Wednesday, January 12, 2011

No Pain no Gain!

Aren't you tired of that clichéd phrase? I sure am. This phrase is meant to motivate us to go through a painful process in order to gain something. I've seen it plastered inside gyms, as indicators that your pain is not in vain. For me this phrase is just a painful reminder of our reality: we survive from one painful experience, get a little breath, and when we start to feel comfortable, another painful experience awaits us in the next corner of life. That seems to be the reality of our life, however dim this perspective strikes us. But, however pessimistic this perspective of life seems, it is through these painful moments that we gain everything by losing everything.

I have gone through the experiences and events that led to my current storm in life in my past post, so I won't dwell on those things here. Writing is strangely therapeutic, and so I decided to write a few more posts about it while I am going through it. It helps me to put things into perspective, and perhaps (I hope) it will help others who are going through similar situations.

So getting back to pain. Many of us, in remembering those past storms in our lives, can see that we had gained something from those painful moments. For some of us is strength, to others a wake up call, to others pain is simply there to remind us of hope, of our longing to be fulfilled. What have I gained in this current storm? Even though the storm is still raging in me, I can perfectly see what I had gained so far in this storm.

I feel that I have gained strength. Talking to a friend not too long ago, she recalled how fearful I seemed a few months back, long before this storm even started. She is right. I was hopelessly fearful. I remember my past disappointments (especially romantic ones!) and how poorly I coped in those situations. I was fearful of pain. I wanted to avoid pain by not venturing out of my comfort zone. I restrained myself needlessly in order to not feel the sting of disappointment. My self esteem suffered from the isolation of these risk filled events, and the successes they sometimes bring. I was also fearful in trusting God, troubled with endless loops of doubts. What if I trusted God with something and He didn't show up? How would I deal with the disappointment? I chose to trust Him superficially, to play things safely. This lack of trust, of course, affected deeply my relationship with God. "Now I see you with such courage, you are different than before!" she told me. Courage?! I didn't even realized it, but God had truly changed me in this storm. I am by no means the most courageous person, but I'm tired of fear governing my every step. I'm tired of fear keeping me from loving and trusting the beautiful and magnificent God that we serve!

I feel that I have gained more faith. There is nothing more fertilizing than a storm for the cultivation of faith. When every secure thing in your life crashes down, when insecurities taunts you mercilessly with the uncertain future, and when every constant is robbed from your presence, what is left for the human soul but to look upwards to the only constant in his or her life? In situations like these, we are almost forced to trust and have faith in God, because there is no other in whom you can trust your uncertain future. I feel that slowly, God is giving me faith to trust in Him and His mercy. I don't have faith that can move the mountains, but I feel I have gained the faith to bring me back to my knees, and let God do the moving.

I feel that I have gained more purity. To be purified we have to go through the fire. It is one of the paradoxes of the Christian life. When we feel hopeless, that pain is robbing us of every good sparks in our souls, when normal and small details irritate us and we are prompt to anger and pessimism, it is in this apparent despicable state that we are being purified, even without our noticing it. For the past 2 years I had struggled with a habitual sin that I just didn't seem to have enough strength to defeat it. There are other habitual sins that I have also struggled with, and, in trying my best to defeat it, there is some progress, but I always seem to slip back to my old self. But in this state that I find myself in presently, I have noticed that this habitual sin, and some others, are being eliminated, without my trying so hard. I gave up control by losing it, and not through my own strength I have been set free of this, but only by the grace of God. This alone makes the storm more than worth its pain.

I am sure that I can name many other things that I have gained through this storm. The best part it's that the storm is not over yet (wait, am I really saying this?!). I have still a lot more to gain it seems, and I'm sure God won't abandon me in the middle of it. I am a work in progress, with a perpetual sign over me that says "God at work".

Monday, January 10, 2011

I have a confession to make: I am in pain...

