There’s nothing like trying to come back on to blogging through an overdue post and feel the strained muscles of creative expression’s resistance to flow with you on a lazy Sunday afternoon.
I’m trying to recover from a bad case of cough and colds almost a whole week now. I was visiting our school in Cebu for a marketing training and felt the energy slowly being drained from me as I wheezed and sneezed and rolled tissue balls in my hand. I hate having a stuffy nose and a sore throat. It makes me feel like such an invalid. I can’t talk. I can’t smell. I can’t breathe.
I don’t really get sick as often as I did but I’ve learned lately that the body has its way of getting your attention. I sent a message to my cousin Br. John and he replied instantly saying, “Are you going to listen?”
That question reverberated quite strong inside me since I got back home and I haven’t completely sorted myself out to answering it. But maybe now I should.
Bethel Worship Nights
I encountered Bethel Music a few years ago and started to listen to their songs and subscribe to their WorshipU Online Campus. There was something about how they did worship that was different from the usual worship bands I listen to. There was something that resonated deeply within me. It was how they were in touch with themselves when they worshipped God and it was their “being in touch” with themselves that allowed them to be in deeply in touch with the presence of God.
I found this to be really enchanting and I admired this about their ministry. I learned a lot by listening to them and felt the desire to to deepen my own spiritual practice through their music.
I have a love-hate relationship with music. When I was 3 I had begun my piano lessons but grew up feeling stifled with the many music lessons that my life had revolved around. I felt like I wasn’t in touch with myself. I cut class and got the scolding of a lifetime and started to go on autopilot when it came to my music practice. For a while I found a creative season and found myself writing songs that started to attract a local recording company at that time. I was in college and bands were part of that life. A friend had urged me to record one of the songs I wrote and suddenly I found myself listening to it on the radio.
The contract to have a record with a company was probably a dream someone would like to have. But during that time I stared at it and felt the tension of not knowing whether I wanted that kind of life or not. I handed it back to the manager and declined.
Fast forward many years later, I find myself with a rowdy group of young people in my house typing, through the wee hours of the morning, the script of an original musicale that was to be the fundraiser of a youth retreat for the year. I worked with more than 15 of them to make this happen and birthed 14 original songs as an expression of their own testimonies of faith. We staged the musicale 11 years ago and the feeling of staying faithful to your creative work was worth the unsigned-recording-contract life I walked away from.
I’ve taken a break from a life of music and ministry for almost 4 years now. It’s part of that hiatus that someone like me who has “burnt out” periodically experiences. Ministry life isn’t so much like professional life. The work never stops because the work is your life. But there was something wrong with how I lived and held that life together with the rest of my life and that’s why I burnt out. Of course, the circumstances surrounding my ministry and professional life were not quite easy as well but had I known how to do this one thing that the music ministry of Bethel knew how to do, I probably would not feel so spent.
That one thing that I didn’t know how to do was developing intimacy with God.
It takes intentionality to learn how to commune with a God who is real–seeking to know His voice, His personality, and His heart–than it does to pick up a book and dutifully learn about Him. When you approach God–who just happens to be the most important, intimate, loving, compassionate, powerfully real relationship you’ll ever have–it seems kind of silly to just devote yourself to a lifetime of books to learn about Him with your intellect when He’s made a way for you to experience Him with all your heart. [Christa Black, Heart Made Whole]
I didn’t learn how to do this because it wasn’t so easy to learn. There are different strokes with different folks and I just belonged to a group of folks where I had a bit of difficulty trying to really learn how to live this part of the spiritual life out.
Watching and witnessing Bethel’s music ministry and experiencing that night after a long season of not being in the worship ministry scene, God pointed out to me what He wanted me to do.
As soon as the first week of the year passed, I went on a vision fast as encouraged by my cousin Rinka. It was a fast that involved praying for a whole week and listening in for a word that God will speak to you. My word was establish. It came from the verse written in 1 Peter 5:10,
After you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace–who imparts His blessing and favor–who called you to His own eternal glory in Christ will Himself complete, confirm, strengthen and establish you–making you as you ought to be. [Amplified Version]
I really don’t go on a lot fasts (maybe I should). For this particular fast, I fasted on social media which I didn’t realize I could actually do and spent the time to listen for God’s vision for me instead of scrolling mindlessly through feeds to find my relaxation for the day.
I was ready to take on the new year and make it my best one yet. Equipped with a new resolve to gain more clarity and vision by leaning and pressing into God’s vision for me. I particularly this part of the verse above: After you have suffered for a little while.
I don’t know if feeling compassion fatigue has just been a little while for me. I feel that it’s gone on really long. But Peter says that it will only take a little while before God will begin His work of completing, confirming, strengthening and establishing me.
I liked that thought of that. Even if I felt like I was suffering from this burn out for a long time, there was something very brotherly with how Saint Peter wrote those words for me in that moment. Sandali nalang. Konti nalang. A little while longer, hang in there.
Almost everyday for the first month of the year I spoke those verses out loud and could feel a shift in my faith. But it would fade again when I’m overtaken by circumstances like the pace of work, the concerns that required attention, the memories that would need healing, the relationships that needed nurturing. It would fade when life would happen too fast and I would have to exert a lot of effort to get my entire self to keep up with the pace or else.
It’s the fourth month of this year and my cousin’s question reverberates again. Are you going to listen?
I don’t know. I know I should. But I don’t know how. I’ve been living this kind of pace for more than a decade. This is how I’ve been trained to live. But I suppose the stuffy nose that keeps me from taking relaxed breaths the past couple of days shows that I am in dire need of rest.
So I finished Christa Black’s book in just 2 days. I got it in Kindle and found myself wanting to read more and just listen. Listen for words of wisdom. Listen for testimony. Remembering the process that faith brings to you when you feel like your life is moving disconnected from your heart.
And this is what I learned very simply. I cannot keep on navigating my life from my head if my heart cannot catch up. I need to check in with my heart and how it’s doing before it palpitates too fast or screeches to a halt. I’ve carried a lot of lives inside my life and those lives I’ve taken cared of have also affected me without their knowing. I need to process these things and find a gentler and creative way of holding them.
I need a rhythm that is anchored on to the One who is unchanging. The One who I should have depended on completely from the beginning. The relationship and the life I should be nurturing and deepening even more.
Life can tire you out. And sometimes the best thing one can do to find rest is to admit it. And it is in the holy honesty of one’s heart that restfulness begins to rise and embrace the exhaustion cradling you into a moment of surrender.
Called to Rest
Br. John Marmion chides me again, “So come and visit me in the monastery for 2 weeks yes?” I would love to say yes. Maybe soon. God-willing.
But the past few days of nursing a cold and cough has reminded me that the only way I can live out that one word God has given me to believe in this year is if I rest in Him. Surrendering all striving. Spending solitary time. Soaking in His presence. And doing everything I can to sustain that.
I don’t really know how to begin. But maybe the next few days into Holy Week can be a time to discover how to do just that.