My journey towards wholeness has also included a journey towards freedom, to be more and more free to love and serve God and his people, as part of the broader calling of Ignatian spirituality. To bring together the scattered parts of my fractured self into a consolidated whole has always been so something so important to me, and yet so elusive.
However, to find and mend that brokenness has been first to seek for freedom from the untoward expectations that I have placed on my shoulders, from the one million and one voices dictating who and what I should be. In the silence away from these voices, there is one which remains. It reminds me that grace is built on nature and that though I am by no means perfect, I do not and should not reject the being that was so made in the image and likeness of God. I needed to really believe and understand that first, and to know and trust that I am not the person or being who takes charge of the building process – it is the work of God, though I am called to cooperate and be open with God in his work.
Love of Self
And that is so liberating, because it means that I no longer have to doubt that this natural self, this me is so ugly, so twisted, so distorted that it is completely incapable of being loved. Indeed, it is this same me that began at creation, and is constantly being renewed each time I am able to pay more and more attention to God’s voice and to learn from all encounters, past and present, that God has brought into my life. It is to live in hope that even when I stumble and fall, something good will emerge, eventually. It is to believe that God is indeed to be found in all things.
A priest told me kindly during an Advent penitential service that the root of many problems which I faced stemmed from my inability to accept myself. I wasn’t quite sure what to make of it then, but insight is gradually coming to me. This refrain to ‘love myself’ has been echoed since those heady days of Sunday School camps but has always failed to reach and penetrate the deepest parts of my wounds. Perhaps because these words have only remained at the surface level, a platitude that could not acknowledge the existence and depth of my pain.
Quite simply put, I could not love or accept myself because that would have meant that the people who rejected me and caused me pain, including those whom I trusted and loved the most, were wrong. In the way a beaten animal learns to cower to protect itself, I learned to accept all the abuse so that the pain would stop. That was my way of protecting myself and it makes sense now. There are some wounds so deep that we cannot expose or deal with them until we are ready. There are some defense mechanisms so engrained that we cannot change or modify them until we recognise and know a better way of coping and living.
Moving Toward Discovery
I really wanted to believe the best of the people around me, that they were right and I was always in the wrong. But just as no one except God is infallible, they were not always correct and sometimes the things they did and the words they said were nothing short of cruel. My perceived essential badness and uselessness were a way of maintaining a status quo I was used to and unwilling to leave behind simply because it was the what and who I knew best then.
Yet, this was an imperfect, incomplete understanding. The movement of the good spirit leading me to this moment of discovery has been subtle but powerful. I continue to marvel at my discoveries in this process of making sense of what and who I was. As I put the pieces together, although there are cracks and tears, they are beginning to form a unity, a whole.
Petrina Tan lives in Malaysia. She holds an LL.M in Corporate & Financial Services Law from the National University of Singapore (NUS) and an LL.B from the University of Malaya, Malaysia. She is currently an adjunct research fellow at the NUS Centre for Banking & Finance Law. Other than delving deep into and writing on securities and capital market regulation, she runs and is a member of Magis Malaysia, a group of young people who meet monthly to learn about, pray and live out the principles of Ignatian spirituality.
Petrina, thank you for sharing so deeply and in such a well-thought out and well-written manner. I just know that many who read this will find consolation for their own lives. Blessings for you during Holy Week and Easter!