Tag Archives: Religion and Spirituality

Of birthdays and milestones: Part 2

Where I’m at now, it feels like the sky is not the limit anymore…sad as that may sound… As it is, I’m all grown up so my dreams do not begin with, “When I grow up…” Nowadays, most of them start with, “God willing, when I get money…” In addition to that, even as I dream, I’ve slowly learned that not all dreams are viable; so again, unlike when I was a child, I try to be a bit pragmatic when I’m setting my own goals.

Now as I turn a year older, every birthday becomes a point of reflection, where I analyse the milestones I’ve made so far, and the dreams, which like my childhood sweetheart, have fallen by the way side. Anxiety sets in, when I feel like I’m growing older and I haven’t gotten where I want to be yet.

One interesting thing I’m starting to note about matters age is that where someone has achieved so many things… climbed great heights and all, they’re mostly termed, ‘young’. However, where one hasn’t achieved much, society perceives them as ‘old’. For instance, where one becomes a company’s CEO, say at 26, society views them as very young. On the other hand, where a person of the same age is working but hasn’t moved out of their parents’ house, they’re said to be ‘too old’.

The long and short of this is that, once a person leaves high school, everything they do will in one way or another be weighed on the ‘too old for…’ or ‘too young for…’ scale by society. And that’s just how it is, in my humble opinion.

Some of the very depressing movies I’ve watched in relation to age are ‘Ass Backwards’ and ‘Lifeguard’, starring Kristen Bell. For a young person growing up, these movies remind one that dreams might just be that, dreams! But God-forbid!

Looking back at the far I’ve come, I’m not sure what I would do differently if I could move back the hands of time… and this is not to mean that I have achieved everything I would have wanted so far. It’s just because, most things in my past were shaped by people who at the time wielded authority over me, say my parents… so it wasn’t about me making choices.

However, if I met my younger self, I would tell her not to worry too much because God’s always in control; and when you give Him time and room to work, He’ll take you, right where you need to be. I’ve struggled with anxiety for a very long time, and this is the one part of me I would wish was different. Nonetheless, I believe God doesn’t err. He made me this way for a reason.

For all the experiences that have caused me so much pain and anguish, I celebrate them. Because as they say, ‘We can’t have a rainbow without a little rain’… So as I turn a year older, I’ll continue to dream, because one thing I’ve learned these past few years is that God answers prayers. Furthermore, when you seek His guidance, He’ll align your will with His, so all dreams will be like great visions of what is to come.

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Power of forgiveness

Joel Osteen, in one of his sermons, gave an illustration of how our flawed humanity makes us try to avenge ourselves, though we all desire to be forgiven when we falter. He talked about a woman who had died and gone to heaven. When she got to the golden gates, St. Peter asked her to spell a word so she could get in.

“What word?” She asked.

“Any word you choose”, Peter replied.

“LOVE,” the woman said, before going ahead to spell. “L.O.V.E.”

With that, St. Peter opened the gates and allowed her to get in. Needless to say, she was beside herself with joy. She’d made it to heaven. Moments later, he asked her to stand in for him for only a short while. Dutifully, she agreed.

While the woman was manning the golden gates, her ex approached her. “What happened?” She asked.

“I had a heart attack”. He answered. “So, I’m I in heaven already?”

Begrudgingly, she said, “Not yet. First you have to spell a word.” She went on to give him a very hard word to spell, just so he she could deny him the chance to get to heaven. If we had that chance to condemn people to eternal damnation, how many of our foes would we sentence to hades?

Biblically, that illustration resonates with the story of the unforgiving servant in Matthew 18: 21-35. Peter asked Jesus, “Lord, if my brother keeps on sinning against me, how many times should I forgive him? Seven times?”

Jesus answered him, “No, not seven… but, seventy times seven. Because the kingdom of heaven is like this. Once there was a king who decided to check on his servants’ accounts. He had just began to do so when one of them who owed him millions of dollars was brought in. The servant didn’t have enough to pay his debt, so the king ordered him to be sold as a slave with his wife and children, and all that he had in order to pay his debt.

The servant fell on his knees before the king. ‘Be patient with me, he begged, and I will pay you everything!” The king felt sorry for him and he forgave him all his debt and let him go. The man went out and met one of his fellow servants who owed him a few dollars. He grabbed him and started choking him. ‘Pay back what you owe me’, he said.

