Twenty thirteen started out bleakly for me. Late 2012, I was already emotionally and spiritually tired but I tried to numb the feelings because I knew that dealing with them would be messy. So it was really unexpected that it turned out to be a fruitful year after all. I think it was the year when I have learned most from life (so far) or maybe I was just a more willing student of it this time. Here are the five things I learned from going through the past year.
Boundaries are a must for any relationship. Any relationship is bound to be messy because we’re humans. We are imperfect. We all have self-seeking, self-serving motives that can corrupt even the most well-meaning person in a relationship which is not protected by the right boundaries. Now I don’t mean enclosing oneself in a protective cage so as not to get hurt. In fact, we’re all called to love one another as Christ loved us and that means loving sacrificially. The purpose of boundaries in relationships, between and among families, friends, boyfriend and girlfriend, co-workers, etc., is to keep the imperfect human heart on check, keeping it aligned with God’s purposes in our relationships.
Vulnerability and honesty are only safe within healthy boundaries meant for each of the different relationships God has given us. I believe a relationship will grow as it should if it is within the center of His will. Manipulation and control will only cause relationships to become stale.
Taking care of your body is important. As I’ve mentioned earlier, I was feeling tired by the end of 2012 and as January 2013 came, I felt I was also becoming weak physically. Then came February and of all the places to become unwell, sickness caught me while in a camp with around 300 people. I was unable to go to work for a week at which time I was bed-ridden with on and off fever, aching joints and rashes all over my body. I could barely get up to go to the bathroom and every trip to and from it felt like an eternity. The fever was gone after a week and I was able to go back to my everyday routine but the ache in my joints remained. After visits to the doctor, a special diet adhered to, and three sessions of acupuncture, it still took four or five months before I could walk normally again. And the pain came back every time I tried eat food that were not permitted for me to consume after I got sick. It took another two months before I started to eat normally again.
I need not spell out all the details but I did because I want to remember how I suffered from the whole ordeal and be reminded to take good care of my health. It is one of the easiest things to take for granted when one is young.
On the road to recovery, I also realized that God used the sickness for me to stop and focus on him and be reminded that he cares about me and he knows everything I was going through. Not just the sickness but everything else that led up to it. And after being reminded of this, the next months proved to be a time of healing for my entire being-physically, emotionally, spiritually. This made learning the next big lesson possible.
Self-awareness is priceless. I had gone from two great opposites in 2013. It was the year when I hated myself most and the time when I learned to treasure myself for who I am-the ugly and the beautiful sides and everything in between.
Self-hatred brought me to the depths of depravity and there I saw just how ugly and hopeless and meaningless a person’s existence is apart from God. I realized how utterly despicable and unlovable we are as humans, broken and defiled by sin. The selfishness, hardheartedness and hardheadedness we have, the flesh, which we heed each time we choose our own way that is not aligned with God’s, gave such loathing in my heart. I was not at peace with myself.
But here is where I met grace anew. On the desert of despair and depravity, I saw just how deep and powerful and wholly encompassing His love for me is. And I began to have a deeper understanding of the relationship we have, of who I really am in His sight and who He is, as He continues to reveal Himself and myself to me. This led to the path of discovering and appreciating his unique design that is me.
I once read from a book that knowing God and knowing yourself should go hand in hand. This makes more sense to me now. We are created in His image after all. Only in Him, our Creator, can we truly know ourselves.
Learning gratitude is a gift in itself. Recently, I’ve written about my journey of counting to a thousand blessings. Giving thanks taught me to see the beauty all around me and the many concrete ways with which God expresses His extravagant love. I’ve found that learning gratitude, the journey itself, is indeed a precious gift.
Finally, I learned that relinquishing that sense of entitlement is not an easy business. Wanting something doesn’t entitle us to have it. Be that a thing, a person, or dream which we want to be part of our reality, part of our life. As someone with a dominant personality, I find it hard to change a decision once I’ve really set my mind to it. I became more aware of the pain it causes me when something does not go as I’ve planned or wanted it.
In trying to pursue a passion which I recently discovered I had, I decided on some major changes I felt I needed to do. But God showed his way to be different from mine and it was when I realized that really surrendering my will to Him takes trust and faith resting on grace. It takes humility and confidence toward those who gave their perspectives and insights and helped guided you through the whole process, knowing they love you and want the best for you.
Relinquishing entitlement is a painful death. It is a death to pride, to one’s own ways esteemed to be the best. But it is also, I believe, an awakening to life’s greatest moments. It’s awakening to the freedom which only letting God take full control can give.
I am glad I could take these lessons along with me as I continue to move forward in life. As I realize more and more that we only have one shot at life but that it is just a small fraction of the life He has given, I am compelled to give my best but at the same time to give myself a breathing room of grace. After all, perfection isn’t meant for this side of heaven. This is a time of learning and practice for what is yet to be. Eternity.