“I do not need community”, I thought. “Community is for those who are not serious about their faith and want only to make friends or perhaps find their life partner. I do not have that social need. My faith is personal, between God and I alone”. Yet my entry into the working world brought much confusion as the values of the world conflicted with my beliefs and with what I was taught. I longed to be connected and rooted. I asked my good friend to bring me to 1 Peter, the young adult community she was in, just to see what it was like.
Initially, I found myself confused by the operations of this group. Our spiritual director, Father Samuel Lim, emphasized the importance of ‘wasting time together’. As a task-centred person, I could not grasp the concept of this fellowship business. Why were we going still for supper after spending two hours talking about God? I felt it was a terrible waste of time and an inefficient start to my weekend.
So imagined how surprised I was when I received messages throughout the week, following up on random and seemingly insignificant remarks I made in passing. They were not only concerned with matters about God but also matters about me. We started to talk about everything from superficial topics like dressing/haircuts and cafes to holy matters. I found myself reciprocating their friendship and checking in on them. We started going out on our free days, chatting about everything or sitting comfortably with each other in silence.
We started forming relationships.
That was when our sharing sessions got deeper and more vulnerable. We shared genuinely about our anger at God, our confusions in life and our deepest hurts. We rejoiced in one another’s triumphs and joys. We shed tears for and laughed with one another. 1 Peter was also the first to challenge me to discern my vocation.
Coming from a family who no longer practices the faith, I found my spiritual family in 1 Peter.
Of course, as with all relationships, it cannot be a sunny day everyday. Father Samuel Lim also said that there are two types of people in community that will help us grow. The first type are those who can get along very well with us: we feel most comfortable in their presence. The second type are those whom we can never get along with: they show us that it is us who must change.
When I received the call to religious life, I was very worried about the community I would enter into. The reality of religious life is that I would be in a community of, to put it bluntly, a lot of old women. Thoughts like, ‘would I be able to take it?’ disturbed me more frequently than I had expected. It was around this time that I was in the core team of 1 Peter and the tension among us mounted. But the coordinator, in his humility, called for a community reconciliation. I recall that he was so saddened when he told us that we had become merely a working committee, no longer friends. I remember that our community reconciliation gave us a chance to voice out what was really hurting us, and a chance to wash the feet of one another. It was the most powerful reconciliation for me as it revealed that as much as we will continue to quarrel in future, the strength of our relationships would encourage us to face whatever issues with love and humility. We will emerge from these difficulties as a deeply rooted community who has weathered storms instead of letting go of relationships easily. Of course, my discernment to religious life comprised more elements and stories than this, but this small but God-timed experience allowed me to trust in Him and take a big leap forward rather than be trapped in my fears.
Therefore, my experience with 1 Peter taught me that my first mission in the Religious of the Good Shepherd was to build relationships with Christ and my sisters. I spent a lot of time, after a tiring day in my ministry to ‘waste time’ with my sisters and to sit before the Lord.
Even though I am no longer physically present with 1 Peter, the relationships built in the past mean that they still keep in contact, check in on me and journey with me. I remember that they had advised against me comparing my religious community with 1 Peter, reminding me how much time we took to build the community and encouraging me to find the beauty and uniqueness in my new community.
Today, I keep a picture frame of 1 Peter and the prayer cards given to me when I entered the convent on my desk. It helps me to thank God for the gift of the various Communities He had gifted me with- my first Community, my new Community, and the encouragement to also embrace the wider Community of the people of God.
To find out more about the 1 Peter community, please click HERE.