His fellow servant fell down and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back’. But he refused; instead he had him thrown in jail until he should pay the debt. When the other servants saw what had happened, they were very upset and went to the king and told him everything. So he called the servant in. ‘You worthless slave!’ He said. ‘I forgave you the whole amount you owed me, just because you asked me to. You should have had mercy on your fellow servant, just as I had mercy on you’. The king was very angry, and he sent the servant to jail to be punished until he should pay back the whole amount.”

And Jesus concluded, “That is how my Father in heaven will treat every one of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart.”

In reality, most of the time we act like the unforgiving servant; we desire to be forgiven, but are so reluctant to forgive those who wrong us. It is that behaviour that our Lord condemns. When He taught his disciples how to say the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6: 9-13), He still emphasised on that ‘thorny’ aspect of forgiveness. “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us…”

Furthermore, in Matthew 6: 14-15 He says, “If you forgive others, the wrongs they have done to you, your Father in heaven will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive the wrongs you have done.

In roughly four weeks, we’ll be celebrating Christmas and a week after that, we’ll be ushering in a new year. November is almost ending and that means this year is pretty much over. Many things have happened; we’ve been wronged by people, and we’ve also wronged others. As this year draws to a close, it is imperative that we start mending fences…

We need to make peace with those who have stepped on our toes, or with those whose toes we’ve stepped on. I doubt anyone would want any differences they might have had with others to spill over to next year. Personally, I don’t… Let’s forgive… Every time I’m watching news I see so many atrocious things happening across the globe.

One party strikes, and the other retaliates in an attempt to avenge itself… the effect of this is loss of innocent lives and the destruction of property. Earlier this year, I was watching the news where President Trump proposed the reintroduction of waterboarding –an outlawed torture tactic of interrogation- as a form of countering terrorism. He said that with respect to terrorism, he would fight fire with fire.

In my very humble opinion, fire can’t put out fire. And you know how that saying goes, “An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.” Unfortunately, in most cases, this is the approach we use to deal with those who offend us. We come out guns blazing so at the end of the day we leave things worse than they were.

From my experience, forgiving is very difficult, especially if there was searing pain occasioned by the transgression. However, Jesus is calling on us to forgive… it is not easy, but it is the right thing to do… and right now, what the world needs is tonnes and tonnes of forgiveness, as this will create room for peace, love and unity to thrive. What we need to remember is that love heals… and there can be no love, without forgiveness.

These jars that we are…

Ever been in a situation where you’re travelling, you’re done packing…or at least you think you have, and then you realise there are a few precious items you forgot and there’s no more space left? Normally, the first instinct is to try figure what’s not so important, so that it (they) can be taken out to create space for the more important things.

Essentially, that’s how we human beings are fashioned. We’re like jars; and as is common with jars, they do fill up at some point. So the million dollar question is, what’s your jar filled up with? Are they things which under normal circumstances you would want to get rid of? Personally I know there are so many things I would want to get rid of.

A couple of days ago I got a chance to listen to one of Joel Osteen’s enlightening sermons. It was edifying, Joel likened human beings to jars. He said that if one’s jar is filled with guilt, self-pity, anger…etc. there will be no room for good things like peace, love, confidence…

Every once in a while when I’m talking to my sisters, I’ll remind them that if one’s worrying too much about something it diminishes one’s faith, because one can’t believe in God and be afraid at the same time. That’s the same thing Joel said; if one’s jar is filled with anxiety, that takes up the space for peace and serenity. If one allows their inner voice to convince them they’re always making the wrong choices, then that takes up the space for confidence.

If we want to receive God’s blessings, then we must create space. So, like that suitcase we need to empty out to make space for a few valuables we left out, we need to empty our jars to make room for the good things God needs to fill us up with.

Empty out the anxiety, the anger; empty out that self-pity, that self-loathing; let go off of the remorse that has been burdening you…for all those things happening in your life that you don’t understand, let go off the thousands of questions which have been tormenting you; and God, who’s got everything in control will fill you with peace that surpasses all understanding.

It’s only by so doing, that we’re going to receive God’s blessings in our lives. Life’s too short to dwell on the negatives, and much as we may all agree unanimously that being happy is an uphill task, emptying out all the negatives will create room for joy and cheer.

Joel Osteen made me think of something I’ve never thought of before. In a hypothetical setting, Mary the mother of Jesus, bumps into another woman in heaven; the mother of Judas Iscariot. If you were Mary, how would you deal with her, taking into consideration the painful and humiliating death her innocent son was subjected to, thanks to Judas’ betrayal?

