing anything at all, we have first to receive. "In this is love," St. John tells us, "not that we loved God, but that he loved us first" (1 Jn 4:10). 

In the relationship with God our first act of love, one that must remain the basis for every act of love for him, is this: to believe that he loves us, and to let ourselves be loved in our poverty, just as we are, quite apart from any merits or virtues we may possess. With this as the grounding of our relationship with God, the relationship is on a sound footing. Otherwise it is distorted by a certain Phariseeism, its center not ultimately occupied by God but by our own selves, our activity, our virtue, or some such thing. 

This is a very demanding attitude, since it requires that we shift the center of our existence from ourselves to God and forget about ourselves. But it sets us free. God is not primarily looking for us to do things. We are "unprofitable servants" (Lk. 17:10). "God does not need our works, but is thirsty for our love," said St. Therese of Lisieux. He asks us first of all to let ourselves be loved, to believe in his love, and that is always possible. Prayer is basically that: to remain in God's presence and let him love us. 

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Sunday, 3 August 2014

(Self)Compassion: No More Nagging

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One of the strangest things I've realized lately is how much of a "nag" I've been -- not to others, but to myself. It's how I get things done. I nag myself until I finish a task or fix what needs fixing, like an internal alarm clock that keeps ringing until I've finally woken up (annoying, but functional). 

But after years of living like this, something inside me just decided to shut down. 

It was one of those days when I was acutely aware of what was wrong in my life and what needed fixing, so I made an action plan and started reading books/articles that I thought might help me (sounds nutty, I know, but that's me). For the first time, however, the process was far from empowering. 

Usually confronting my "issues" head-on brings me satisfaction, but this time it was hardly enriching. I was like a little child who couldn't take her medicine; I kept spitting it out. Every dose of self-help literature I tried to shove down my throat made me feel drained, and every goal I tried to write made me feel so exhausted.

Finally it dawned on me: maybe I didn't want this. Maybe I just wanted to be human for a sec rather than be treated like a piece of machinery in need of repair. Maybe I didn't want to be "fixed" right away or told that I needed "changing", but just needed compassion and acceptance in whatever state I was in. Maybe I didn't need to prod myself with a stick and pass judgment over myself all the time; maybe I just needed room to be

And this doesn't just come with nagging oneself, but with nagging others. 

It's enlightening to realize that before all that fixing, correcting, and improving, every human being first needs Love, Patience, Understanding, and Acceptance. Throw that into the mix, and the recipe is golden. 

It's the recipe to Compassion. 

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Tuesday, 8 July 2014

When God Won't Spoon-Feed You

One of the toughest things to come to grips with is that God won't always spoon-feed us. It sounds funny, but many of us unintentionally approach the faith that way: as if God is some wish-granting genie. We question his existence when we don't get what we want.

Of course, God is not indebted to us AT ALL. But he chooses to answer our prayers anyway out of goodness and love. After all, he DOES invite us to, "Ask, and you will receive; seek, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened to you." - Matthew 7:7

But if we think God will answer our prayers in the package we're expecting, think again. In fact, sometimes his refusal to answer us directly or immediately is THE answer in itself. What we think we want is not always what we need, so God finds other ways to give us that.


This means that God won't always spoon-feed us. It's a tough pill to swallow, but he won't always give us the easy solution. He won't always keep us from getting hurt. But that's because we need to GROW. It's like taking the training wheels off a bike or learning how to walk. We have to fall in order to learn how to pick ourselves back up. We have to leap in order to learn how to fly. We have to get hurt in order to learn that wounds can heal. And all of this allows us to find God in the process. 


This is what we call spiritual maturity. When we first begin our relationship with God, all is fine and dandy. Like the "honeymoon phase" of all typical relationships, we're on fire with God's love, absolutely certain of his presence, reassured of his goodness. But as we mature spiritually, God challenges us to take our faith further: to trust in him even without consolation of positive feelings, to believe in his love for us even when it feels so far away. That is True Faith: one that no longer relies on feelings.

To end this off, here's a poem called "And God said No!" (not sure who wrote it):

I asked God to take away my pride, and God said "NO." 
He said it was not for Him to take away, but for me to give up.
I asked God to make my handicapped child whole, and God said "NO."
He said her spirit is whole, her body is only temporary.
I asked God to grant me patience, and God said "NO."
He said that patience is a by-product of tribulation, 
it isn't granted, it's earned.
I asked God to give me happiness, and God said "NO."
He said He gives blessings, happiness is up to me.
I asked God to spare me pain, and God said "NO."
He said suffering draws you apart from worldly cares
and brings you closer to me.
I asked God to make my spirit grow, and God said "NO."
He said I must grow on my own, but He will prune me to make me fruitful.
I asked God to help me love others as much as He loves me,
And God said "Ah, finally you have the idea!"

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Friday, 4 July 2014

Delayed or Right on Time?

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Have you ever had a situation in your life where no matter how much you prayed, no matter how many goals you made, no matter what actions you took, your situation just wouldn't change for the better?  Like all your attempts were being throttled, leaving you feeling like you were constantly swimming against a tide you could never beat? 

Have you ever desperately wanted to be at a different point in your life but were stuck in the same place instead? Have you ever fought against life's "delays," these periods of waiting where no change comes, only to find yourself running in circles, winding up right back where you started? 

