Monday, December 14, 2020

The essential admission that every sincere Christian needs to make to pave the way for true conversion – deep inside, I am a selfish person.

I recall from a very young age, that whenever we would go out to have a meal at some open air eatery (in Singapore, we would call them ‘zhi char’ stalls), often at crowded coffee shops, whenever a waiter brought out a steaming hot dish, as he walked through the narrow pathway leading to the table which ordered the dish, the phrase ‘guan sui’ (boiling water in Cantonese) would be sharply and loudly yelled out in order to tell everyone to get out of the way, and to clear the path ahead.  It was a signal for everyone in the shop to not be too absorbed in whatever conversations they were engaged in to, at least for the moment, look up lest they be accidently scalded by hot food that could spill on them.  


“Get out of the way” is a very useful and clear metaphor all of us who are sincerely interested in true and mature spiritual growth need to bear in mind constantly.  While it is true that what gets in the way of our goal and aim of holiness in life is sin and all that sin stands for, there is still beneath that - something more elementary and germane, something more basic and basal that gives sin its necessary foundation to sink its claws into, and it is our very own egos and self-centeredness.  


Where do we get this notion that it is our egocentric drives that causes us to get into the kind of inner turmoil and conflict that we experience each time we allow sin to rule in our lives? We first see its emergence of course in the book of Genesis where our first parents get tempted to eat of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil.  It’s not that knowing what is good and what is evil is bad for us.  It is this going against what was told to them specifically by God that was at the heart of sin.  


Ever since that fall, every human heart (except for Mary, due to her being pre-saved by Christ in her immaculate conception) finds itself wanting what it wants more than wanting what God wants. Temptation to sin is the 1001 justifications that the former is good and delightful, and virtue and holiness is preferring the latter.  


We are always seeing this clearer after succumbing to temptation and fallen prey to the lies of the deceiver, a.k.a. Satan.  Whereas before the fall, our vision of clarity of what is good and beneficial for our souls is often cloudy and blurred, that same vision of clarity suddenly changes to 20/20 vision post sin.  What makes our vision cloudy is our ego and pride that blocks this clarity.  


Any spiritual retreat worth our time and retreat fee is measured by how clearly and articulately we allow the Holy Spirit to speak this truth to our hearts.  I don’t measure how good a retreat is by how ‘high’ one gets emotionally after a retreat.  That’s a very low bar to measure a good retreat by, as evidence has shown that things can just go back to normal in a matter of days after the retreat ends.


But a beneficial retreat is measured by how much inner conversion takes place by seeing with a greater degree of clarity how one’s ego needs and insecurities had been the source of wanting to give in to sin and selfishness in the various areas of life, and not wanting to put in the necessary effort to respond to God’s grace prompting and inviting one to do God’s will in each moment of life.  


I guess this is the main reason why there are ‘retreat addicts’ who run form one retreat to another, just to get the post retreat high, because many retreatants aren’t courageous and honest enough to do the hard work that is required to face one’s inner demons with a determination to slay them with the sword of the love of God.  


Yes, if we but instill in ourselves that it is necessary to daily ‘get out of the way’, we will be able to live out the call to have room in our hearts for Christ to enter in. Not just at Advent, but every day.  The painful reality is that the situation that Joseph and Mary faced in Bethlehem is the same one that Jesus faces each time he wants to enter into our hearts. There simply is no room for him at the inn.  


Maybe we need to hear a voice hollering “guan sui” into our ears and we will get out of the way.



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