Trying to Feel Belonged

I am going to share with you something very personal today.

I have done better, but the temptations are still there. I have learned over the years to embrace and take it to prayer as soon as I see the pitfall begins to be opened. It is still a personal struggle, but I have been so blessed to be guided by many wonderful spiritual directors to learn how to be loved by the Lord without trying too hard to feel belonged. Here is a little sharing of my journey with you…

As a child who grew up poor in Viet Nam, I was very envious of others. I questioned why I could not have what my friends possessed. I even blamed my parents, asked why they would not join the Communist Party or play the game so we could be better off (without knowing the struggles that they went through). As an immigrant who spoke no English before coming to America, I wanted to fit in and be accepted so bad. I tried so hard to be labeled as a typical American instead of “them immigrants who come to steal our jobs and smooch off from our land.” I tried hard to reduce my Vietnamese accent back in the past because I did not want to give away that I am an immigrant. I took on an American name when I was naturalized because I wanted to be accepted as “one of us.” There was a time that I tried so hard to stand out with what I can do in order to be successful, to be in inner circles, to possess the greater power or have classified knowledge as to feel important. I guess I always carry with me (even now) an inferiority/immigrant complex, fearing that I do not have the fair advantage because I am not one of the guys, because of who I am, and what I cannot be since I am not born here in America.

I struggled with it for a long time. I shared with many of you in the past that this desire to fit in caused me to be a perfectionist for the longest time ever. Today, I still live with this inferiority/immigrant complex, as well as my struggle with perfectionism. I often jokingly said that I am a recovering perfectionist. Just like anyone who knows or had gone through the Twelve Steps or an addiction recovery program can tell you, our brokenness does not go away but we can choose sobriety as to rise above the negative enslavement and hell that we have created for ourselves. As a recovering person who tries to embrace his brokenness and its struggles each day, I have to choose not to let my own self-pity, egocentric, or medicative solutions take the best of me as to numb, blind, neglect, or ignore the reality that is there. It is hard but it is an important reality to not let one be stuck in the vicious cycle of negativity and self-created hell. One can never be content when one thinks that he or she does not have enough. Greed, envy, jealousy, and all those self-centered desires really enslave a person because he or she is never happy. The Book of Proverbs said it very well: “A tranquil mind gives life to the body, but jealousy rots the bones.” (14:30)

Perhaps I will never fit in, and that is fine. I do not have to fit in, be accepted, or loved by everyone in order to be loved by God. This was a hard lesson to learn for me! I had spent a lot of time in life trying to fit in and be accepted as if acceptance equals happiness — as if achievement equals contentment. Nevertheless, my own personal life struggles tell me that those things are not necessarily the truth, and happiness is not found simply in other people’s acceptance. I have to remind myself to allow God to love me in my brokenness as to remain in His love instead of simply looking for temporary satisfactions elsewhere. I tend to be very hard toward myself, beating myself up when someone who is not happy with what I am doing. I know it, and I am still struggling with the possibility of rejection, but I have learned in my own priesthood that I cannot please everyone. Every time I make a decision, someone is not going to be happy. Nevertheless, I cannot — for the sake of my sanity — try to do everything as to make everyone happy.

This is somewhat of a pain — a thorn — that one has to embrace while being a leader. It is not easy, and I struggle with it a lot; nevertheless, through the patience of my good friends and spiritual guides, I have learned to personally and prayerfully embrace the tension of trying to do what is right and being liked. I have learned to take time to pray about my decisions, bringing everything to God and lay it out in front of Him. Second, I have to use the time to make sure that my conscience is clear, and this is not something that is selfish nor self-satisfying so that I am doing the right thing instead of what is only good for me. Third, I have learned to make sure that everything I do is not dependent on me — which is hard. Nevertheless, I have learned (the hard way) that if I worry too much about this or that project and make everything dependent on me, the people of God will not collaborate and I end up doing it for my own self-satisfaction. I had learned from my past failures and desire to be in control that in order for something to truly be collaborative, there need to be layers of support and people who understand and make it their own mission as well. The less I am in control, able to delegate and get more collaborators is the better! I have learned it from my own past mistakes when I was too controlling without knowing that those things were killing me psychologically, physically, and relationally because I was too focused on myself.

Do I still get tempted with envies or the desire to be loved by everyone? Yes. Nevertheless, I have learned to let go in order to grow where God has planted me. If I am too focused on trying to have others possessed, I will end up losing focus and becoming too myopic in seeing what I truly have around me. In my daily prayers, I pray that I might not cause someone to fall or be left behind by being too focused on my own self, especially to be opened to the will of God in the here and now. I ask God every day to help me recognize the blessings I have in front of me and to grow where He has planted me. “Help me, O Lord, to fix my eyes on you and be grateful for what you have given me instead of what I think I want in order to make me happy. Help me to know that You are my everything and only in you can my soul be content and at rest, for your love is more than enough for me.” I had cried with the Lord. I laughed at myself and struggled with His will. I also doubted why He allowed some things to happen. Yet, at the end of the day, the Lord is the only One that has ever been there, and His faithful love is the only thing that really makes sense. Only His love ever helped me to be content with my own life and what I already have — beyond what I really deserved.

I have learned through many past failures and my own created hell of what it means to belong. I might not be accepted in all circles or be loved by all, and that is perfectly fine. I have given up trying to be someone important and learn to be a child of God as to live in His love. As Saint Therese of Lisieux once said, “All is grace.” Hence, within the heart of God and Mother Church, I am loved, and that is more than enough. The more I tried to get what I wanted in the past, the more miserable I became because I was never happy with what I had. Yet, when I learned to let go (and continue to learn to let go) and seek God, I know that I do not really need to be what I think I have to be in order to be loved by Him. He loves me, not because I am perfect, but He has made out of love — for He is love. I have to learn to love myself in Him and allow Him to work in and through my daily struggles and personal brokenness.

Yes, there are still days that I struggle, but I tend to be more content when I choose to focus on what I have in and through the love of God (instead of the things that have to be in order to be happy). Only the peace of the Lord and His love are really enough for us! Nothing else in this world can ever promise or given this to us. Therefore, I wish and pray that you can understand and know how much you are loved by the Lord as to remain in His restful, peaceful love and to reflect this love in your everyday interaction with others. Let us learn to love in our own struggles, with all of their ups and downs, so that the love of God deepens and empowers us to overcome the lesser things of this world. To truly know the Lord and to be loved by Him is the greatest joy and loving peace that this world can never understand or give to us. You and I belong to Him and are loved by Him, and that is more than enough!

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