By Johannes Tjendro (Hans)
An experience of Confession immediately after committing a grave sin broke my self-sufficiency and showed me God’s radical and tender love. The COVID-19 lockdown that followed stripped me of all my distractions, allowing God to work through my brokenness. I was first angry with God and then at myself. Amid the self-rejection, hopelessness and grief, I began to truly pray and be vulnerable before the Lord. The support of four brothers from the OYP family showed me the efficacy of God’s love and grace working in my life – healing me and others through me.
It was a Sunday, the Lord’s day, that was unlike any other Sunday. I was tempted to do something I knew was wrong, but my self-righteousness and addiction had clouded my judgment.
“Juggling work and life has been difficult. You deserve a break. This will make you feel good,” I said to myself. “At most, later you can go for Confession again.”
So I went ahead, betraying God and my own conscience.
Strangely, I immediately made my way to church afterwards. My feet were marching steadily, but my heart was trembling. I went straight to the adoration chapel, while feeling starkly out of place.
I started journaling, pouring out my heart’s content. Tears streamed down my cheeks. There I was before Jesus, realising my utter foolishness and helplessness.
I had believed the lie that God did not care about my struggles in life, and that only pleasure of the flesh could relieve me of the itch I felt in my heart. It was not quite relief that I found, but rather a sense of numbness.
I knew I had to make a Confession.
I knocked on the door of the priest’s office. Father welcomed me and invited me to sit. I began with a familiar line that had become muscle memory: “Bless me, Father, for I have sinned.”
But the rest of my Confession was strange. Deep down I thought: “Surely this time I won’t be forgiven. I have gone too far.”
I just opened my mouth anyway, since I had nothing to lose. Besides, I could not live a lie anymore. “This is who I really am, Lord. Take it or leave it,” I thought to myself.
During Confession, I told Father the exact nature of my wrongdoing. He listened intently, his facial expression unchanged. What Father said afterwards was a blur but I simply recall feeling loved. After I said the act of contrition, he gave me the absolution.
How strange. Is it this easy to be loved? I just have to be myself? But what about my sin? Could God be this good that he would forgive me immediately after I offended him?
A LONG SILENT RETREAT
Even though God had forgiven me, it would take a while for me to forgive myself. Yet, it was God himself who would teach me.
COVID-19 happened and like everyone else, I was forced into isolation during the Circuit Breaker. Every single distraction I had was stripped away, forcing me to face up to my brokenness. The months of staying home felt like one long silent retreat.
As I saw more clearly the extent of my past hurts and the sins that I committed to numb the pain, I was filled with self-hatred. From being angry with God for placing what seemed like a heavy burden on me, I became angry with myself because I saw how blameless and pure God was. Before his goodness, I was repulsed by myself. I struggled with scrupulosity and was losing hope.
Some time during the lockdown, I began to pray – not in a particularly pious way, but in whatever way I was there and then. I prayed before the altar, at my desk and in bed. I also started journeying with two brothers from the OYP family, zooming together once a week. Although I was not ready to share the details of my struggles with them, the Holy Spirit comforted me through them and in prayer. My anger was slowly softened by God’s grace.
“God wants me to return to him. It is most blessed to be with him,” reads one of my journal entries.
Then, I started to grieve for my sins and for those I’ve hurt. I mourned the state of my relationship with God, which was in tatters, and the fact that I had been living a life of dichotomy. My nights were filled with tears, and it was tough because I still had to juggle work and everything else. I felt tempted to numb my feelings by sinning again, but resisted the temptation by God’s grace. I just carried everything in prayer and “dumped” it on God. I was finally free to feel those negative emotions, without having to pretend to be stoic and unaffected.
“There’s hope in this poverty of spirit. There’s a plan in this bleak outlook,” I wrote in the same journal entry.
HOPE SPRINGS ETERNAL
It was at this time that God sent me another brother from the OYP family to journey with me. We were both looking for accountability partners. We signed up for a 21-day online detox programme. The daily inputs from the programme and daily Zoom calls with my brother gave me much-needed strength to be firm in the Lord. Just like my experience with the Lord in the Confession, my brother accepted and loved me even as I shared the worst of my sins. His sincerity to pursue the Lord and openness in sharing with me his own struggles also inspired me to remain steadfast.
I realised that despite everything I had or had not done, I was made good. My desires were good, although they had been misdirected due to sin. The Biblical truth that I was made in the image and likeness of God penetrated the hardness of my heart. And while that image still seemed distorted, I trusted that the Lord could work through me and heal me.
I was starting to forgive and accept myself. For a good part of my life, I felt I had to measure up to be a good Catholic. Whenever I sinned, I was crushed by the reality that I had ultimately fallen short of that self-imposed standard. I finally saw that the Lord’s love for me was unconditional. I became increasingly convicted of pursuing holiness, not to satisfy my own ego but out of a desire to please the one who loves me tenderly. And the best part? He wanted it for me more than I wanted it for myself, because He knew that my desires would never be truly satiated otherwise. God and I – we are on the same team.
The end of the Circuit Breaker was a much-needed breath of fresh air. Finally, I could receive the Sacraments again. I saw that as I consumed his Body and Blood in the Eucharist, I became one with him in body and spirit. Finally, I found my true joy! This intimate union with God was greater than any temporal pleasure. The itch in my heart was not merely relieved, but truly satisfied.
THE POWER OF GOD’S LOVE
God had more in store for me. One day, another brother from the OYP family wanted to speak. We met for coffee at a hawker centre. In tears, he shared with me his struggles with sins of a similar nature and asked me for prayer and accountability. At first, I felt unworthy that he would come to me for help, since I was myself a sinner. But moved by the Holy Spirit, I listened, encouraged him and prayed with him.
As I continued to offer my brother up in prayer after our meeting, the Lord revealed to me that from then on He would use my brokenness to minister to others. Not only did He forgive and heal me, He would use my wounds to heal others.
God was showing me the power of His love to help me understand that there was no better way to live than to be in love with Him. His love is like a stream of water that cannot be contained. It will flow where it pleases, nourishing the parched lands that receive it. It is with this knowledge that I now share our love story with you.
Dear brother or sister, do you find work and life overwhelming? Are there wounds in your life that need to be healed? Are you struggling with addiction or sin? You are not alone. I pray that reading my story, you will hear God’s invitation to trust in his love, and believe that he is able and willing to heal you. These are the very truths that have become the foundation of my new life.
In one of his plays, Oscar Wilde wrote: “Every saint has a past and every sinner has a future.”
God is calling you to be a saint. How will you respond to him?