Life behind a mask is empty. Faith behind a mask brings no true joy. Growing up we all knew that one kid who was ‘friends’ with everyone, but not really friends with anyone. Well I was that kid, and if you look really closely, I still am. Moving from group to group trying to belong, but never truly belonging. Desperate, I resorted to (for lack of a better word) acting and behaving in a way that I knew would get me the attention and sense of belonging I so desperately craved for. And it worked. The mask I was showing to the world filled my life. The pseudo me had made friends. It didn’t last for long though and with each repeating cycle, all it really did was make me feel emptier and emptier.
The same can be said for my faith; I lived a life of ‘faith’ for my friends. Church activities were for building friendships, and God experiences were created because everyone seemed to have had one, and I resented not having one myself. In reality, I never had a tangible God experience, not even to this day. God was never really part of my life. I was a boy of ‘faith’ not for the faith, but for what that ‘faith’ could do for me. However, this was transient. As soon as church stopped helping me belong, I left without remorse. The cycle then started again with a new place and new me. I became less than a Sunday Catholic, and that little piece of second-hand faith I had faded away. I had lost God, but I was already so empty I didn’t care.
From left: Daryl Stewart, Victoria Lim, Matthew Lim, Simeon Tan, Victoria Wong
University came along and old friends believing I was still that boy of ‘faith’ sought me out and convinced me to join the Catholic community in SMU and to start a community in my parish SVDP. Apprehensive at first, I agreed to give it a try, not to find God, but to fill that emptiness again. Again I put on another mask that I had been perfecting. God was never on my list of people to meet, but apparently I was on His.
Fast-forward two and a half years, and the Combined University Retreat sign up form was staring at me, calling me out for being a hypocrite. There I was asking others to go for this possible life changing retreat while I was considering skipping it myself. Something was holding me back. The push came when I found out that a good majority of the service team were my friends who were sacrificing their time to help other find God. I caved, I clicked submit, and I came.
God had always had a plan for me it seemed. He just never acted in big ways but instead, nudged me gently in His time. This retreat was not a life changing one, I did not meet God in a tangible way, but it was a perspective changing one. God had revealed Himself to me and I was amazed. Amazed that I had doubted in my heart that He had changed my life and that He is changing my life. He has given me the companionship I have always craved for by placing Himself into the centre of my life.
I have found Him in the beauty of the teachings, in the wonders of His creation, in the simplicity of His mission. I did not need that tangible experience. He has changed me and I know this.
He started from the first session, using Father Jude as the perfect medium. During his session, Fr. Jude said “If we want to meet Jesus, we cannot do it alone, we need companions. Just like the first people who went to find Jesus, the shepherds and kings.”
Sitting there, the phrase took its time to sink in, but when it did, I realise that God had waited patiently to put the right people into my life to push me towards the right circumstances to find Him and the joy I needed, instead of what I was craving for. God had put all the right people into my life. Friends to constantly pull me back when I felt like it was time for me to just quietly leave again, friends who inspired me with their faith. God has given me friends to journey with, to struggle with, and to grow with. Not only that, God has given me two spiritual directors in the form of Father Sam and Father Jude to challenge and enlighten me, placing that desire to find out more about Him in me.
I have found Him in the beauty of the teachings, in the wonders of His creation, in the simplicity of His mission. I did not need that tangible experience. He has changed me and I know this. I am Catholic for the first time and I am a man of faith at last. I have found my true joy.
The sessions spoke of God finding us in our failures and waiting to pick us up. God truly picked me up at my lowest and gave me new life. They spoke about peeling away our masks and He did. He took away my need to pretend and I was happy and full at last. They reinforced that I was not alone on this journey and indeed I have grown because of the people around me. The fellowship and sharing of faith has shown me how much I have grown and how He is constantly moving and touching lives in every single moment. I was blind to this before but now I see the true beauty of His work, and I am filled with joy.
I did not need a tangible experience to know Him and he knew that. He revealed Himself to me in even more powerful ways. He showed me His light through others and through His light in me. And now that I have received this light, it is my turn to be that light to others so that they too may come to find God.