The gift of acceptance

The Bible is full of assurances of God’s acceptance of us, flawed and broken as we are. This heavenly acceptance should flow into our daily lives and allow us to accept our own limitations and situations.

Jul 07, 2023

                                    Word in Progress - Karen Michaela Tan

At a cashier counter the other day, the young woman at the register asked me, out of the blue, “Aren’t you the singer who used to come to the Home and teach us English with Disney songs? I recognised your voice right away!” Seeing that it has been over 20 years since I used to spend Saturdays with the girls of Home of Peace, then located in Taman Seputeh, it was quite a wonder that I was recognised, and more so by my voice alone. Obviously I had not been singing my way to the till (who does in these expensive times?), but to be recognised while masked, and only by voice, was uncanny.

What was even more uncanny was the fact that I had been struggling with my voice of late. I have always had a good voice. Not American Idol stunning, but coupled with confidence, it made me a standout in church choirs and at the cantor’s lectern. I had sung my way through high school, college and well into my late 30s. Singing gave me a mode of expression, a way to worship, and was a source of venting and comfort.

However, in my 40s, my clear, true voice became unsteady. I began missing higher notes. My voice broke when trying to sustain a note. I would sometimes start in one register and struggle to keep the note, thus having to come down an octave. Pandemic and its corresponding ban on Masses took away the weekly vocal workout. I became more conscious about singing in public, and even in the car with friends. I felt like I was losing a bit of myself. My voice was so much a part of me that I felt abandoned by my inability to feel good when I sang. It got to such a stage that even my shower stall ceased to resonate with music.

I initially refused to be part of last year’s Christmas musical performance before Mass, but my dear organist friend Ann - who herself is battling crippling rheumatoid arthritis which is misshaping her talented, dexterous fingers – sagely said to me, “Fear of failure comes from ego. When our voices and abilities fail, we need to take stock on why we do the things we do. If it is for fame and compliments, then once we consistently fail, we should consider it time to hang up the hat. But if you sing because it brings you happiness, because you believe you are serving in a way no one else can, will, or does, then you must believe God will bless your endeavours.” And so, without any practice whatsoever, I got up and sang on Christmas morning. Like the little drummer boy, I brought what I had, and believed that God would know it was the best I could bring. And my voice held.

But it has not been consistent. It made me wonder what God wanted of me. I certainly did not want to continue being in the choir if my voice was going to give up on me mid-hymn! Over the course of the year, I delved more deeply into the meaning of acceptance, and how a Catholic perspective of it helps in the challenges of daily life.

I learnt that ‘letting go, and letting God’ was easier said then done. As a journalist and dogged pedant, I have always sought for definitive answers. However, a big part of the process of acceptance is acknowledging that we may never have the answers, and that perhaps something we think is so major, because we are so self-centred, is negligible to God. Because, face it, missing the sustained A in an Alleluia is hardly apostasy.

I could see myself in conversation with Jesus ala Martha, and hear Him tell me that I worried and fretted over too many things, and that in fact, it was not the question of the quality of my voice, but the quality of my service. God did not desire a perfect Gloria from me, as much as He wished someone, anyone, to lead an ageing choir which has seen more member deaths than new recruits. I wasn’t in the choir pew singing for a Golden Buzzer. I was singing to rally a congregation in worship, and to perhaps demonstrate that God truly does choose from the less capable. As long as I accepted the fact that I was less capable, God would give me what I needed to do what was needed capably.

The Bible is full of assurances of God’s acceptance of us, flawed and broken as we are. This heavenly acceptance should flow into our daily lives and allow us to accept our own limitations and situations. In order to reap the richness of this, there is a need for discernment. Most parishes will not ‘kick out’ a person whose abilities in their field of service has diminished. Sit through the quavering of an elderly chorister at some Masses and you will know what I mean.

Yet, for the person serving, the question is this: do I truly believe that God requires my continued service? Am I still capable of performing my function in the ministry I am in? In filling this seat, am I obstructing a new person with fresh perspectives or stronger abilities from serving? Acceptance is gracefully relinquishing posts which we are no longer capable of holding, either by reason of diminished capacity or life changes.

Acceptance is knowing that there are times and seasons to all things, and believing that when God closes a door, He sometimes opens new windows. Above all, acceptance is not the petulant, grudging “Okay, fine” ungracious ceding to popular opinion or leadership, but a generous acquiescence that our knowledge is finite, and that we are realistically unable to control most of what happens in our lives. Acceptance is about not knowing, and yet, still being secure in the infinite wisdom of God; that He knows best, and will do right by us.

(Karen-Michaela Tan is a poet, writer and editor who seeks out God’s presence in the human condition and looks for ways to put the Word of God into real action.)

Total Comments:0