Faith is something that I’ve struggled with for such a long time particularly in my early to mid-20s. It’s a topic that most people are not comfortable sharing let alone talk about. We live in a time where there’s a constant struggle to integrate a seemingly archaic belief system into a society that is undergoing major changes across all facets.
But before I talk about faith within the context of society, let me share my messy journey of religion and faith.
I grew up in a very conservative family—which is something that most people can relate to. My family converted into Christianity, under the Baptist sect, when I was in Grade 5. Since then, I’ve been bombarded by different dogmas—most of which, in retrospect, I don’t agree with.
My mom, who became the most devout one, dragged my younger brother and I every Sunday morning to attend service with her in a small community church in Cainta. There was Sunday School for the kids where I learned and memorized all the Christian songs and Bible verses as if it were the initiation rights to be part of the community. It was followed by a two-hour service consisting of congregational singing, Bible reading, and an hour-long sermon. One Sunday service was not enough. We went to both morning AND evening services. There was also a mid-week prayer service and, on top of that, I sometimes accompanied my mom to Saturday morning prayer group. I went to church a minimum of three times a week. This pattern had become my reality for the next twenty years. The worse part was I didn’t completely understand why. I wasn’t given the freedom of choice to decide for myself which is, sadly, the case for most Christian children.
As I grew older, I faced situations and questions that my faith was never prepared for. I started questioning the traditions I grew up with. Why am I supposed to go to church twice every Sunday? Why can’t one service be enough? If God looks in our hearts, why are we required to dress up a certain way? Why are women expected to be soft-spoken and can’t be leaders? The more I questioned, the more I became frustrated and less interested in becoming a “good Christian”. This greatly strained my relationship with my parents because as much as I love and respect them, they didn’t have the answers I was looking for.
I wandered and started reading other literature and philosophies hoping to make sense of what I was going through. I’ve always known that I was different, and that life has something great in store for me. I just couldn’t identify what that was at the time. As days progressed, I found myself in a vicious cycle of frustration, looking for God’s presence, and recommitting, only to fall back to square one.
I felt disheartened and defeated.
One night, out of frustration, I started praying and crying. I had a long conversation with the Lord asking what He really wanted me to do with my life. The answer didn’t come right away but something else did…
In October 2016, my mom was diagnosed with stage 3 cancer which baffled me completely because she was the most health-conscious person that I know. “My mom? Cancer? This is not happening,” I thought when I was sitting inside the doctor’s clinic listening in disbelief. Yet again, I found myself praying late at night and crying in despair. “We’re not ready, Lord”, I told Him. I prayed, no—begged, that He wouldn’t allow something to happen to my mom. This ordeal lasted for six months and, by the grace of God, my mom was cleared in April 2017.
The whole experience with the Big C changed the way I look at faith, Jesus Christ, religion, and, ultimately, myself. There is a reason why they call it a personal relationship because it truly is the most intimate relationship you will ever have and experience. Back when I was still attending my old church, my idea of God was different. I saw Him as this vindictive and judgmental figure who will punish you if you don’t adhere to His way of life. It was a very Old-Testament-God-versus-the-Jews type of perspective. One wrong move and you’re out. Yet what I have experienced, and am still experiencing, is completely on the other end of the spectrum because of a thing called grace. The kind of grace that is gentle, overflowing, and unimaginable that sometimes you feel undeserving to receive.
The more I experience it, the more I want to understand and get to know Him further. By doing so, I discovered that His manifestation in our lives is different depending on the context we are in, and as His children, we are never supposed to have the same paths. He gave us the freedom and privilege to make choices—and all He wants is for Him to be part of that journey. That was His design after all. Looking back, I think what most Christians in the community, including myself, misunderstood is that we ought to be ‘perfect’ and ‘holy’ all the time lest we fall out of grace.
But our Christian walk isn’t supposed to be perfect. It’s destined to be messy, the same way it was messy for prominent characters in the Bible. King David fell into adultery, King Solomon indulged himself in his lustful desires, Jonah ran away from God, and many more who, in their own way, stumbled countless of times in their walk of faith. And yet, we still talk and study about them not because of the way they stumbled but how His grace pulled them through. It was never about man. It was always about God and His grace.
This is something we need to be reminded of whenever we have our own struggles of self-righteousness to the point where we ostracize people who don’t share the same ideals as we do. In my own Faith journey, God has impressed in my heart to integrate His principles in contributing to social causes.
I consider myself a middle-to-left wing person in a community that leans mostly to the right so, yes, it’s difficult.
There are certain issues that divide the community—some of which are related to the LGBT community. I can’t speak for everyone, but my personal stand is I love and respect the LGBT community. I support the SOGIE bill because I want them to have the rights that they deserve. If we think about it, passing this bill doesn’t necessarily strip away religious sectors of their belief system. If anything, it will even give us the chance to have a proper dialogue to discuss our differences, similarities, and how we can help build each other. What used to be an environment fueled by hostility and prejudice will now be cultivated by genuine concern and care.
It’s easy to say do this or do that regarding our Christian walk. But whenever we struggle to understand certain situations, I think it’s best to look unto Jesus and the way He had lived his last years. He helped the poor, the sick, the marginalized; and spent most of His days conversing and understanding the outcasts of society.
I think Jesus is the best example of a social activist. He fought against the system—but never with force. He evangelized and made His presence known through love, compassion, and empathy.
So, have I figured everything all out? Heck no. I’m still learning and understanding what all these things mean but whenever there’s doubt, He is always quick to assure me that His grace is sovereign. In His own little but magnificent ways, God always reminds us that there’s always love, compassion, and empathy that we can go back to. I don’t think it can get any cleaner or simpler than that.