I have a confession to make: I am in pain. My walls seems to be crashing down on me. Everything seems sour and gray. The sun doesn't hold its enchanting light, even if it's burning down in my face. Rain only adds to this atmosphere; oddly appropriate for this storm in my life. The coldness of the winter has left me with little air to breathe. What was once relaxing is now tiresome, welcoming now an opportunity for nostalgia to sink in, to bring its ruthless reminiscing, its ceaseless movies of memories draining the energy out of me. Yes I am going through a storm in my life. Certainly not the worst, nor is my suffering one that should be pitied. But still, it hurts.

I left seminary 3 months ago. I will not share in this post why I left seminary. I have no care or energy to explain them now. All I can say is that I don't want to be a priest anymore; I just don't feel called to it. My desire to serve God in full time ministry is still there, but not longer as a priest. I loved the community I was in. Leaving it and the securities it offered me is difficult, a difficulty that I'm still paying. Did I make the wrong decision? Decisions like this are never easy. They always leave a trail of anxiety and yes, even doubts. But I am in peace with my decision, and I'm still glad I made the decision. Yes, even in this storm, I have peace, which can only come from God.

I have another confession to make: There is a girl. Or to be more specific, there was a girl. I don't like to personally reveal this, as the immediate thought can come that I left seminary just because this particular girl came into my life. This is not the case. Those who know the process of my decision can tell you so. At this point if I'm believed or not, I couldn't care less than just show my hand over those cynical eyes. Yes, I won't lie. It affected my decision. Why wouldn't it? How couldn't it? But she wasn't the reason I left. I've been struggling with this decision for over 9 months, perhaps even more. Long before she came into my life. Losing this girl has been very difficult. She is special, one of those girls you are lucky enough to meet. She is not perfect, far from it. But everything about her seemed to "click" with me. I had to fight to not like her. After all I was in seminary when I met her, this is not supposed to happen right? But it did. After I admitted to myself that I liked her, I had to fight to not fall in love with her. How can you fight these feelings? After a few weeks of leaving seminary, I confessed my feelings for her. I now understand that this was a big mistake, as I felt God was telling me to wait, to not rush things. I acted selfishly. I wanted to know if she felt the same. If she did, great! If she didn't I just wanted to move on and forget about her. Move on before this feeling became even more potentially hurting. Holding this feeling in secrecy was just too much, its torturing and sweet melody was causing a turmoil in me, one I chose not to hold in any longer. It wasn't the right time, she was not ready for it. She didn't feel the same, but liked the idea of us. We decided to go out on dates. After trying to control the outcome of this, I felt God was gently drawing me closer to Him. He was gently asking me to offer control of this relationship. He told me that it was not unpleasant for Him what we were doing. He offered His guidance in it. I did, and as soon as I did, there was an overwhelming peace that rushed through me.

I felt God was giving me many good signs about this relationship. One of it was His peace. He told me to wait and to not rush anything. That I let things flow naturally. He also told me that I had rushed things by telling her too early about my feelings. I tried not to rush anything now, and just wait, and wait, and wait. But I was getting afraid. I feared that the more I shared time with her, the more my feelings will grow for her. And what if she doesn't feel anything in the end of it? I was putting my feelings on the line, I was terrified of being hurt. God kept telling me to not worry about tomorrow. To trust Him, and to wait. Wait. That word again. "But God, I have no need to be begging for love! I already have you! If she doesn't like me I can get someone who does! What if you are making me wait and then nothing happens? What if you are telling me to wait for nothing?!" I said and asked one morning, filled with frustration. I heard Him say immediately "I never make someone wait for nothing!". I shut up. Of course, what else could I say? After all I wasn't begging for love, I was just waiting.

"Why wait Lord? If you don't want me to be with her just tell me!". "Because before you move into this new transition, you need to learn how to wait". God is right. He has that characteristic of always being right after all. Anyone who knows me can immediately tell you that I have little to no patience when it comes to waiting. I am a desperate person, an unfortunate consequence of the rushing and "microwave" generation that I'm part of. I also felt that God was telling me this: "Okay you want this? You want to have someone in your life? There are some habits that you need to work on first". I needed to be more organized in my life. I needed to get closer to Him. To love others through Him. He gave me a scripture to work on "Look first for the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and then all these things will be added onto you". One morning He gave me another scripture to meditate on, chapter 15 of the Gospel of John. While I was in this relationship I felt I was drawing even closer to God. I felt (and still feel!) His love in such an overwhelming way, that it was like I was living heaven on earth whenever I was praying! I felt the Holy Spirit move in me in such a strong way, that even in the anxiety of the wait, my soul was filled with joy and peace! "Why wait Lord?" I asked stubbornly another morning. Getting an answer from God was more difficult this time. I insisted. "Why wait Lord?". "Because she is not ready yet", He answered clearly. And again, God is right.