Most of us usually strive to get over the painful moments we’ve gone through in life. That might be a very high bar that will likely put us under so much pressure. Truth is, we might never get past the pain and the hurt, but we should endeavour to get past it; and gradually we’ll get to a point where that pain doesn’t feel like an earth-shattering experience. It’s just a matter of getting rid of the bad things, so that we can create space for the good things.

Like Joel said, we shouldn’t go through life looking through the rear-view mirror. The voice of the enemy will be there, reminding us incessantly of the failures we’ve had in life; the wrong choices we’ve made…but that’s the past. If we hold on too tightly to it, we won’t have space in our hands to receive the immeasurable blessings God showers upon us.

So when the enemy reminds you of your past, remind him of his future; he ain’t got one, because God’s got it all in control.

Forgiving is relatively easy…

Forgive and forget; that’s what we’re usually advised to do when we’ve fallen out with someone, right? Well here’s my unsolicited verdict: forgiving is relatively easy. Forgetting? Not so much. I can remember numerous instances from close to two decades ago where I got into a heated altercation with someone, exchanged a few blows here and there (as a child I had violent tendencies)… Point is, I forgave and forgot, moved on even, but I still remember what went down then.

So that makes me wonder, does it mean I don’t abide by the general rule? To forgive and forget? My priest in church sought to shed some light on the confusing issue. Basically, we forgive but in most cases we don’t forget. As human beings we’re programmed to remember things, unlike fish for instance, which can only remember things for an estimated five months.

What happens is, we don’t forget; at least not that much. What matters is how we relate with people who’ve offended us and who we purport to have forgiven. If we’re unable to talk with them, then that means we haven’t forgiven them yet. If we keep bringing up the same issue every time we disagree on something, then that means we’re still holding a grudge against them.

Simply put, when one has forgiven another for something wrong they did, that particular issue becomes a closed file. If ever it comes up in future discussions, it shouldn’t be an emotive matter that makes the concerned parties seem like ticking time bombs waiting to go off.

From my own understanding, it’s the intention to consider that person forgiven that matters. For instance, a guy cheats on his girlfriend with her best friend. The way I see it, in such situations, it takes utmost strength for the lady to forgive the promiscuous boyfriend (or vice versa) and the perfidious friend. But as we know it, some actually forgive. It’s almost impossible to forget the pain, but as the old adage goes, ‘where there’s a will there’s a way’.

In reality, it would be impossible for someone who’s been hurt that much to forget the pain they felt. In this case, forgetting would be for one not to act on that pain and the anger. It’s not an easy thing, but that’s the best thing if one wants to have a healthy future; one that’s not marred by grudges.

Close of the Year of the Divine Mercy

divine-mercy

Last Sunday but one marked the close of the year of the Divine Mercy. That sounds weird I know; because God’s mercy is timeless and lasts for all time. However, this year we have been celebrating the year of God’s Divine Mercy. Thinking of what that title alludes to; the hopes and promises… it’s so easy to get discouraged if those prayers don’t come to fruition just yet.

That’s the situation my family and I find ourselves in. We’d hoped this year would somehow bring some relief after all we’ve been through but as this year comes to end what we feel is utter discouragement. Most of the things we had prayed would come to pass didn’t.

In any case things seemed to have gotten worse. For instance, dad’s drinking worsened and he squandered most of the money he had set aside for our school fees. So now we’re always getting in constant arguments with him because of that. Additionally, he completely neglected mom completely so basically the only thing that keeps them together is the marriage certificate.

Since he works out of town, he only comes home when he needs to withdraw a large amount of money from the bank. Normally he will call her to notify he’s coming home but as it is he’ll just take a detour, to some nearby bar and by the time he comes home it will be the next day at dawn, in a drunken stupor. It goes without saying that in that state there can be no civil conversation between him and anyone. When he talks it’s usually annoying because all he does is offend everyone.

Later in the afternoon he’ll wake up and go back to the bar. In all honesty, I cannot remember the last time I saw him eating at home. Mom, as a result of this, has been so stressed lately. If it wasn’t for the fact that I believe marriages are meant to be for keeps –in good times and bad times- I’d suggest she file for divorce and subsequently institute proceedings to get a church annulment.

