And so we’ve come into the final week of 2016. It seemed just like yesterday that I was counting down to the new year on 31 December 2015. And while many are preparing their list of new year’s resolutions, I’ve opted to spend time trying to make sense of my own journey in 2016.
It goes without saying that for me it’s been a watershed year on a personal front. A life-changing one in which I’ve gained many valuable lessons from. Here I document five key takeaways from my reflections of 2016.
1.Cultivating meaningful relationships requires vulnerability
As humans we all have a deep desire for connection. We yearn to be deeply understood by another, and to be loved unconditionally. Yet the greatest irony lies in our failure to first understand what it means to love well, which prevents us from being ready to receive love when it’s given. For the longest time, I’ve been guilty of this but I now find this to be true.
Our past experiences and relationships have a way of shaping who we become at any given point in our lives. And when old hurts and negative experiences that saw love taken away from us dominate us, we start buying into the lie that we need to hide our true selves and be a certain way in order to be loved. That we will only be accepted by others if we fit into a certain mould. That love and acceptance needs to be earned.
But this can’t be further from the truth. To free ourselves to receive love, we must first tear down the walls we have built around ourselves and the prisons we’ve built for ourselves over time which we falsely believed will protect us from being hurt or misunderstood again, and from others taking their love away from us.
Because the meaningful relationships we dream of require vulnerability. Yes, there is always a risk when we choose to be vulnerable. There is that risk that the person we choose to be fully ourselves with may abuse or break that trust. But that doesn’t mean we should stop being authentic. Or that we should stop acting out of love because we didn’t receive it first. Because love keeps no record of wrong doings and always rejoices in the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres, and always forgives (1 Corinthians 13:4-8, Luke 6:32-42).
2.Patience is not just a virtue but a way of life
One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned in recent seasons of my life, is that patience grows out of us learning to wait. I have to be honest in saying that this does not come as second nature for someone as impulsive as me, but I’ve started to come to a fuller understanding of what it means to allow life to unfold without my influence.
Those with strong personalities who are stubborn have a knack for not being able to sit still and do nothing, needing to be constantly involved with activities and doing things in order to feel important, trying to influence outcomes so as to feel in control. Yet I’ve slowly come to realise there is a profound liberation in letting go of the need to rush things, to move things along at a speed I am comfortable with or in a way I want them to. To stop needing to do, and to just be.
Someone once told me before that truly wise discernments require the right passage of time to pass for clarity to form before any choice can be made. And if after that time there still isn’t clarity, then a decision should not be made yet and even more time is needed to pass without us starting or doing anything and to just observe and be (still).
There can be no short cuts for things that we desire to turn out well. Rushed decisions almost always never have pleasant consequences, and the best things are always worth waiting for. Time, observation, reflection and prayer are all integral parts of what form a wise choice be it when making a career decision, choosing a life partner, or deciding on a move overseas.
And so what do we do with times of uncertainty where there isn’t clarity? We learn not to act or do but to only wait (Ecclesiastes 3:11).
3. Living in the present fulfills our destiny
I often find myself holding onto past memories that evoke sadness and pain, or get anxious about events of the future which I have absolutely no control over. In recent times I have been guilty of another similar habit – condemning myself and feeling frustrated at mistakes I repeatedly make, be they big or small, stemming from my desire to be perfect and the finished product before it’s time.
In my conversations with a trusted counsellor and SD, I often find myself repeatedly asking when will I finally reach the point where I am fulfilling my life’s purpose and living out my destiny here on earth as I should be, because I somehow envision it to be different from what I am doing now. And each time I fall short of the mark, I get disheartened and the negative automatic thoughts (NAT) and pessimistic self talk in my mind rears its ugly head again.
Perhaps the greatest insight and seed of wisdom I’ve gleaned from my most recent session, is that “when we choose to live in the present, we become”. The truth behind this is both simple yet profound. To actively choose to live in the present means we accept ourselves in our entirety for who we are, flaws and all, accepting ourselves for right where we are at in our lives currently without judgment, and consciously choose to act out of loving kindness towards ourselves and each person we encounter in our lives daily, regardless of how they treat us. Because tomorrow is not a given.
We cannot change the past, nor can we control the future, but a true choice of surrender to God is when we choose to live for today and trust that everything else is taken care of (Matthew 6:31-34). For when we live each day choosing to be fully present, we are ultimately transformed from within without us even noticing that we have changed for the better, and that is when we truly start to become (our destiny).
4. We can never love ourselves enough
For some, our desire to love and care for others can come at the expense of loving ourselves. Yet we always find ourselves hurting people more than we are able to bring joy and peace into their lives, even with the best of our intentions.
That is because we have not yet learned how to give and receive love to ourselves. Self-love isn’t just an abstract thought or theory. It is a fundamental truth that is even echoed in the second greatest commandment “love your neighbour as yourself” (Mark 12:31). A common misunderstanding for most who read this without reflecting tend to see them place their emphasis on loving their neighbour only, and often times at the expense of themselves.
In truth, we can never love others well if we don’t know how to love ourselves first. Loving ourselves mean we learn to forgive ourselves for our mistakes. It means to stop trying so hard to impress other people in order to receive validation only to be broken when our expectations aren’t met. It means to stop doing things that sabotage our happiness and the happiness of those who truly care for us and want what’s best for us. When we start doing so, we develop a greater capacity to love others as well, to be authentic, to forgive, and to accept them for who they are in their entirety, and not fault them for their limitations and imperfect ability to love well.
And even after we’ve developed the awareness that self-love is important, we can still never love ourselves enough. For the greater the desire in us to love and care for others, the greater the need for us to receive that love (from ourselves) first.
5. Imperfection and impermanence makes everything beautiful
One of the things I’ve realised as I’ve gotten older (and wiser! Thank God I am ageing gracefully! :D) is that I have become less judgmental and critical of people in general. I’ve come to realise through my own failings in life how imperfect I am, and as a result my expectations to seek perfection in others has dwindled significantly.
Don’t get me wrong. This doesn’t mean that my conscience or values have been watered down or that I have a higher tolerance of bad behaviour, but just that I tend to be able to understand better and empathise more. I understand why we fail. I understand what it means to be weak, and to make the same mistakes time and time again even when we are in full knowledge of the right choices when making them. I understand what it is like to feel helpless, to feel unfree and to live a life where I feel that I am losing control. I understand what it means to be human.
And I also know that nothing in this life is permanent. And that people and things are all the more precious for it. That we all go through seasons, some that are much longer and some that are short, but ultimately nothing in life happens without reason and the events and people we meet are both blessings and lessons at the same time.
And therein lies the beauty of it all. Because the highlights and joyous moments of life only stand out when there are valley low moments and periods of uncertainty lined up against them. And we can only come to a better understanding of what perfection is, through the absence of perfection. And perhaps one day, when we stop trying so hard, we will realise that the perfection we’ve been seeking all along already lives within us and loves us dearly, more than we’ll ever know.