Last night, I started my lenten retreat on sacredspace.ie. It has been hard to set aside time for prayer these days - juggling all the chores and kids' activities, meals, and everyday errands. At the end of the day - which is usually at 9pm when the kids go to bed, Tim and I are in need of some "separate" time and by the time we get together in bed, we are so tired and just want to go to sleep. But, I knew I needed to do this for myself. I haven't been in my happiest mood these days.
When I was in high school, I used to go to our farm in Antipolo before Easter to spend a few hours by myself - singing, praying and reflecting about my life and my relationship with God and others. Things were simpler back then, when I had all the time in the world, and I didn't really have much responsibilities. There were countless opportunities too, to go on a retreat, go to church, or be with mentors and friends who share the same faith. One could always call up a retreat house in Baguio or Tagaytay, and stay with the Sisters for several days, to have your own quiet time.
But ever since I left the Philippines 7 years ago, it has been a challenge for me to find opportunities to deepen my spirituality. I discovered that in other countries - being Catholic is not automatic. You don't have Catholic holidays and it seems that there is no need to go to mass on obligatory days, and you really have to exert effort to find a church with a good priest. There is no "social" pressure so to speak, and I don't have my mother nagging and asking me if I've already gone to mass. I feel blessed to have a husband who is highly spiritual, and we have supported each other through the years.
Being away from home also allowed me to explore my faith a little bit more. I have often questioned a lot of things about the Catholic faith, and because I went to Catholic schools all my life, growing up, I just always had to "believe" and say "yes" to what the adults told me. Meeting other people from other cultures and religions have really rocked my idealistic views and have confused me a whole lot. Knowing these people and listening to what they believe in made me appreciate humanity more, and God more - knowing that he has given this infinite mind and freedom for us to find ways to come together, worship together, and serve other people together.
Session 1 on the retreat focused on God's love - and his commandment of love. I was made to reflect on the passage in John 15 : Jesus says: ‘As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete. ‘This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I do not call you servants* any longer, because the servant* does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another’.
These past few days, I've been feeling homesick. I told Tim that the reason why I go to Facebook all the time is because that is where I find my "home" - reading everything that has been happening to my friends, and connecting with the people who have known me all my life. I feel so isolated these days - realizing that we've been in Winnipeg for almost 2 years, and having not found any profound relationship with anyone - except for a few exceptions. (These people know who they are). I contemplated on why a deep connection with someone other than my family, is deeply important to me, and I realized that growing up, I have always been around a lot of people. I grew up with my aunts, uncles, cousins, classmates, friends, choirmates - every single day, I was always surrounded by people who supported me, who encouraged me, cheered me on. But now, I am surrounded by Tim, Kevin and Nina, and some friends who are genuinely there for me (again, you know who you are!) , but I really don't have that "big community" support that I had in Tokyo where we lived in a compound with other families who move around the world as well. It is hard moving to a new place every 3 years. I feel as if people have their own sets of friends, their own family activities. It is one of our lifestyle's challenges , but it is what it is. I know that I have to continue to be friendly and giving to people around me, eventhough I know that that kind of generosity would not always be reciprocated.
These thoughts brought me to another series of questions - why does my generosity have to be reciprocated? Why does my love for others have to be given back? Am I truly genuine in my acts of love, or am I always expecting something in return. I may be sad that I don't feel a sense of belongingness all the time, but that shouldn't stop me from loving. That shouldn't stop me from caring for others. Jesus commands us to love, as He has loved, and his love is unconditional, no question about that.
Now, I think about my children. If their mother goes through this feeling of isolation, will they experience this as well growing up? It will be hard to form friendships, it will be hard to feel you belong, and they will be resilient because they are children, I know, but are they going to get through it? Are they going to be fearful of being close to people, or are they going to embrace the challenge and enjoy the moment?
Winter has been long, and I know that what I am going through is somehow related to the weather, and hormones, and being away from family. I'm glad I found the time to think about it, and I pray that God continues to strengthen me, and let me abide in His love. I pray that all of us will be blessed with the opportunity to reflect about our lives this Lenten season. Life is crazy, but we learn from our reflections, and move on.