Whatever little faith I had in matters marriage has completely waned. Now I feel like marriage is just a prison; an institution that one walks in filled with hope but gradually closes in on someone, leaving them constricted and without a way out. Mom’s a prisoner of love, and this year has left me absolutely doubtless that if she had married a different man she would have been very happy. A far-fetched dream from the misery, that is her life.

So now that the year of the Divine Mercy is behind us, I’m almost feeling desperate. Our lives completely denote the saying, that ‘the more things change, the more they remain the same’; even with everything around us changing, the only constant has been problems; which obviously everyone has. But my faith in God keeps reminding me that all hope is not lost because God’s mercy is timeless.

I would imagine there are very many people who are in similar situations; feeling spent because life seems to continue kicking even when someone’s already down. However, there’s one thing I refuse to give up on; hope. So if you’re feeling like my family and I are, don’t give up just yet. There’s hope. I know that because there’s this deep conviction I have that God listens; so if you have been praying and hoping, that big break is in the offing. Believe it…faith the size of a mustard seed can move mountains, remember?

All through, since I became aware of my own existence, I’ve always believed God never disappoints those who hope in Him; and more often than not, He’s proved me right. So today, even if you’re feeling distraught, don’t give up; because tomorrow we’ll be a better day. Why, you ask? Because He lives.

Flipping the humanity switch off

humanity-switch

I’m not sure if this is a good or a bad thing, but lately I feel like I could switch my ‘humanity switch’ off; if I could. That sounds weird I know; but I’m thinking of the instances in the Vampire Diaries, where a vamp, say Elena Gilbert (played by Nina Dobrev), Stefan Salvatore (Paul Wesley) or Damon Salvatore (Ian Somerhalder), who are the three most popular actors of the show flip their humanity off.

In the show however, what usually happens is that when one of the immortal creatures runs into one of life’s inevitable painful moments, and it becomes unbearable, they just do one of the things their superhuman nature affords them, namely, flipping their humanity switch off.

Basically, what this feature helps them with is that they stop feeling. Emotional pain becomes just another trivial feeling, that’s barely discernible to them. Knowing how bad it feels to hurt, I would say that’s a pretty awesome thing; I mean, who wants to feel pain, right?

We lose loved ones; businesses we’ve worked tirelessly to build come crashing down like washed up sand castles at the beach; people we love to bits cheat on us without the slightest care in the world… truth of the matter is, we live in a callous world, and it would help tonnes if it were possible to flip some switch off, so we can stop ourselves from feeling some of this annihilating pain.

As it is though, we wouldn’t value life so much were it not for these painful moments we go through which make us human. I bet that’s why TVD’s scriptwriters called it the ‘humanity switch’. One thing I know is that the pain we feel keeps us connected to our humanity; it makes us refrain from doing things that would cause pain and untold suffering to the rest of the populace.

For instance in the show, Stefan Salvatore is usually a laid back vampire, whose determination to do good prevents him from feeding on human blood, even though he’s an actual vampire, whose main prescribed dish is warm/fresh human blood, straight from the vein; even blood bags are frowned upon by the rest of the vampires. To keep his craving for human blood to a minimum, he avoids the temptation all together by feeding on animal blood.

Sometimes however, he also bumps into issues which force him to turn his humanity switch off. Like this one time, a stronger vampire (an original), Nick Klaus compelled him to turn it off and once he did, what we (viewers) were treated to were gory scenes of beheaded humans, courtesy of Stefan. When he flips that switch off, he’s referred to as ‘the ripper’ because he decapitates people in a heartbeat and actually revels in it. That’s when one realizes how it’s important for one to feel, because feeling makes us human.

rainbow-without-a-little-rainbow

Lately though, I find myself confronted with situations which have me wishing I could flip some switch off, even if it’s for a day, just so I don’t feel the pain. Honestly, I don’t remember the last time I slept soundly without a care in the world. Even my waking moments are marred by conflicting thoughts, which threaten my sanity. I feel everything around me is pushing me towards the edge of the precipice.

I’ve even started questioning my faith; maybe I’m not praying enough; or maybe God turned His back on me. That’s the thought that crossed my mind as I walked the short distance to church this past Sunday. Then in the midst of all that anguish, I remembered that God never gives up on His people. He never abandons those who call on Him.

As it is, I feel my life’s a mess right now and the thought of a new day makes me tense up. I don’t know what tomorrow will bring but I’m hopeful it will all be well, because God lives. So as I desperately wish I could flip my humanity off so I don’t feel pain, I also appreciate the fact that pain plays an integral part in our lives. That pain makes us human; mindful of other human beings and creatures. So we just can’t wish it away, much as it makes life miserable.

