The God of consolation

A good relationship with God is what has sustained me in the dark times of this year. I have never had in my imagination the punishing God that many Catholics secretly worship and try to appease.

Jan 06, 2023

                                                  Word In Progress Karen Michaela Tan

I was happy to see 2022 end. It had been an exceedingly difficult one for me, with my constant companions being anger and anxiety. The dark humour about this is that I get even more angry and anxious because I am angry and anxious. You reap what you sow, you see.

People who love me try to tell me that what I struggle with currently warrant these feelings of anger and anxiety. My mother succumbed to the dementia that plagued my grandmother, but this blow was made more cruel in that Parkinson’s had seized mum’s body, robbing her of mobility, and thus necessitating her placement in a care home, because my 80-year-old father was unable to lift her in order to care for her physical needs.

My father, finding himself alone in his so-called golden years, became bitter and a little reclusive, which saw me having to deploy my shrinking time and emotional resources to be around for him. The pandemic and the new financial burden of my mother’s nursing home fees had eaten so savagely into my savings that at one point, I was down to RM3,000 in my bank account. So, when my teen asked for psychiatric intervention due to her poor state of mental health, the private consultation fees went right on my credit card, all RM700 a session, bi-weekly.

While all this was happening, I was still soliciting clients, trying to sustain a private feeding initiative for the hard-core poor, and attempting to be supportive and participatory in the life of my community and friends.

Twice in the year I had seriously considered suicide, held back only by two things: how my father and daughter would react, and how I really did not want some unfortunate sods to have to scrape my bashed up body from some pavement. I’m a sizeable person, and the splatter would be greater than average. Considerate to the end, that’s me!

I’m able to still write this not because an angel appeared to berate me for the folly of my ways, but rather, because my relationship with God is multidimensional. My faith is one which I chose. Unbaptised at birth, born to a Catholic mother, and non-Catholic father, I was convent-schooled, and Mass-brought, but unable to fully participate in the Eucharistic feast until I took the decision into my own hands and attended RCIA.

My father asked me why it was so important for me to be identified as Catholic when I was already living as one. At 24, I shocked my father when I told him that I wanted to be Catholic at least to know where I would go when I died. Dad proceeded to enrol in RCIA with me, and we were baptised together 20 years ago.

These two decades have been made out of days of walking with God (“Teach me your way, O Lord, so I may walk in your truth”), running away from God, being petulant with God (“I don’t want to pray to you, you don’t give me what I want!”) and being secure enough in my relationship with God that I dare to be angry with Him.

Many Catholics live with a belief of unworthiness. It may have come from years of “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof,” or hymns that remind us that “I am not worthy, that thou should come to me,” but this narrative of unworthiness sometimes belittles the great love God bears mankind.

God does not love us because we are perfect. He doesn’t expect perfect love from us. He has the angels for that. What God seeks of us is relationship. And for a relationship to be strong and enduring, it has to be honest, brave, and willing to see the viewpoint of the other.

A good relationship with God is what has sustained me in the dark times of this year. I have never had in my imagination the punishing God that many Catholics secretly worship and try to appease. I have never bought into the unworthiness narrative, and it is thanks to my ability to question, be angry, and wrestle with God that I have managed to see the year through.

Far from being stayed by the fear of judgement for taking my own life, I choose to live to fight another day because I am convinced of my worthiness. I believe that God did indeed love the world so much that He gave His only Son. Jesus wasn’t given to us because we were worthy. He was given to us because we are loved, and by virtue of being loved, we deserve the best gift of all.

In Jesus we have the human extension of a father’s love, as well as an example of the amazing things love can do, when hearts are opened to its power. Love gives strength, and strength begets courage. And courage helps me carry on.

(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.)

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