How did you not flinch when it was too painful? When you fell while carrying the weight of the world, how did you rise up again? How far ahead did you see when your present was too agonizing? How far back did you have to look to remember that you were everything but a criminal?
How did you not break when they shattered you? When rebuked, how did you not hate? How long did it take you to forgive? A minute? A day?
How had you chosen pain over glory? Dying over living? How were you not reminded of ruthlessness by those scars, that instead of waging chaos you uttered “peace be with you”? How did you do it?
For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.
If I were to pick one from the fruits of the Holy Spirit right now, I’d choose self-control.
Now it is becoming more often when we feel always being on the edge of an outburst. Is the world to blame or have we become overly sensitive, fatigued and too opinionated? Patience thins when plans go amiss. And almost everyone seem to have some form of addiction. Substance. Sex. Gaming. Netflix. Chocolate. Food. Sleeping. Gambling. You name it.
The world outside our body, mind and spirit, it seems, is ready to rule us. Time to learn self-control.
Self-control for some reason reminds me of self-regulation in children. It is not a stroke of good luck that children learn about it; it takes great mentoring, coaching, role modelling or environment setting to encourage young children to be in control of BIG emotions such as frustration, worry, anger, sadness. These could be a lot to take for a young child but is not entirely impossible to learn self-control. Let us not completely rule out our own ability to learn about it, as well.
But as a Christian, what I aim for is self-control gifted by the Holy Spirit. Nope, it is not merely being in control of my mind, body and BIG emotions but achieving a state in which I allow God to have power over me, where my actions and decisions seems to be made for me, by God.
Self-control gifted by the Holy Spirit is not silence. We could appear really serene on the outside but inside us could be brewing anger and chaos. Growing up, I did not have models of self-control. Everyone around me seemed to explode. It was utterly difficult to learn healthy self-control. For most part of my life, silence was my resort – a padded resilience, bottled negativity and some kind of empty “self-control”. It would surface in my later life as depression.
At some stage in our lives, we have to unlearn old habits and learn new ways. For our sake and sake of our family and children. I thought true self-control, the one gifted by the Holy Spirit, is the one I needed to learn. Because, I have learned the hard way that fake self-control won’t work.
First some practical steps. Prepare the mind for reality of problems.
Being a teacher here in New Zealand, we encourage children to problem-solve. Problems are vital to children’s learning. For example, the play environment I would set up for children would always be challenging and riddled with problems. The “troll bridge” does not have to be still and sturdy; it must be wobbly and problematic. That is how children learn about balance. I believe children must experience falling for as long as they fall safely.
Problems, too, form a big part in how we, adults learn about self-control. We do not deny ourselves with the inevitability of glitches, of plans going awry, of unmet expectations, of problems, of imperfections. I am not always the type who would always look at the glass as half-full. It could also be half-empty. It is more realistic for me. If things do not go to plan, I don’t go ballistic anymore as I used to. For me, that is JUST the glass half-empty again but I know God is going to fill the other half of it. And I am totally at peace with it.
Secondly, think of the danger of lacking self-control.
One is guilt. I have never seen anybody feeling really peaceful after an outburst. God knows how I feel really guilty whenever I lose it with my own children. Once the beast in you has said your piece violently, the fragments of broken relationships would be hard to piece together. Guilt, together with its twin, regret, could visit you even in your dreams. It is gnawing.
The pitfalls of lacking self-control eventually became my hard “why’s”. Why did I want to learn self-control? For me, it is my children. I needed them to have a model of authentic self-control. There was suddenly a sense of urgency to protect their hearts and minds. Being the father of the house, I have that role to create a home not built upon shaky impulses but on consistent practice of letting go and letting God’s power take over.
Learning self-control is tough work. It is not a ray of light that shines upon us while we sit down. Yes, it also takes time to learn. Praying and talking to God often will set the ground for us. Fr. Andrew Ricci whose podcast I follow, always suggests, naming “it” whenever we pray. It is different for all of us. It could be self-control to help you turn away from being angered by the smallest things. It could be self-control from spending too much time watching Netflix. It could be turning away addiction to illicit sexual materials or drugs. We are called by the Holy Spirit to name it whatever it is and to cast it aside. Pray for self-control every single time no matter how long it takes.
