Monday, June 27, 2011

The Perfect Child

(This is the first chapter of my latest book project entitled Blessing or Bane: The Ups and Downs of Being a Pastor's Kid)

Anak ka pa naman ng pastor! These words, perhaps, can never have an accurate translation in English! It is so loaded with meaning in Filipino that English would not be able to fully express all that it connotes. Perhaps the closest would be: You are a pastor’s kid, you should be a perfect child! Of course, translators would agree that this is not how it should be rendered; but that was exactly how it meant to me as I grew up as a pastor’s daughter.

As little girls, my sister Faith and I always looked at our father as Papa—someone who readily played with us during the day and left at night in his barong and big black Bible in hand. To those around us, he was Pastor Ed.

It took us a while before we finally understood that the man in a white long sleeved barong who stood in the pulpit Sunday after Sunday was the same man who rolled on the floor with us on regular days. It took us a while, too, before we understood that Papa’s vocation had as much impact on us as it had on him. And that was, we had to be perfect, at least in the eyes of the members of his congregation.

Every Sunday, before leaving the house, my mom would brief my sister and me. “Remember, when we are in church, you go straight to Sunday school. When you’re class is done, don’t run around the church. Don’t play. And don’t be noisy. Don’t fight. Remember, your Papa is the pastor. You should set an example because you are his kids.” Though my mom didn’t exactly say it, but I had the impression that we aren’t supposed to get our dresses dirty, too. I remember watching other kids in church playing piko[1] and wondering how much fun it could have been to hop like a princess in my pop sleeved balloon dress. The one time I dared to try and enjoy with other kids after Sunday school, a church leader came up to me and reprimanded me for my loud voice. Then I remembered, I wasn’t supposed to play. I was the pastor’s kid.

By the time I was eight years old, I had believed that my role in the church was to be the epitome of perfection for other kids to emulate. The pastor’s kid was not supposed to figure into any trouble. In my eyes, running around the sanctuary was sin. Getting sweaty on a Sunday morning for playing tag was unacceptable. Showing restlessness when my Sunday school teacher was boring was not allowed.

Very soon, I had a fishbowl existence. My every move was dependent on what other people would say. Words that I said had to be carefully chosen lest I be reported to the pastor (my father) and be heavily reprimanded at home. Pastor pa naman si Papa kept repeating in my head. I remember, growing up in a church environment meant not being able to laugh my heart out. It meant not being able to dance like a little ballerina (and I loved to dance!). It meant not being able to do what “ordinary children” could or are allowed to do. I was expected to behave myself. I was a pastor’s kid. And to a certain degree, it meant growing up too soon.

[1] Hop scotch

Thursday, February 3, 2011

What is It that I Want?

What is it that I want? I was confronted with this question very recently. After much thought, I realized it was a query that wasn’t very easy to answer. It was an inquiry that led to a quest for self knowledge.

Going into our selves is a faith adventure. It is a journey leading to the inner sanctum of our being, which leads to a deeper understanding of the Divine that seeks to connect with our very soul. It is a path to a state of nakedness, nothingness, and emptiness. No wonder it is an overwhelmingly frightening exploration into the unknown.

How scary it must have been for the patriarchs to set out into the unknown, guided with nothing but a mystical encounter with a Person who called himself God, who spoke yet could not be seen or touched. Perhaps this was why, when “Abram believed the Lord, it was credited to him as righteousness” (Gen. 15:6). Believing in God entailed an expedition into the abyss of one’s self. That was the risk that Abraham dared to take. That was the pain that Jacob endured after wrestling with God all night. That was the loneliness that Joseph embraced in a foreign land until he was reunited with his family.

The question, What is it that I want? can easily be answered with the pressing desires and obvious longings of a heart like mine—lesser problems, more money, lesser woes, more success, lesser failures, more claims to fame. However, the answers that quickly came to mind also fled just as fast, leading me to believe that my initial responses were superficial. They were not THE desires my soul ached and still aches to have. This then opens up a Pandora’s box within me. It unleashes unwarranted thoughts and unholy emotions. At the same time, it strips me of all the pretenses that leave me naked before God. It leaves me so bare that I am left with what I truly desire—that God would bless me.

I will not let you go unless you bless me (Gen. 32:26). My heart yells out Jacob’s longing and yet my body refuses to wrestle with God as he did. It is a paradox that arises from the fear of entering the dark night that exposes me to the Divine eyes that see through the darkness. It is a paradox that springs from the pleasure of intimately knowing God amidst pain. Yet, I resist entering the place of pain. My deepest desire is to have the same blessing of an identity and posterity given by the same God to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. However, my whole being hesitates to enter the place where the blessing is for it is the same place where pain is. The blessing and the pain seem to come in the same package. The blessing comes with a price—the price of disclosure. It comes as a process—the process of self-discovery. It comes through a journey—the journey of transformation.

The place of blessing is also the place of pain, which is paradoxically the place where God is as well. I need to embrace the pain to fully enjoy the blessing. This means I need to pass through the darkness to emerge into the light. And though the ordeal wrenches my innermost parts and takes me as a whole leaving nothing of me left to hide, I find that it was not about me. For just like in the creation story when all of earth and life on earth emerged, my life and journey are not about me. Rather it is about God, my Creator. It is He who willed me into being and it is He who will be glorified through the process until the end. Neither I nor my pain is the center of it all, rather it is the Eternal Lover of my soul that is the focus. Thus, only when I fully set my eyes upon Him who is present in the pain and darkness will I truly begin to receive that which I want.