By Vanya Heng, NTU
“In one word, I desire to be a saint,” wrote St Therese of Lisieux, and it echoes within my very being. I too desire to be a saint. But before this ardent desire, before knowing St Therese, before having an intimate friendship with Jesus, I looked for love in the wrong places. It was this search for love, not in our Creator but in other things, that made me feel unloved and alone. I was in despair and in a dark place. But God works in wonderful ways. He saved me, and He opened my eyes to His great plan.
Hi I’m Vanya, a year one student studying English Literature in NTU. When I was younger, my mom made sure I knew my Bible well. So whenever the catechist in sunday school wouldn’t let us leave until we answered a question, everyone looked at me hopefully. My ten-year-old self even wrote in some lost notebook that my dream occupation was to be a saint. But all of this was just head knowledge. I knew about Jesus, but I didn’t know Him. I made feeble attempts to form a friendship with Jesus. I heard His Word but failed to set Him as the foundation of my life. Like the man who built his house on sand, my house toppled.
2015 felt like the worst year of my life. I had disagreements with my family, was shunned by my friends and was failing some of my subjects in school. The only place that was a source of comfort and solace for me was in my books, and to me, they were my only friends. Somehow, the lie that I only had these books and nothing else crept in. Not knowing that God made us to be loved and to love him caused me to struggle with thoughts of suicide. I was looking for love in the wrong places at the same time pitying myself for not being loved and accepted by anyone.
By God’s grace, my family made sure I went for Sunday mass and received the Sacraments frequently. Although I experienced God’s saving grace, I still struggled with the lies of being unloved, alone and in despair. Yet, God, out of his love and goodness, saved me again.
In 2016, a month after self-harming a second time, my mom got me a copy of Saint Therese of Lisieux’s Story of a Soul, and her story changed my life. Through St Therese’s story, I came to experience Jesus drawing me closer to Him. In Jesus, there was so much more meaning and purpose in life. Furthermore, Saint Therese had three simple steps to becoming a saint, she said: “One had to suffer much, seek out always the most perfect thing to do, and forget self.” The Holy Spirit re-ignited the flame of a ten-year-old’s wishful thinking, writing in her lost notebook: I want to be a saint.
A month later, I received the Sacrament of Confirmation with great joy. The Holy Spirit opened a floodgate for me. Looking back, I realise that the Holy Spirit continued opening new doors that led me closer to Jesus, whether it was learning more about prayer or having a great devotion for our Blessed Mother. Such lessons changed my heart and opened my eyes to view the world and myself in a different lens, that I was in fact loved and invited to love those around me. My mom and I started praying more, learning mental prayer, and went for daily mass together. Prayer pushed me forward and helped me build a closer and stronger relationship with He who loved me first. I grew to love the Sacraments, especially pondering on how Jesus loved me so much that He came to me in the form of humble bread.
The environment around me didn’t change, but I know I did, and that was the difference. Saint Therese’s life taught me how to embrace the suffering I was met with, whether in my poor grades or not being accepted by those around me. Although it was still difficult to practise humility and forget self, God’s grace allowed me to learn how to love and be charitable to my neighbours and those who antagonised me. Jesus taught me how to face these problems and grow in maturity. I found that once this focus on myself shifted to caring for the people around me, I became a lot happier.
I am still a work in progress but each day I continue to flourish under the Holy Spirit’s guidance. Jesus has called me and still calls me to draw closer to Him and to completely entrust myself in His perfect hands. By changing my heart, he taught me that the lens in which I looked at the world determined how I would carry my cross and embrace my suffering. Life in this world was a pilgrimage, a journey, and each day was a step closer towards Him and a chance for me to allow Him into my life and radiate His light. The world may be full of suffering, but because I live in Christ and He lives in me, I can bear my cross, as St Josemaria Escriva says, “with a smile on [my] lips and a light in [my] soul”. Dear brothers and sisters, how is Jesus inviting you to embrace your cross today and to trust Him more?