Be ready to reap the fruits. The outcomes of self control gifted by the Holy Spirit is not of guilt, regret, emptiness and bitterness but of love, patience and peace. As we turn away from sinful addiction or bridled anger, we reap the grace of being one heart with God. But before any harvest, we need to work really hard sowing, watering, preparing the soil. It may not happen in an instant. In fact, it may be a cross to bear with confusion, hurt ego, sweaty palms, heart wildly beating. But soon all these will fade away and we reap the fruits that we deserve – that of love and peace in our hearts.
This is a question that could be borne out of disappointment, grief, depression or even mere boredom. Whichever it is, I do not welcome it. It nags and gets me into deep thought. Deep thinking, I have come to understand, tends to be more of a liability for me than an asset.
No matter how I tried, this question does pop up from time to time and I really have to grapple with it but now I have been learning and been very quick to reframe it in a way that would make me avoid the pit of futile deep thinking. WHAT MAKES LIFE, LIFE? – is a question that really sounds better in my head in that it provokes “doing” and “action” rather than just merely meaningless pondering.
So what makes life, life?
Make “ordinary” things “extra-ordinary” again.
Very often, these “ordinary” things are being made redundant by our life’s routines. Routine for me is such a killer. We have always had these “things” in our lives – talked with, played with, used, eaten, lived in or enjoyed. These have become such a part of our routine already that we have overlooked their importance. Getting your dream job may have heaped our “hallelujahs” then. I wonder if we are as grateful for it, now. We only realise how much our loved ones mean to us, once we lose them. In most days, they tend to be relegated to just being the “ordinary”. I remember crying when we bought our first house but now I am finding myself wishing it was bigger. These thoughts could all be counter-productive so the solution is to make these things that seemed “ordinary” now, “extra-ordinary” again. Bite an apple like it is the sweetest and juiciest apple you have ever tasted. Drive to work with zest like it is your first dream job. Hug your wife and children like you are never going to see them again. Live your life as if it were your last. Well, you know, it could really be your last. I am really fortunate to teach pre-school age children everyday. They seem to never lose the joy. They always remind me to see the spiritual sense in even the most mundane of things.
Always think and strive to learn and avoid meaningless pondering. Why your neighbours are better off than you are, why you couldn’t be in two places at the same time, why you think people are mean to you or to each other, why people unnecessarily honk their horns during traffic – seem to be pointless thoughts because it gets you nowhere other than to spiral down. Thinking and striving to learn, on the other hand, is one built on purpose and could be actualised into something of value. Recently, I came across quotes from Ralph Waldo Emerson which I have been reading over and over again. These are short but really meaningful and have great potentials to make me a better person. I have been constantly listening to Fr. Andrew Ricci’s podcast and have been enriched by his wisdom. Striving to learn new things is a start of greater things.
Act on your knowledge. Implement your plans. I spent my whole life wondering about the ‘what if’s” and the “what could’ve been’s”. I resolve to not waste another minute of my life focusing my energies on these, instead, to start to do, to act and venture into things I am most afraid of and in the process, add value to my life. What is the value of your plan if it remains a plan forever? At my kindergarten, we envision creating a community garden that could benefit our families. Sounds like a big vision but would not come into fruition if we do not attempt to start to work towards it. Whenever I gain new knowledge that deepens my Catholic faith for example, I share them with others hoping that it could impact on their lives as it continue to impact on mine. The home is a good starting point of sharing these. I make myself visible and available for other people and offering a life of service, as much as I can.
Always find time to connect with self, others and God through prayer. Prayer is a respite for the tired, an assurance for the weak, a celebration for the happy, a feast for the soul of the peaceful. Prayer can be all of these. We pray in all our seasons not only when we are in need. Prayer also transcends distance and time and allows us to be connected with the people we love. I have loved ones from the Philippines, USA, Canada, Middle East and Israel but I always feel that prayer still binds us together whenever I remember them in my prayers. Prayer binds me to God. It is always a wonderful place to quell fears, to heal, to feel love, to unburden myself and to remain faithfully connected with God’s promises.
What makes life, life, I learned, are overcoming yourself and getting past your past and your nagging meaningless thoughts. What makes life, life; is to start to put things together beginning with the little things and adding them all up to create a bigger picture of continuous learning, connecting and devoting to a life of prayer. That is the life worth living for with actions all done in the name of the Father, of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
I do find praying to be very difficult at times. There are days when I am quite not eager to meet Him. It could be the flesh being weak. It could be because life, at times, I feel is not fair. There are days when I feel like, just slouching.
When praying becomes quite trying, I talk to God expressing how I truly feel at that moment. Tired. Desperate. Sad. Reluctant. I am never afraid to ask, “God I find it difficult to connect with You now. Where are you?”.
