It was 2011. Clutching a letter I will never send to the person who broke my heart, I approached the life-sized Belen in the chapel of the nuns of the Servants of Saint Joseph. Feeling weak in the knees, I knelt and clutched the letter to my chest. “It is so hard to let go,” I whispered. I bowed my head, trying to fight the tears. But in the stillness of that night on the 29th of December, in the solitude of the provincial house of the sisters who took me in, I wept like I never did in my life.
I felt like a wreck after a four-year relationship. Fresh from World Youth Day – Madrid, what I was half-dreading came true: he left me for someone else. I remember telling the Lord during the Vigil night with the Pope: “If there is anything hindering me from totally being Yours, take it away. I only want to do Your will.” Having an inkling of what God might demand, I added: “But not this. Not us.”
I still held the letter close to my chest. My counselor made it clear the day before why I was with the nuns that night. I had to do the second to the last “letting go letter” and leave it in front of the tabernacle. It was a necessary step in my road to healing. I had to let go. I had to let it go.
I looked at the image of Jesus, Mary and Joseph, my eyes blurred by tears. “I was not expecting it would be this painful. I did not ask for pain. Why?” It was around ten in the evening and just like His reply to every “Why,” I was met by something I dreaded. I was met by silence.
“Come to us in Nazareth,” she said after I told her my story. “We just live a tricycle away from the hospital. Come spend a night with us.”
I was still a nurse back in 2011. That week, I was assigned to take care of an elderly nun from a congregation called Servias de San Jose. I recall entering the room filled with nuns who smiled at me warmly as I introduced myself. They noticed the cross I was wearing as asked if I was Catholic. I nodded and told them I just came from World Youth Day. I found myself going back to stay in that room longer after my shift. They made me share my story and I also listened to theirs.
That week, too, my counselor told me that it was time for me to do the second to the last activity: I had to pour out my feelings in a letter to the person who caused me pain. “You have forgiven three persons who have hurt you the most from way back. Before you get to forgive the last person, you must let go of this one.” The last person I had to forgive was me. I would never get to forgiving myself until I let go of my resentment with the others. And so on that 29th of December, I found myself in front of the gates of the nuns who I met in the hospital.
“Welcome to Nazareth,” one sister said.
“Nazareth…Nazareth.” The word “Nazareth” was chanted beautifully during lauds and vespers. It struck a familiar yet still mysterious chord in my heart that day. I knew the Lord was telling me something. But just like how God beautifully writes the stories of our lives, I wouldn’t know what it meant until I finally opened my hands and said: “I’m letting go of the hurt, Lord. I forgive the person. I am finally letting go.”
My counselor looked at me in the eye and leaned forward when I told him why I couldn’t find it in my heart to forgive. With a fatherly tone, he said: “Forgiveness is not a two-way street, my dear. You call that reconciliation. Would God grant us that? Praise the Lord if that will happen! But you see, forgiveness is really something you give without expecting anything in return. Forgiveness is really not to affirm the other that what he did doesn’t matter anymore. Forgiveness is something you do for you. It means that you are letting go of the hate so that light can finally shine through the cracks of your heart. Only then can you be free. Only then can you be at peace.”
I couldn’t still leave the letter in the manger before me. I wasn’t still very brave enough to do so. With a heavy heart, I turned my back and walked towards my room. “Let me do it tomorrow, Lord. Grant me the grace to just let it go.” I remember putting the letter in my Bible that night and just like any other night unknown to the world at rest, I cried myself to sleep.
“Happy Feast Day!” I was greeted by the nuns that morning. It was the congregation’s Feast Day – The Feast of the Holy Family. “You coming here is no coincidence,” the vocation directress told me.
I joined the entire province for lunch and I sat beside a very kind sister. She asked me how my stay was and I thanked her for welcoming me. I told her that staying there with them was a grace from the Lord since I prayed specifically for a place where I can do my counseling activity.
“Did God tell you a particular message while you were staying here?” I thought about it for a moment and I remembered the word that constantly made an impression on me from the very beginning. “There is one, sister. I still do not know though what it means. I only keep hearing the word, Nazareth.” I was sure I saw her eyes twinkle as I mentioned the word. She gave me a warm smile, held my hand and explained:
“You know, Lee-an, Nazareth is where Jesus spent His growing years in. There in that place He stayed with Joseph and Mary. Lee-an, Nazareth is the home of the Holy Family. Nazareth means home.”
Sister squeezed my hand and looked at me with a gaze that made me tear up.
“Nazareth means you are home, Lee-an. From whatever tiresome journey you’ve gone through, Nazareth tells you: Welcome home. Welcome home, Lee-an.”
I ran to the room where I stayed to get hold of my Bible. I was home! How foolish of me to not let go when God has welcomed me in His home? I opened my Bible to get the letter.
It was gone.
“Well, maybe God did what you couldn’t. He took it away without you knowing. And you know what? That is how He loves you. Maybe He wants to tell you now that you should carry on. He’s got you covered. You only have to be still. When you are home in His arms, you only have to be still. Be still now, my child. Hush that questioning heart and just relish the feeling of being home.”
I left Servias that day with a peace that I knew came from the God who welcomed me home. Did the pain leave with the letting go? No. And it was there as I walked, waving goodbye to the kind sisters, that I realized how forgiveness can give us peace. That kind of peace that sits comfortably with pain and embraces it for peace does not mean the absence of pain. Peace is knowing that you have God within. Peace is being home with the God who loves us.
A week later from the day I left Servias, I received a text from the same nun who journeyed with me. The letter was still nowhere to be found. I remember rushing to the Adoration Chapel nearby filled with joy that God did something extraordinary to remind me how much He loved me dearly. I remember, too, that it was on that day that I began praying for the person who I loved and yet hurt me. Finally, after God affirming me that He wants me to move on, I did.
I gazed at Him and at that moment I knew…I was free.
Five years from that day, I finally found the courage to write this story. Looking back, I do not actually regret having gone through that moment of pruning. Yes, it is painful to subject your heart to the healing process but remember that a plant only bears much fruit when some parts of it gets cut away and pruned. It is only when you allow God to purify you that you will experience incomparable joy and I’m glad I made the decision to let Him have His way in me.
Five years from that day, I am still home. I have found Nazareth and if there is one thing I should not let go of, it’s just that. In God’s arms I am home. Finally finding home, finally finding joy, I am never letting go.