MORE THAN OKAY
Taste and see that the Lord is good… – Psalm 34:8
Most of the conversion stories we hear involve dramatic, 180° turnarounds with tearful moments of supernatural revelation. Though mine might be quieter and not quite as full of drama, I deem myself converted nonetheless.
To begin with, I’ve always thought my life was okay. My mom is healthy, happily enjoying life as a senior citizen. My siblings have blossoming careers and family lives as well. Though my dad passed away when I was 18, I’ve since been able to heal and cope with the loss. Life at home was peaceful, happy, healthy.
In terms of career, I’ve been working for the same company for more than 9 years. I’m very comfortable where I am as far as job description and benefits are concerned. And while things could be better (the grass IS always greener, even just a little bit), seeing the whole picture, I cannot complain.
Socially, I’ve accumulated quite a roster of friends over the years, and even have a circle of my closest friends whom I am confident will be there for me no matter what. I’m being honest when I say that I don’t mind being single at all—I find I’m perfectly content with the time I spend with my family and friends.
In the spirituality department, I was already doing more than weekly Sunday mass by promising to attend a retreat every 2 years. This commitment of mine was my way of ensuring that this part of me also stayed “okay,” as with everything else in my life. It was my spiritual obligation, similar to having an annual physical exam.
I made efforts to ensure that all the different aspects of my life were okay, and I basically approached everything in my life in the same rational, level-headed manner. I’ve always lived by the principle that “If it makes sense, it’s should be okay.” It’s okay to party hard, as long as you’ve worked hard, too. It’s okay to spend money on foolishly extravagant things, as long as it’s your money you’re spending. I even used this approach when rationalizing my sins before God. Hey, I don’t engage in pre-marital sex, so watching pornography should be okay. This person has a lot of irritating habits, it’s like she’s asking for it, making fun of her behind her back is okay. In my head, it all made sense. And if it made sense, it was all okay.
Similarly, if something didn’t make sense, I would exert as much energy as possible to argue, fight and complain over every detail. I would complain at poor customer service in restaurants. I would honk my horn at slow cars driving along the highway. I would bitch around whenever people were late. I’d raise hell every time things didn’t make sense to me. If I didn’t see the point to it, I’d make sure everyone else around me did. “Okay” was all I needed to get by. As long as I didn’t have to live with less, I never had to give more. Attending the Road to Damascus retreat, I didn’t really have any great expectations. I saw it merely as my bi-yearly spirituality check-up, confident that I would come out of it with a clean bill of health—yup, Richard’s spirit, still okay! I definitely got more than I bargained for.
During the course of the retreat, I had a lot of realizations. My biggest realization was that for the longest time, I had underestimated GOD’s love for me. Countless times, I hadn’t recognized God’s presence or His hand working in my life. Despite my commitment to attend retreats every so often, I was living my life completely separated from Him. I knew He existed, but I never really paid attention to Him—what He would have to say about my actions, how they would make Him feel. I had received so many blessings, but I never really saw them as coming from Him. God had no place in my “okay” life; all this time, I had let in only the idea of Him.
This love of God that I felt that weekend was so overwhelming, I found myself giddy-excited over it. It’s much like that moment when you find out that your crush likes you too—it changes everything, right? All of a sudden, you’re conscious over every word and gesture. Everything suddenly means something. That’s how I felt after the retreat—everywhere I looked, God was there, and He was talking to me.
After the weekend was over, I didn’t feel like I’d had enough. I felt that I wanted more. I wanted to know God more. I was like a teenager with a huge crush on a celebrity. I wanted to “stalk” God, visit His Facebook page, follow Him on Twitter. I wanted to know His likes and dislikes. I wanted to know him personally, to be close to HIM.
And so, going well beyond my previous bi-yearly retreat commitment, I started attending weekly prayer meetings and bible reflections. And in this process of my “stalking” God (I like to think I’m now His biggest fan), I began to notice small changes in me (this is still a conversion story, after all). I think I am now more aware of His presence all around me. To give you a concrete example, a couple of months ago I experienced a series of seemingly unfortunate events. November 1, I had a very bad customer service experience in a Department Store. I had bought a very small chair and after 40 minutes of waiting, my chair was still not ready for pick-up. For me, it didn’t make sense to let the customer wait for 40 minutes for a single, small foldable chair. November 2, I found out that a friend was just “friends” with me because I always treated him every time we’d go out. Again, it didn’t make sense to me that people would keep friends for their money. Didn’t those kinds of people just exist on TV drama shows? November 3, someone had broken in my car window to steal my bag in the middle of the afternoon along a very busy street. This made the least sense of all—theft in broad daylight? What did I do to deserve 3 unfortunate, doesn’t-make-sense events one after the other? Under normal circumstances, I would have rebelled against GOD—I would have missed mass for 3 Sundays in a row, to exact payment for all 3 accounts. I would have picked a fight with everyone at home and in the office and be totally unapologetic about it because I had just been through hell, and so should they. But to my surprise, I felt cheerful despite everything that had happened; I felt consoled. I didn’t feel angry or hurt, not even forgotten. My initial thoughts after that weekend was, “I’ve been through some worse situations before and God has always been there to console me. This is no different from that. I know that even in my smallest concerns, God is already there, as He is already here.”
I also have a new way of looking at things. There’s more clarity in differentiating right from wrong. From rationalizing my porn addiction to just accepting the fact that it is morally wrong, I now realize that life can continue without pornography. I can survive a week without watching or reading anything pornographic. With His grace, it is possible to fight the urge and the temptation. Similarly, my style of humor and my brand of “FUN” has also changed. I’ve now made a conscious effort not to make fun of people because I know it isn’t pleasing to God. I challenged myself to find new “material” for me to channel my humor, and I’ve found it. I’ve found humor in sharing with others my day to day experiences with God. Really, He has provided me with so much material, I can’t help but share these anecdotes and God-jokes with others (like the time I had to hear mass outside the church and it started to rain, so I asked God to make the rain stop, and instead he sent another mass goer with a huge golf umbrella to stand beside me, keeping me dry unintentionally!). I certainly didn’t expect God to have a sense of humor, but I’m glad it is something we share.
Externally, people may not see any drastic changes in my life, but in my heart, I know the Lord has done, is doing, so many things. I am no longer content with okay, now that I know that a life with God holds so much more in store for me, both in this life and in the life to come.