As I reflected on what 2015 has meant to me, I realised that this is the year that I reaped the fruits of the difficult years of growth before it. After a much needed year of sabbatical, I began to be able to piece together what I have learned about myself in the previous 6 years of full-time ministry in the parish. Even more significantly, I came to stop judging myself for not being more whatever-I-am-not. This was the year that I began love myself not for anything I can do well, but just for being me.
So here are three things about me that I’m not judging anymore:
1. I am intense. Once, someone told me in fatigue and exasperation, “Ann, we’re not all fireballs like you. Most of us can’t keep up with that level of intensity for hours on end.” His remark took me by surprise, but I very much appreciated his honesty.
Believe it or not, I have tried to be less intense before so that people wouldn’t get “burned”. Did. Not. Work. I have accepted that God made me a fireball. And I have come to the realisation that for most people, I am best encountered in small doses, infrequently, or over a distance. I don’t do small-talk, and I can delve very quickly into very deep matters. I am not “fun” or “easy” company, but I can zap you with energy. I now quite happily accept that God has a purpose for my intensity even if it does scare some people away!
I once “complained” to a spiritual companion who is well-known for her encouraging and nurturing presence that I wished I was more like her. I wished that people could always feel comfortable in my presence, and unconditionally accepted and loved. But more often than not, it seems that I make people feel like they need to strive harder or reach standards that they aren’t yet at! My friend laughed heartily and I will always remember her words to me – “Ann, that’s not you. You’re a prophet. Your role is to rouse people from their slumber and tell them to get going. You’re doing exactly what God made you to do!”
2. I am a free spirit. Around 10 years ago, a fellow doctoral student in Canada told me that I was a free spirit. I was incredulous and also a bit scandalised at the time because I didn’t see myself as a free spirit and I certainly didn’t think that was a compliment! I was brought up to be structured, organised, responsible and reliable. None of these traits, I felt, were compatible with being free-spirited.
After the last 6 years of healing and growth in interior freedom, including some very painful processes of self-discovery, I am now happy to claim the truth that I am a free spirit. I am most myself when I am allowed to follow my creative inspirations. I am most myself when I have plenty of alone time to ponder and develop the countless different ideas that excite me, and I am happiest when I am given the space and time to allow the creative seeds in me to germinate and mature. I firmly believe that the best fruits come when we honour the rhythm that God has given to each of his creatures. And I am honouring this truth by choosing to work independently (i.e. not employed) in this season of my life so that I will have the freedom to slow down my pace when necessary.
When I told a former spiritual director about my realisation that I am a free spirit, he looked at me as if I was crazy. “You mean you didn’t know? It is so obvious!” Sorry, but I have been in life-long denial about this one!
3. I am a communicator. So this one’s rather obvious to others, but it is a truth that I have only recently embraced. A few years ago when I began to yearn for greater silence and solitude, I began to notice how much noise is within me. As an extrovert, much of this interior noise gets externalised through unnecessary words whether spoken or written. I went through a phase where I felt really inferior because silence didn’t come to me as naturally as it did to some introverts I knew. One morning a few years ago, God said to me rather dryly, “Ann, I made you a communicator. You will not be taking any vow of silence any time soon. True interior silence isn’t an absence of words. Rather, it means that you speak from a place of deep silence. It means that you only communicate what I ask you to speak.”
I used to fret that I wasn’t a very good facilitator because I am prone to share too much myself. I used to fret that I speak too much in any interaction with people. But now, instead of fretting, I know God is saying to me – “Don’t keep trying to do what I didn’t create you to do. Go and be who I created you to be!” So I teach, share, speak, and write more confidently now. But as much as possible, I only do so when I am surrendered and feel prompted to do so. Otherwise, I have learned (at least more than before) to be silent.
So in honour of the theme of accepting who I am, I am posting this candid photo of myself which was taken whilst I was doing what God created me to do – being intense, speaking about God to someone I do not know, and freely disappearing from the scene right after there was nobody else waiting to speak to me.
It feels good to be able to be myself. Thank you, Lord, for making me ME.