A world at war

france church attack

When I was a child the one thing I hated most on TV was news. I hated news with a passion. If by bad luck I found myself watching news and was in a situation where I couldn’t leave the room, I would cover my ears with my hands, just so I wouldn’t hear what was being read out. Yeah, it was that bad. But it wasn’t difficult to figure why I felt that way about news; I’ve never liked anything which revolves around horror and on a typical day, the things one hears on the news are about accidents, bombings, political wars, starvation and such horrid stuff.

Thankfully, as I was growing up, my attitude towards news changed gradually as I developed a liking for matters politics. So now I can’t say I hate news. However, I’m sure if I was a child at the moment, I would possibly hate news more than I even did before. Reason being, it’s too depressing watching news.

Wednesday for instance, I woke up to the news of the France church attack in St. –Étienne-Du-Rouvray, where an 85 year old priest was killed. The attack was allegedly carried out by two radical Islamists, one of whom was identified as a 19-year old man.

Not too long ago, there was the Turkey airport attack, and the other attack in Nice, France, where a Tunisian-born French national mowed through a crowd of people in a truck, zig-zagging past the masses and shooting to maximize the number of deaths. In that incident, at least 84 people were killed, among them children. An eye-witness said bodies were just falling like bowling pins. It was gut-wrenching.

Following the inhumane attack in Normandy, the Pope expressed pain and horror at such callousness, where a priest was brutally murdered in his own church. He said the world was at war, but it wasn’t religious.

I can’t begin to explain what I felt when I heard of the attack. It’s impossible to comprehend why two human beings, in their right minds would think of killing a priest. If a man of God, standing before a sacred altar can’t be deemed as an innocent, then life has lost meaning; the world is indeed coming to an end.

I’ve tried to understand why innocent people are being killed like worthless bugs, and there’s no reason in the world that could possibly make me see the sense in such wanton murders. Guys who knew the 19-year old said he always had sadistic ideas, which they said were based on wrong quotations of the Quran and each time they would try to talk him out of it.

What I refuse to understand, is how someone would boldly, and unprovoked, take innocent lives in the name of God/religion. One thing I’m pretty sure of is that God wouldn’t be in favour of such ruthless killings. If the same God this attackers claim to kill in the name of, is the same one the rest of the Muslim population serves, then why are they against it? Why do Muslim clerics condemn it? Isn’t this a clear indication to these attackers that what they’re doing is absolutely wrong?

Reports say that the Muslim community mourned in the wake of the Normandy attack. Doesn’t this say something to those few who have made it their business to go killing innocent people? Islam is a beautiful religion. I have many friends who are Muslims and they are wonderful people. So why would a few misguided individuals want to sully that?

When I heard of the attack, I was like, “Not again!” My heart bled; for the victims and for the Muslim population. For the former because of the loss of life, and for the trauma the survivors must have suffered; and for the latter, because of how their religion keeps being painted in such bad light.

Pope Francis said the world was at war, but it wasn’t a religious one and I agree with him. I reckoned, every religion has a few ‘bad apples’; individuals who can’t help but create a bad image for that particular religion. So does that justify the rest of the world to judge a religion harshly because of those misguided few? I would think not.

In my case for instance, I would really hate it if someone thought my church was full of paedophiles because a few priests have been accused of molesting children. In that same light, it wouldn’t be fair to label all Muslims terrorists because of the few who go about perpetuating cold-blooded killings in the name of Islam; because one thing I’ve gathered is that Islam explicitly condemns terrorism. In any case, Islam respects all human beings and faiths.

What I’m trying to get at is simple; there are too many problems globally. It would be calamitous, if God-forbid, we converted them into a religious war. There are diverse religions in the world, each with its own beliefs and practices. Instead of letting those differences divide us, we should embrace them and respect them, appreciating that it’s those same differences which make us unique. The world would be such a boring place if we were all alike, don’t you think?

The way I see it, instead of shunning our neighbours because they don’t share the same beliefs we do, we should respect them; and if there are issues in conflict, the best way to solve them would be to do a little research so we can get enlightened. That way, we won’t harbour unfounded suspicions, which are merely based on ignorant hearsay.

united religions

God’s greatest command to mankind is to love; and it’s not hard to understand why. Love is that magical cord, which binds us all together, irrespective of our numerous differences. Now, more than ever before, the world needs love, not war.