There are many other good signs God was giving me about this relationship, ones that I can't share with you yet, as God is telling me not to share it at the moment. I can share one: what I feel for her. It feels like it's the first time I feel something like this. It feels pure, with a surprising lack of lust. Yes, of course, there is a physical attraction. But it goes beyond that. It is a feeling that is hard to describe. A feeling that compels me to be there for her. A feeling that compels me to protect and guard her. Yes, protect and guard her. I shared this with my spiritual director, and he told me that God was giving me the vocation of Adam, which was to protect and guard Eve. "For some reason God is giving you this woman as your vocation right now. This does not necessarily mean that you will marry her. Maybe you will. Maybe God is giving you this woman as your wife. Maybe not. But He has given you this vocation". I think this was the moment when I stopped thinking that this feeling was offensive to God. Yes, God gave me many good signs about this relationship. But I don't think He ever promised me that she will remain with me. The first month and half of the relationship seemed to go well. There seemed to grow an intimacy between us that was sweet. Friendship was growing, even though the word "friends" is still painful for me. But in the last two weeks of the relationship she changed. There were many red flags. She apparently felt nothing. She was going through a depression at the moment. A depression that perhaps she is only getting out of at the moment. She seemed more distant. It was subtle, but I could feel it. One day we talked. A break of dating came in during the holidays. After the holidays she ended it (whatever relationship it was) with a letter. She felt nothing, and even though she wanted things to work, she felt nothing. She wants us to remain friends, as she chooses singleness for the time being.

"My son, hard times will come, but don't be afraid. I will be there with you and I will carry you through it". God revealed this to me one morning during the holidays. Yes, I was anxious because I was having a break of dating with her. But I felt fine, calm. Perhaps a bit sad, but nothing major. After new year's eve, everything changed. I felt, all of the sudden (and remember, this is before I received the letter from her) sad. I felt that everything was crashing down. I still haven't found a job and a place to live. I'm still living with my parents. This state of limbo that I find myself in is part of the storm. But I felt (and still feel!) grief, grief for her, grief for my situation. Everything seems to go bad, every step seems an effort. Before the holidays started I had a sense that God wanted me to be single for a while. That not only she was not ready, but I was not ready. That I needed to spend time with myself, working on myself. A few days after I received the warning of the storm during the holidays, I asked God if this sense or intuition of being single for the moment was coming from Him. He answered with a yes. I realized that she was probably coming from the break with bad news. God then told me that there will come things that would be hurtful for me, but to not be afraid. Again, God is right.

It's been 4 days since I received that letter. I still feel hurt. I feel grief not just because of her, but of my current situation. This major transition is not easy, and everything is turning out more difficult than I imagined it. Few things seems to be going smoothly. I can't stop seeing her, as she is part of the same ministry that I work in. I asked God if could take a break from the ministry. Just some time to grieve and forget about her. He told me not to do it. That He wants to use me there. But it is painful, seeing her. "I know this hurts. I know the pain you are going through. I am destroying every wall in you and that's why it hurts. I am doing this not to punish you, but because I'm building a new foundation in you. I will be your foundation. I promise to rebuild these walls and make them new. I will purify them", God told me this recently. What will happen in the future? I don't know. God is telling me to leave the future in His hands, even my future with her, whatever that is. Of course, I wish things would be different. I wish she would come back. I don't know what will happen in the future. That is in God's hands. But for now, even when I struggle in self pity, when I feel that my patience is escaping in a mess of irritability, I am thankful to God for this storm. Because I am growing. Growth is painful, but the effect of it is well worth it. And God's consoling spirit is still even in me. His presence brings me comfort. This intimacy that I'm experiencing with God is something that I plan to enjoy.