Traditions and Rituals
I remember doing all sorts of religious things for fun and out of tradition. I’d kneel in front of wooden figures and pray. Every 3PM, the TV will play a short prayer to Jesus, and I’d kneel again. I remember going to the province and attending the procession at a nearby church, with a flickering candle in my hand and the hot wax dripping between my toes in a crowded, sweaty evening. My handkerchief was passed to the front, wiped to the carved figures and returned to me. I remember getting giddy with excitement, hoping that the priest would sprinkle holy water on me after the mass. I went to the church several times a year, but there were must-go days: birthdays, Christmas, New Year.
Coming from a Chinese family, I was also raised in a sort-of Buddhist tradition. We’d occasionally go to Buddhist temples where my parents would light incense sticks and ask oracles about all sorts of life decisions. In the cemetery, two incense sticks were lit for each departed relative. We knelt down and bowed three times to pay respect and pray.
Even after doing all these things, I never opened a Bible or knew God. He was just an entity who existed whom the people around me prayed to. But that’s it.
Traditions and rituals versus a relationship? Is God alive or is he trapped in figures carved in woods or stones?
Encounter with the Living God
Having gone to a Christian school from nursery to high school, I came to learn who God is according to the Bible and not based on what the church traditions say. Slowly, through Bible classes, my eyes were opened to the truth. God became flesh, was crucified, died and was buried, and on the third day rose again – so that I could have a relationship with Him. And just one day, I accepted Jesus into my heart.
I wanted to know God more in high school. Because my parents were not yet believers, I couldn’t go to a Christian service on a Sunday. So I started reading the Bible at home, attended retreats and youth fellowships year after year, volunteered as a teacher in Vacation Bible School, distributed gospel tracks with my church-mates at a mall, self-studied apologetics and the end times, started and participated in Bible studies when I was studying for two months in Xiamen, China. I finished reading the Bible cover to cover. I read many fiction and non-fiction books from Max Lucado to C.S. Lewis, and listened to Christian music constantly. My hunger for God just kept growing.
At home, things were going sour. My sisters have come to know the Lord as well and whenever God was discussed on dinners, it would end up in heated discussions. My parents said that we were “brainwashed by our school” and were scolded for our new faith.
Praise God that He is indeed faithful. For while my resources to know Him better were limited, he opened the door for my parents to come to know Him as well. My Bible teacher told us to attend one service, not necessarily a Christian service, and reflect on the message. I took this opportunity to invite my family to attend a Sunday worship service at our old church, and to my surprise, we all attended. Since then, my parents regularly attended and their hearts were changed as well. Slowly, my parents turned their faith to God. Visits to the oracles lessened, they started praying daily, even the temper lessened.
By this time you would think that my life was going perfectly well. How could it not be? I was so active in church, growing quickly in knowledge of God. But while all these happened, I also got involved with a guy who was not a Christian because I had the idea that I can evangelize to him, boy was I wrong. This was my first mistake that led me farther from God. In August 2007, my dad died of abdominal aneurysm. It was an extremely traumatic experience because my sister and I witnessed him dying in front of us. In 5 minutes he was gone. I even performed CPR on him and chipped my tooth. He arrived at the hospital dead on arrival. But instead of turning only to God for comfort, I looked for happiness from my then boyfriend. The relationship was not even pleasing to God but I revolved my world around him, and when he left me in 2010, I was devastated, my whole world was gone. During this time, I was no longer active in my many ministries but continued to attend Sunday services.
I rewrote my non-negotiables and promised that I would never be in an unequally yoked relationship, ever, again. But of course, I did not follow the list I made. And again, instead of seeking to be whole and healed by the Lord, I sought the validation elsewhere. Five months later, I let a guy who I thought was a serious Christian, pursue me. He had almost all my negotiables, and most of my non-negotiables. I thought that I could again, evangelize to him, and boy was I wrong (again). We had great chemistry, but the things that we did together were not pleasing to God as well. Whenever I felt guilty and dirty, I just quenched the Spirit because I loved him more than I loved God. I was so heavily invested in him that I was willing to gamble by relationship with the Lord. So on Sundays I go to church, but at the same time pushed him to read the Bible and pray. He had no interest whatsoever. I could see that he didn’t love God but I continued anyway hoping that he would eventually change. Aside from this, his parents hate me because of my family background and guess what, Buddhist oracles. It was a toxic on and off cycle.
In June 2014, we broke up. It was worse than I expected. In short, I had nothing left. I was emotionally bankrupt, but at the same time I knew that one day God will restore me.
Clinging onto God
I hang on to God’s promise in Psalm 147:3 He heals the brokenhearted, and bandages their wounds. Psalm 56:8 You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book. Out of desperation and shame, I came back crawling to God, asking for just even a moment of peace and joy in the period of desolation. I can’t remember how many times I’ve fasted from social media to spend nights with God. Sometimes I woke up early morning and just cried just one simple prayer, over and over again, Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love, that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days (Psalm 90:14). Some days, I watched Christian messages on YouTube until I fell asleep. I reread and read new books. Prayer became a form of worship instead of asking for what I wanted.
People who don’t believe in God say that Christians use God as a crutch. But the truth, is I use God as my ventilator, without Him, I’ll die. Psalm 63:8 I cling to you; your right hand upholds me.
A step of Obedience
I finally obeyed God with what he has been asking me to do for years. There was no point in delaying disobedience anymore, because I was just passing judgment to myself and losing the opportunity to be used by Him. So I obeyed. Pray for my ex and his family. Join a dgroup again. Attend Singles. Enroll in GLC. Start a Bible study in my workplace.
One woman of faith I look up to, Achi Candice, reminded me of Luke 6:28, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. As hard as it was, I started praying for (and am still praying) for my ex and his family – that they might come to know Christ as well. Little by little, the hurt and unforgiveness were lifted as well.
Late 2014, I signed up for a Tuesday dgroup so that I could be busy on a weeknight. I also started attending Singles and was plugged into a Saturday dgroup. This was to keep myself busy on a Saturday night.
These two dgroups have led one thing to another. When I heard that my Tuesday dgroup discipler, Marie, has volunteered in the workplace ministry of CCF, I took the opportunity to be connected with the ministry so I can open the way to have a Bible study started at our family business. This has been my mom’s prayer for years. I was connected to a group of volunteers who are now teaching GLC at our company. During our bridging event, there were 60 attendees, 60 Bibles distributed, 39 people who accepted Jesus as their Lord and Savior, and currently at least 30 people regularly attending the Bible studies twice a month. We are planning to start the same in our Cebu office to reach to another 20 employees.
Out of my obedience to God, I invited a former officemate to church who I didn’t talk to much back then. I was surprised when she said yes to my invitation, and later on, she started attending Connect as well. I was able to plug Hope into my Saturday dgroup under Ef. Hope is now discipling two girls. She is also my unofficial accountability and prayer partner.
Refiner’s Fire and Mighty River
What a privilege it is to undergo trials to be purified by God. 1 Peter 1:7 says These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.
All my life I have been so stubborn, stuffing my life with worthless, undependable idols. I finally found the One I love – He is faithful, His love is everlasting, ever pursuing. Just dwell on that thought for a moment, of how God has NEVER left us, on how he has always exceeded our expectations.
Finally by God’s grace and faithfulness alone, I am at a place of moment by moment obedience to Him, filled with His love and lacking in nothing, no longer bound by traditions, but a real relationship.
Someone said that the love of God is like the Amazon river, flowing down to water one daisy. I am His daisy. To God be all the Glory! 🙂