Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Making Peace with the Ordinary Grind of Everyday Life

Sometimes we can grow frustrated with life, wishing we were somewhere else but feeling stuck in the same unglamorous grind of everyday life. Like plot points in a movie, we wish every moment could be jam-packed with excitement, that we could fast-forward and skip over the mundane, ordinary details of day-to-day living -- things that seem so insignificant.

That was my mentality.

I discovered I had a strange fear of the mundane. I wanted everything in my life to be meaningful, to know that every task I did contributed to the betterment of the world or to myself in some way. I felt frustrated or drained if I couldn't see the immediate value in the tasks on my plate, things that seemed to be stripped of anything 'profound' altogether.

But I was wrong. Sometimes the path to holiness is the one that seems to be mundane, the one that looks awfully drenched in ordinariness. As many saints can attest, significance can be found in the seemingly insignificant.

  • "Be faithful in small things because it is in them that your strength lies." - Mother Teresa
  • "Not all of us can do great things. Only small things with great love." - Mother Teresa
  • "Do your ordinary duties extraordinarily well." - Saint Don Bosco
  • "Our Lord needs from us neither great deeds nor profound thoughts. Neither intelligence nor talents. He cherishes simplicity." - Saint Therese of Lisieux 

I will never forget what a priest once told me. It was something like this: "Stop thinking of your vocation as something that'll just unfold in the future. Your vocation starts now. If you are student, a daughter, a friend, then your vocation right now is exactly that: to be a student, a daughter, a friend -- and do so excellently. The key to the future is the present. Live well in the present. Be faithful in small things, do your ordinary duties extraordinarily well -- that is the pathway to holiness."

As Saint Therese of Lixieux once said, "If I did not simply live from one moment to another, it would be impossible for me to be patient. But I only look at the present, I forget the past, and I take good care not to forestall the future."

Think about it: Mother Teresa's life looks epic in hindsight, but it consisted of 'unpleasant' day-to-day activities like cleaning toilet bowls or puss-filled sores of the sick. Saint Don Bosco spent many days simply playing games with children to lead them to holiness. Saint John Paul the Great earned several doctorate degrees, which also meant years of rigorous reading, studying, writing papers, etc. (those of us preparing for midterms/finals right now can totally relate! LOL).

THE POINT?

The point is that these saints (or soon-to-be saints) were not immune to the unattractive, day-to-day grind of everyday life. In fact, they were fully immersed in it. But they were immersed in it for the sake of loving God.

As it says in the book called Imitation of Mary:

  • "The greatest of perfections is to love one's own state and to carry out its obligations, however ordinary they may be."
  • "God wants of us a continuous series of little actions, but you want to do some great ones. The only result, if you follow your own way, is that you will do neither the small nor the great well." 
  • "Manual work and even occupations that are burdensome and irksome cannot distract a spiritual and interior man from union with God ... You can taste [God's] sweetness in any occupation." 
  • "You can become a great saint simply by doing ordinary things, but doing them in no ordinary way." 

It's easy to wonder what our part-time jobs or boring electives have to do with our vocations, but really, they have everything to do with them. The exams that need to be written, the dishes that need to be washed, the difficult customers that need to be dealt with -- all of these mundane details of life can be powerful prayers offered to God.

It's just a matter of remembering Him from day to day, and acknowledging Him ... even in these little things.

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Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Dare to Be Different (Pt. 3): Unique by Necessity

Now I can't pretend to be an X-Men expert, but I saw the most recent movie X-Men: Days of Future Past and loved it. Weirdly enough, I actually cried during that movie -- more than I did with The Notebook.

I cried because I was incredibly moved by its themes. In a strange way, I could relate to the challenges the mutants faced: the challenge of being different. As Magneto put it, "Humanity has always feared what is different" -- and therefore aims to extinguish it. Consequently, many mutants felt the need to withdraw and go into hiding.

** Spoiler alert: do not read the next 5 paragraphs if you don't want the movie spoiled for you **

Central to the film was Professor Xavier's identity crisis, as the younger version of himself struggled to come to terms with accepting his mutant 'powers' (telepathy: the ability to read and control minds). It was difficult for him to see his superhuman abilities as gifts; in fact, at the time it was excruciating.

Young Professor X from the past confronts his future self.
Telepathy was excruciating for him because reading other people's minds meant experiencing their pain firsthand; their pain became his pain. Rather than utilizing his superhuman abilities, he drowned them out using a serum which altered his DNA and temporarily removed his telepathy, silencing the 'noise' of other people's thoughts.

The serum also restored his ability to walk (he was originally wheelchair bound), making him even more like an ordinary human being than a mutant. And it suited him fine: he would rather lose his unique abilities because they were also burdensome.

However, as the plot unfolds, young Professor Xavier learns that embracing his uniqueness is necessary for him to make a powerful difference in the way the future unfolds, and in helping other mutants embrace who they are and use their superhuman abilities for a greater good.

Although being different can be painful at times, he realizes that "It's the greatest gift we have: to bear pain without breaking. And it's born from the most human power: hope." Enduring the pain that came with his special abilities was the only way to fulfill his greater purpose; he was unique by necessity.

AND WHAT ABOUT US?

How many times are we tempted to drown out our own differences? What we need to realize is that God made no mistake in giving us unique qualities: they, too, are necessary for accomplishing our greater purpose in His Bigger Plan. To say 'no' to what makes us unique is saying 'no' to the very way He wants us to accomplish His work.

You and I are unique by necessity. My dear friends, #DaretoBeDifferent

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Monday, 13 October 2014

Dare to be Different (Pt. 2): Burdens to Blessings

We humans are funny creatures. We know we should be seeing the glass as "half full" rather than "half empty," but we still gravitate towards the latter.

