by Trina Chong, NTU (bottom left)
Prior to SOCL, I had a rather lukewarm relationship with the Lord. I didn’t have a strong desire to pursue Him any more than my weekly CG and RCIY sessions. My resistance didn’t only come from the fact that I found other things more interesting, but in hindsight, it also stemmed from the unexplainable burden I would feel when praying or journaling. I didn’t understand why these activities, which have brought many people relief, would turn out to be so draining for me. The sloth in me decided to sweep this question under the rug and settle instead for a minimalist faith life. The pre-SOCL me would rather have a full-day Korean drama marathon than spend just one hour watching a life-giving video on Formed. My heart was very restless as I jumped from one Korean drama or one activity to the other, and in my restlessness, it didn’t occur to me that Jesus was the one who could still my heart. This is why it took me a while to commit to signing up for SOCL as I had prior commitments that clashed with SOCL timings, and I wasn’t willing to give them up for the Lord.
I entered SOCL feeling intimidated. After so many weeks of interacting with just my family members and a few friends, finding myself in a Zoom call with 300 over people was anxiety-inducing to say the least. I was also skeptical about whether God was truly present in this virtual space, and whether my heart would be accessible to Him. But from the very first day, he crushed all my fears. He rained truths down upon me during every session that I experienced. The guided reflection about the prodigal son was the first time that I cried during the retreat. As questions like, “How do you feel as the Father embraces you?” were asked, I imagined God sitting right beside me in my room and asking these questions to me from His own mouth. In the slothfulness that this circuit breaker had induced in me, I lost touch with God and my own life. But God’s questions to me that day opened my eyes to my own brokenness, like my low self-esteem and constant need for affirmation from others. He took away the hands that were covering this brokenness and assured me that I can be joyfully vulnerable in Him. Even when I had strayed from Him, He told me in no uncertain terms that there is always room for me in His house.
It was also through SOCL that I gained a deeper relationship with the Holy Spirit. After almost 19 years of starting my prayers with “Our Father…” or “Dear Jesus,” it was only recently that I began to wholeheartedly call upon the third member of the Trinity. There were many situations during the retreat that I wasn’t ready for and that made me feel inadequate, particularly when we had to pray for others. My head felt like a blank page with no words to offer to the people I was meant to pray for. In my helplessness, I realised that the Holy Spirit was my strength and desperately repeated, “Less of me, more of You. Please have Your way in me.” The Spirit has never failed me for every time I sent out an SOS, He rushed to my side and interceded for me. It finally dawned upon me that the answer to why praying and journaling had felt so tiresome for me lay in my self-reliance. I relied on my own limited brainpower to find the right words to pray and write, and rehearsed my sentences over and over again until they were perfect. It felt like I was submitting a high-stakes essay and the pressure repelled me. But learning to succumb to the Spirit changed all of this. I am no longer crippled by my perfectionism because in the presence of the Lord everything is made perfect. I now relish the experiences of praying and journaling because the Spirit of the Lord carries me and there is no greater joy than that. Whenever I surrender my fears or my brokenness to the Lord, He doesn’t just tell me, “Okay Trina, just leave it on my table and I’ll take it tomorrow,” but He rushes to my side and takes them into His own hands.
Considering how it was my seniors’ testimonies that encouraged me to join SOCL, I guess things have come full circle now that I have a testimony of my own. My favourite truth had always been that God meets me where I am, but after this retreat my new favourite is this – He doesn’t leave me where He found me.