by Joshua Tan
Following Jesus is hard work, but it is work that is full of joy. Before the School of Christian Leadership (SOCL), I had forgotten about the joy; I only looked at how hard being a disciple was.
I started my second semester last year optimistic about growing in faith. I committed to a daily prayer routine (prayer in the morning, at lunch, and at night) and dedicated my time in school to the Lord. That year, I also had the specific intention of discerning vocation. I loved studying philosophy (my major) and I asked God for the grace to discern whether I was called to an intellectual vocation in philosophy.
Of course, these commitments to my spiritual life existed alongside commitments to my worldly life. And whenever life got busy, whenever it got crowded by all these commitments at the same time, I prioritized my worldly commitments and turned away from Jesus. What’s more, my own weaknesses made following my commitments even harder. I have terrible writing anxiety – when I must produce writing for an audience, I feel stuck when the sentences I write are not instantly beautiful. I believed the lie that being “a good writer” made me valuable and worthy of love. Over time, this lie became a terrible chain that prevented me from loving the act of writing.
All these struggles made my journey with the Lord difficult. My prayers grew shorter and more mechanical. It became harder to discern properly. My writing anxiety blinded me, and I couldn’t see my school work as a gift given to me by the Lord. I told myself that this difficulty was part of discipleship, and that I should just power through this difficulty. The same lie that drove my writing anxiety reared its head again, and corrupted my view on my spiritual journey. I thought I had to power through this dryness by myself and become worthy of God’s love.
During SOCL, the Lord taught me the truth about discipleship by showing me joy and love. On the first night, we had a session reflecting on the parable of the Prodigal Son. We prayed and reflected on our relationship to God the Heavenly Father. I realized then that during my semester, I wasn’t acting as a son of God’s holy family. Instead, I thought I had to be a labourer, like the older soon mistakenly did. He and I both believed the lie that we had to earn our places in our Father’s’ house. This lie pulled me away from His heart.
But the Lord showed me that He loved me as a son, and that being His disciple meant this, first of all. The Lord spoke to me through the lyrics of the song “Who You Say I Am” by Hillsong. When I heard the lyric “In my Father’s house, there’s a place for me”, I felt, in that moment, the joy of the Lord’s overwhelming love. I realized that God wants to celebrate with me, at His dining hall. I Had a place at His table, and I was called to rejoice with him!
Suddenly, I understood where all my struggles from the semester came from. I saw the lies that drove me to that situation. In fact, the lie had evolved. Before, it was simply: I need to earn the love of others and of God. But it became a bigger lie, over the course of the semester. I believed that my spiritual journey was a purely personal burden and I should be proud that I’m suffering for the Lord. But, in that session, in that moment of peace where God my Father welcomed me home, I realized that He promises to be with me, even in this spiritual journey toward becoming His disciple.
I now look at my spiritual practices differently. And I now know that my journey to the Lord is not something I can complete on my own. I need His strength to do the difficult work of loving him and loving others. I need to carry the joy of being a child of God with me as I follow the Lord in the difficult times. I invite others to trust that the Lord loves us as dearly as a parent loves their child. If you are like me, and struggle with needing to be valuable to others in this world, you may be vulnerable to the lie that we can and need to earn God’s love. But the truth is, God has already freely given us His love, and He invites us to rejoice in that love.