We focus on how far we still have to go rather than acknowledging how far we've come.  We count others' blessings rather than seriously dwelling on our own. We spend time wishing to be someone else rather than genuinely thanking God for the gift of who we are and the unique journeys we find ourselves in.

We find it difficult to accept what makes us different because we aren't grateful for what makes us different. We look back at our own life stories or personal characteristics wishing we could edit, tweak, or delete some stuff. But that's not how this works. Gratitude means being grateful for the WHOLE thing. Even the burdensome things are blessings in disguise.

"I asked God to give me happiness. God said no. I give you blessings; happiness is up to you." 

So take this challenge: look at your life in retrospect. See the whole story, the rise and fall of action, the conflicts and resolutions. See the people who've walked out and those who walked in,  the ones who helped you fit into your skin, and the brief encounters that came at just the right moments. See how you cried out of sadness and out of joy, how you worried and how you found peace. See how you toiled hard and how you conquered, how you failed and how you learned. See how you were weak and how you found strength, how much you doubted and how you found faith.

Above all: see the One who authored your life story. The One who will never drop the pen. The One who is found in the details. In all things, God has made himself and his love known to us. If only we'd take the time to acknowledge him. Maybe then we can open our eyes to see that our lives -- our unique journeys -- are just as they should be. We are just as we should be.

Be grateful.

Grateful, knowing that when God looks at us he sees people whose unique features are worth celebrating rather than changing. Grateful, knowing that no matter how badly we've sinned, his unfathomable mercy covers us anyway, his love unstoppable in endless pursuit of us. Grateful, knowing that God has held us in his hands this whole time and always will be.

THE POINT?

Own up to your unique life story and to who you are, because all of this is a gift. Own up to it without shame. God is found in every detail -- in your life and in yourself. You were made in God's image.

I was in a discussion group once for my church youth group and realized that my journey with Christ was different from those around me. I realized that while most were in a season of abundance, I was in a season of draught. But I also realized that this was fine. My life was just as it should be. The way God speaks to me is different from the way God speaks to others, and the way God speaks to me will be different from the way he speaks to you.

Find His Voice.
You, too, will have the courage to #daretobedifferent.

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Saturday, 4 October 2014

Dare to Be Different (Pt. 1): Embrace Who You ARE

One of my biggest frustrations in life is being misunderstood -- and surprisingly, it happens OFTEN. I'm not just talking about "misunderstanding" in the lighter sense (such as being unable to articulate myself clearly). I'm talking about being misunderstood in the deeper sense -- with things related to the core of who I am and what I'm about.

I've never been transparent. Can't pretend to be. I'm an onion with so many layers that it takes time to actually know me (if this analogy sounds like it's from Shrek, that's because it is). Of course this makes me more prone to being misunderstood.

I'm also very different. And while diversity brings so much beauty and intrigue into the world (I wouldn't trade it for anything), it also increases chances of misunderstanding. As someone who is different on so many levels -- from my physical appearance, to the fact that I'm left-handed, to the way I think, to my personality (I have the rarest personality type according to the Carl Jung Typology Test. Shout out to the rest of the 1% LOL) -- I can honestly attest to this.

Being misunderstood can be pretty tough. I'm not writing this to be emo. I'm writing this to be an outlet of expression for others who've felt the same way. To be misread as someone who could care less about others when it's the farthest thing from the truth; to have your good intentions be taken wrongly; to share an experience that is so raw and deep to you, only to realize that few people actually understand you because they've never gone through what you did; to have a vision of something you are so passionate about, only to have no one 'get it' because you think on an entirely different level ...it's frustrating.

MY STORY 

There came a point in my life when I really hated being different because it made me feel more misunderstood.  I couldn't understand why God made me the way He did -- in a way that 'set me apart' rather than allowed me to 'blend in' -- because in my mind, it made it harder for me to find that sense of 'community' whose importance God so strongly emphasized.

Rather than finding validation in others for my unique experiences, I felt even more isolated and alone. I was horrified to find that many people actually couldn't relate to me, even if they badly wanted to. And I couldn't force myself to think or experience the world in the same way they did either, even if I tried. I was just 'programmed' differently. It was hard for me to accept.

There were many times when my prayers would involve the exasperated statement of, "God ... you've made me so different." -- as if expecting him to fix it. But God didn't see anything that needed fixing. Otherwise, he would've done it. When I'd cry out, "God, you've made me so different," his only response would be: "Exactly."

And that shut me up.

Because for the first time it registered to me that there was a purpose to all this --  to the way God designed me. He wasn't going to change it for the sake of my comfort; it was my responsibility to find comfort in Him.

LESSONS LEARNED ...

While I still struggle with accepting this, I can proudly say that I am learning.
I am learning that my inability to find comfort in this world is a gift, because it makes me fully dependent on God as my source of consolation. 
I am learning that God is calling me to embrace myself rather than wish I was someone else -- to trust his plan and design for me.
I am learning that no one is ever fully 'alone.' There will always be someone who can relate to you, even if the number of people who do are few. Otherwise, this blog wouldn't exist. I am grateful for those of you who read my words and vibe with them, affirming that I am not alone in my experiences.
I am learning that I don't necessarily need anyone to 'understand' me in order to proceed with life and feel validated about who I am and what I've been through. Be self-affirmed and trust God completely. That's all you really need. 
I am learning that while my friends and loved ones might not necessarily 'understand' me, it doesn't mean they don't love me. The fact that they stick around and listen to me anyway is enough testimony of that. Vastly different people can still get along. :)  
That's all I've got for now -- hopefully it helps. I'm sure more will be revealed to me as I go on through life :) #daretobedifferent

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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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