by Joshua Tan (above photo, second-from-right), 26 years old
Before entering the School of Witness, I had strong personal encounters with Jesus and was already on the journey of discipleship. Although I experienced a lot of joy in this journey, I also struggled at times with feeling like I wasn’t enough. I had an inner monologue running in my mind, and I would filter a lot of my experiences through this very self-critical lens. Sometimes this manifested in episodes of anxiety, where I am overwhelmed by a stream of critical thoughts about myself.
This anxiety and self-judgment also affected my faith life. I was constantly worried about not doing enough and I would feel heavily discouraged whenever I ‘slipped up’ in my commitments.
As SOW began, these patterns of self-judging thoughts also came. Although I received insights and consolations from God, I still had doubts which made me unstable and insecure. After any uncomfortable situation, I would blame myself for messing up. I also desired to appear polished, with no rough edges. I placed myself under a lot of pressure to prove my worth in the school as a good student, as evidenced by the questions I journalled. I didn’t feel that it was okay to be me, and that grew tiring.
But throughout the school, Jesus was moving to free me. He was teaching me to surrender these thoughts to him and direct my gaze back at him. Along with the questions, I also penned down words of comfort, consolation, and encouragement from Jesus. Oftentimes, Jesus would say that the answers to those questions weren’t important. What was important was that I was there, spending time with him. Jesus assured me that I was known, that my experiences and struggles were known and that I was loved.
All of this was laying the groundwork for the third week, when Jesus uncovered a deep source of hurt within me. Three years ago, my family was broken. Although I’ve brought this incident to Jesus before and have received His healing, this time he revealed something new – I still had a lot of unforgiveness toward myself. He showed me that I still blamed myself for the breaking up of my family. As a response to the pain, I had unconsciously directed so much anger and negativity to myself. I began to see how my struggles with anxiety came from this wound. This was why whenever I experienced something negative, I was quick to blame myself and try to fix things. In revealing this, I could release that painful experience back to Him, and to release myself from my own anger. He showed me that I don’t have to bear the burden of healing my family, I don’t always have to ‘correct myself’ and have to have all the answers. I’m allowed to try my best, and I’m also allowed to fail. I’m allowed to let others see me as I truly am.
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Since that time, I am living and claiming this freedom to be myself more fully. Though I still struggle with the thoughts in my head, I am able to more quickly allow Jesus into those thoughts. Now, whenever I’m obsessing over how I’m falling short, or over what I “should” be doing better, I will take a breath, release those thoughts to Jesus, and turn my gaze away from myself and onto Jesus Christ. Without my own angry ‘threatening voice’ accompanying these negative thoughts, I can hear Jesus’ tone of voice. He isn’t angry, hateful, or aloof. He doesn’t threaten to abandon me if I don’t move. When he asks me to move, he is inviting me to love him, to respond to the healing and faithful love he has already given me.
Jesus is my liberator, and he loves me so much that he wanted to free me even from myself. Jesus also wants to be your liberator – he wishes to break your chains of anger, unforgiveness, and suffocating expectations, even and especially when those chains come from yourself. He wants to restore your broken heart. He wants freedom for you, so that you can see yourself with mercy, with love. So, my friends, will you allow Jesus to free you?
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