Can it be that my pained wondering in that moment, is prayer in itself?
When I am truthful, I find more meaning in my prayer. There is absolutely no point in me sugarcoating it – God knows and understands me well. I know I can’t hide anything from Him, even my deep-seated emotions.
During lockdown last year, I wrote a children’s book called, “God our Father, Are You Divorcing Me Too?”. In the book, a child expresses his heartbreak over news of his parents’ divorce. He describes his anger, despair and sadness using imageries such as a volcano erupting, a grazing of his knee or a lamb which is lost. The book reminds me of what prayer should be like.
Prayer should be a baring of one’s soul; a no-holds-barred, unrehearsed conversation with God. He knows our struggles and He never looks at our misgivings or doubts but always looks forward to every conversation we have with Him.
When we grumble a lot, we become arrogant people thinking we deserve better more than what God has provided us and blessed us, with. When we complain a lot, we rely on our own understanding and deny the great wisdom that is of God’s.
Over breakfast, my elder daughter, looking anxious, blurted out she had a dream that it was the start of school. “That was not a dream, that was a nightmare!”, whinged my younger one.
That is so true for many of us. Depending on which part of the world we are from, Christmas is season of joy, especially if we have that two-week break and luckier, if we have a month-long one. Coming from this long hiatus, we dread going back to the normalcy of work.
I am not going to lie but I do share my daughters’ sentiments . Sometimes, I succumb to grumbling, myself. The only difference is that I do not speak it loud. I hid it in the innermost part of me, challenge that whinging sign of discontent and later, quell it. I ask myself, “what difference is complaining going to make?”. Halting the thought of discontent, thoughts grumbling become mere clouds hovering above me, passing before my eyes, and moving until it no longer matters and words of complaint, no longer spoken.
Whinging, grumbling, moaning, “reklamo (Filipino term)” or complaining, has sadly been, becoming a culture. A habit. A really bad, bad, bad habit. Like Thor hammering it away, I usually find myself gathering enough strength and momentum to break that habit, myself.
Complaining a lot, we do not realise, could be a sign of things that could be ailing our souls.
When we grumble and express discontent over our supposed blessings (i.e. our job, roof on our heads, food on our table), we declare that we deserve better – a better job, better looks, better house, better spouse, steak rather than fish, I-phone 12 over its countless predecessors. We yearn to be in some other place rather than we we are. On a couch. On a holiday cruise. In a restaurant. When we grumble a lot, we become arrogant people thinking we deserve better more than what God has provided us and blessed us, with. When we complain a lot, we rely on our own understanding and deny the great wisdom that is of God’s.
Grumbling and feeling we deserve better, is subtly, pride. In Proverbs 16:5, we are reminded not to be arrogant and proud:
Everyone who is arrogant in heart is an abomination to the Lord; be assured, he will not go unpunished.
Excessive complaining, is lack of trust, lurking in the dark. Jesus spoke about trust in John 14:1:
“Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me.”
If we are truly who we say we are, believers and practitioners of God’s divine wisdom, then we must keep our grumbling and complaining at bay and under control, if not fully extinguished.
I can only imagine how excessive complaining could lead us to the worst and how it could consume and turn us to sinful arrogance, pride, sloth and greed. I, myself, will stomp on the habit of complaining even before it gets up my easily-swayed brain. How about you?
Pain and loss, unfortunately, could not skip a generation and it certainly, is not skipping this one. In all these, it is God’s spirit which remains constant.
Taken from the book “God Our Father, Are You Divorcing Me, Too?” which I wrote, is one of the beautiful illustrations by Filipino illustrator, JJ Duran.
The picture seems like a picture of surrendering, of defeat. Different generations have seen defeat or loss in massive ways. I am not going to compare it with world wars or the Spanish flu of the past generations because I can only imagine the pain experienced by people who lived in that era, but COVID 19 has been causing so much solitude, loss and tremendous anxiety for people of this present generation. Factor in our own very personal pains from loss of jobs or broken relationships and you have a very bleak picture in your head.
This picture takes me back to the spirit of God, though. We are born with that spirit. It lives in us. I think we need not even ask God for strength because I always say God, himself is strength. I know it because, no matter how hard I find it to get up in the morning, I always say, “God you are in me.” and there goes my feet off to the world. Pain and loss, unfortunately, could not skip a generation and it certainly, is not skipping this one. In all these, it is God’s spirit which remains constant. He was there in the past; He will be in the future and He is in the present. He is now in the fighter in each and everyone of us.