All I can say is perhaps these situations that we struggle against, the ones we try to resist, aren't being taken away because we have to be in them. Perhaps there's a lesson to be learned. Or maybe we must accept them. Perhaps things don't change because God doesn't want them to change  -- at least not for the time being.

Maybe the delay will make our faith stronger. Maybe it'll refine us, correct us. Maybe it'll help us grow in humility, patience, and virtue. Maybe it'll change our perspective, making us realize that what we thought needed changing are actually how they should be. Maybe it'll make us wait a little longer until we, or that opportunity, are ready. Maybe whatever we're waiting for will never come, and that God is using this period to redirect our desires to be aligned with his will. 

The grueling thing about these delays is that we never really know why they happen until after the fact. We just have to stick it out for the time being. And quite frankly, the process is difficult. But to give it meaning is to give it value, so rest with the assurance that none of this will be in vain. 

Although things seem delayed, trust that everything is right on time.  

"Faith is centered in who God is, not in my circumstances ... that is why there is always hope. I have a constant sense throughout this storm that God arranged it. He's been in control of every little step. I have deep conviction that, with God, I am right on schedule." - Anonymous

Habakkuk 2:3

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Tuesday, 17 June 2014

When Nothing Falls Into Place

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You know what I mean when I talk about those people who seem to have everything together: they know exactly who they are, exactly where they're headed, and are miraculously able to balance every part of their lives -- from work, to school, to spiritual growth, to relationships, to personal health, to well-being. Of course, no one is actually "perfect" -- some people just seem to be. And if you're one of those people, that's great. Celebrate it. It's worth being proud of, especially if it's taken you so long to get there. 

But for some of us, things don't seem to be coming together AT ALL. As in nada. For some of us, it's like the puzzle pieces of our lives are still scattered, nothing falling into place. It's like the dots are sporadic, not yet connecting. It's like every door we try to enter slams shut in our face, or all our ventures wind up being dead-ends. It's like every shoe we try on doesn't fit, or every opportunity we take is like squeezing ourselves into a role we were never meant for.   

Some of us have found clarity and direction; others have found nothing but murkiness. Some of us have found lasting joy and peace; others just feel persistent restlessness. We all go through different seasons. We all have different life stories. This is natural. 

SO WHAT CAN I SAY ABOUT ALL THIS? 

Not much, truthfully. Only to have faith that one day things will be different.   

That one day all of this will matter in the end and not a single detail will be insignificant. That one day, all those dead-ends will redirect us to the paths we were meant to take. That one day those closed doors will lead us to other doors we were meant to enter. That one day all those scattered dots will connect into a beautiful picture in hindsight. 

One day we will discover that the restlessness in our hearts was an inner refusal to settle for less than God Himself. One day we'll realize that the times we refused to settle for people/opportunities that just weren't "right" for us were worth all the people/opportunities that were. And one day we'll learn that the uncertainty we dealt with was God's way of teaching us how to trust in Him. 


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Monday, 2 June 2014

Moments of Impact

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"My theory is about moments, moments of impact. My theory is that these moments of impact, these flashes of high intensity that completely turn our lives upside down, actually end up defining who we are. The thing is each one of us is the sum total of every moment that we’ve ever experienced with all the people we’ve ever known. And it’s these moments that become our history. Like our own personal greatest hits of memories that we play and replay in our minds over and over again.” -The Vow 
If you've watched The Vow before, you probably found that quote familiar. That's because the whole movie's centered around this idea called "moments of impact" -- unforeseen moments that change one's life unknowingly. Moments that result from 'colliding' with other people's lives, from two separate paths converging for one reason or another. Sometimes these paths stay crossed for a long time; other times only for a short while. But they did cross, once. Nothing can change that fact.

When you think about the people who've stayed in your life for only a short time, or those who've been present for a long while but have since then left, it's easy to wonder: Why did it happen? What was the point? What was the point of investing so much time in a friendship/relationship that was never going to last? Why couldn't God just spare you from having to meet that person if it was only going to wind up like this in the end? 

Because that's how life works. People come, people go. But even if they’re no longer present in your life, you  know deep down that they’ve impacted you in a way that can’t be undone. You are who you are because, at one point in time, your path collided with theirs. And although your paths have since then diverged, your shared memories can never be erased. 

NOTHING IS POINTLESS. Even the most insignificant detours in life can have the most meaning. The most fleeting encounters can change us for good. So never regret the "collisions" in your life -- because as one person says, "Some people aren't meant to be in our lives forever. Some are just passing through to to teach us a lesson."

BE GRATEFUL. The past is what it is. It's played a part in shaping who you are, who you will become. Even the worst experiences can make you stronger. 

BE PRESENT. Stop regretting the past. Stop worrying about the future. Be fully present with whoever you find yourself with now. Because you can't predict how things will pan out -- whether that person will be there forever or be gone tomorrow -- but it's always worth the risk. Because these collisions, these "moments of impact," make life that much more meaningful. 

They are meant to happen. 
"A moment of impact has potential for change—it has ripple effects far beyond what we could predict. Sending some particles crashing together, making them closer than before, while sending others spinning off into great adventures, landing where you’d never thought you’d find them. You see, that’s the thing about moments like these: you can’t, no matter how hard you try, control how they’re going to affect you. You just got to let the colliding particles land where they may, and wait until the next collision.” - The Vow
Ecclesiastes 3:1-15

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