Sunday, March 12, 2006

Prayers Answered in Bittersweet Ways

One of my prayers at the start of this Lenten season was to become a better witness to my friends and family who were not in the renewal, by radiating peace, joy, hope, faith, and love. I felt a burden for this because it seemed futile if I could speak to others about God’s love and yet failed to give that to the people who mattered most to me. It was not glorifying to the Lord anymore to still be beset by the anxieties that other women over thirty usually experienced, although being human I was no better at avoiding entirely these issues than those who were not serving the Lord full-time. I therefore asked for the grace to be a Christian wherever I was and no matter what challenges I was faced with.

Opportunities to grow in that area have arisen since I opened it up to God for Him to deal with. After the event that moved me to write my last entry, I was led to bend my knees in prayer and to ask God for the grace to face the consequences of my decisions. Here is a brief background that I could write about regarding this - someone questioned and doubted my priorities and in the ensuing struggle to defend my decision (involving other people), I unwittingly entered into an argument with a very old friend.

I woke up the next day with what I thought was righteous anger. I felt I had been hurt, treated with injustice, and victimized by persecution, yet God let those feelings linger for a grand total of fifteen minutes. Before I opened my copy of “Companion” (a Catholic Scripture diary) for that day, I asked the Lord to speak to me clearly regarding my relationship with my friend. I knew I was in danger of giving in to my negative emotions and lashing out in retaliation, once provoked. So despite what Fr. Steve once told me, that when we give in to sin after suffering an injustice in our lives, we contribute to a greater injustice, I was really willing to let my anger brew and was looking for a way to triumphantly highlight how right I was in that situation.

But God would hear none of my self-righteousness. The Gospel reading for last Friday struck me like lightning, and my Lord told me in no uncertain terms to reconcile with my friend.

The passage is familiar to most of us:

Mt 5:20-26 (NAB)

Jesus said to his disciples: “I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses that
of the scribes and Pharisees,
you will not enter into the Kingdom of heaven.“

You have heard that it was said to your ancestors,
You shall not kill; and whoever kills will be liable to judgment.
But I say to you, whoever is angry with his brother
will be liable to judgment,
and whoever says to his brother, Raqa,
will be answerable to the Sanhedrin,
and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ will be liable to fiery Gehenna.
Therefore, if you bring your gift to the altar,
and there recall that your brother
has anything against you,leave your gift there at the altar,
go first and be reconciled with your brother,
and then come and offer your gift.

Settle with your opponent quickly while on the way to court.
Otherwise your opponent will hand you over to the judge,
and the judge will hand you over to the guard,
and you will be thrown into prison.
Amen, I say to you,you will not be released until you have paid the last penny.”

I felt that the message for me was that I had to reconcile with my friend before I could count my Lenten sacrifices and even partake of the Body of Christ during Mass. It was not God’s will that I harbor resentment. I was not glad to hear this commandment from God, but I knew He was right, and He was after my growth.

I seethed for a few more hours after that, but as the time for our Lingkod prayer meeting approached, I felt I had a deadline. “[I]f you bring your gift there at the altar…” But Lord, I thought, my friend has to say sorry first. She insulted me and hurled unfounded accusations at me! “But I say to you, whoever is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment.”

The grace that saved me that day was obedience, and that alone. Not understanding why I had to die to myself that way and why God was not taking my side, I lifted up all my prayers and tried to compose a message of apology to my friend, and to make further repairs in our relationship and that of the people around us who were affected by our little disagreement. It was a painful thing to do, as if a barrel was taken out from my stomach, through my esophagus, and out of my mouth, to say those words to my friend. Waiting for her response was worse. I didn’t realize that I was holding my breath until I saw her message – it was an apology, an acknowledgment that she went too far in pushing me to decide in favor of what she wanted me to do, and an admission that she did it out of sheer love (not in those exact words).

The feeling afterwards was unexplainable – first, I knew I just took part in something where God was in control and I just had to cooperate with him. Second, I was so relieved to know I had not lost one of my best friends, that she still found something worth loving in me despite our differences in many things. I realized that I had started questioning if I had my priorities straight because her opinion mattered to me, but at the end of that day I was at peace with how things went.

I arrived at the prayer meeting with a heart ready to worship my God. I spoke to Him from the heart and thanked Him for the opportunity to grow in humility and in love. Admitting my own weaknesses was a bitter pill to swallow but it left a sweet taste afterwards, when I felt God smiling at me, as if to say, “That’s my girl.” It was an inch towards my transformation as a Christian, and hopefully it would lead to better communication with my loved ones. I have much to learn in this area, I know. At least God had shown me that He had heard my prayer and was already in the process of teaching me His ways of loving.

I could imagine how that prayer meeting could have gone for me had I not reconciled with my friend. I would probably have cried the whole time and felt unglued, questioning my call and hating the consequences of that call. I would not have known that even if I was not always understood, I was loved, accepted, and supported, and though I could have tried to go on in life without them, life was honestly much sweeter with my friends.

There have been other instances of learning to be a good witness to my loved ones, since I’ve had to accept certain choices that did not sit well with me and to be supportive and understanding.

Today I’ve been to a baptism and dedication of my college friends’ baby. It was an opportunity not to be affected when asked the question – When is your turn? after my friends started scheduling the next baptisms that were lined up in the barkada this year. Weddings are so last year to this particular group.

Tonight I went to a bridal shower for one of my sisters in Lingkod QC. It was wholesome fun; a time to honor the sister who’s moving forward from our singles community, and a time to bond with other sisters in a Christian setting. We had coffee and listened to an acoustic act later on at Mocha Blends. We talked about common concerns of sisters, but after all the jokes and heartaches, we said we all wanted to follow Christ in this area, and to be good witnesses. What good would it be to profess that we’re Christians if we still exhibited stereotypical behavior of single women? True, we were prone to emotional upheavals, but we vowed to support one another in not staying in doubt, bitterness, or whatever negative emotion our singleness triggered, especially with the demands and pressures of the outside world. Who else could we turn to but one another? We renewed commitments to spend more time in productive endeavors, and to make space in between our busy lives to let our hair down and be kind to ourselves. We knew we had Lingkod activities to express our talents and serve our fellowmen, but we also needed to watch movies together, drink coffee or tea, and talk about our concerns where we would have sisterly support and receive godly advice.

I was reminded tonight that I am not alone in this struggle. This truly is a grace-filled season, a time to hear the Lord and see Him move in the areas opened up more fully to Him.

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