this story appeared in the philippine daily inquirer on January 28, 2012.

How beautiful it is to live in freedom: the freedom to choose, freedom to be who you want to be, freedom to get what you want, and freedom from everything that makes your life miserable.

When I was small, I really loved watching fish in an aquarium. Every time my father fetched me from school, I would insist that we go to the nearest pet shop. My eyes would glimmer as I watched the fishes gracefully swim and magnificently maneuver inside the aquarium. I found it fascinating. Some of the fishes would chase each other around. Others would hide behind artificial corals. They looked happy and content. It was so easy to envy those fishes.

But thinking about it now, I realize that behind what seemed to be a fascinating world for the fishes was a life full of misery. I am sure they would never have wanted to be in that aquarium if they had a choice. They would surely have loved to be out in the sea.

Being a pastor’s kid, I could liken my life to that of those fishes. I feel like I, too, am living inside an aquarium. There may not be any glasses that surround me, but there are giant walls of rules, norms and standards that I have to consider before I make any move. And all these norms were there even before I was born. Worse, people expect me to follow them faithfully and be perfect. I noticed this even when I was still growing up.

As a pastor, my father teaches the members of our church how to live a holy life, a life pleasing to God, a life that would serve as a good example for others. Naturally, these members also look up to the pastor’s family as a model in following what he preaches. Thus, I have been living my life in a glass house, a house open for all to see.

I remember one time when my friends and I watched a sayawan (a public dance) in our neighborhood. One of our neighbors saw me and told my father about it. He was so mad and disappointed. It was one of the things that he had constantly warned me against: I should never be in a place where worldly people went. He said that it could ruin my witness, that people might no longer listen to his sermons if his son was seen in such places of pleasure.

I can enumerate some of the rules that made me sick. Disco houses, bars and movie houses were just some of the prohibited places. When it came to music, I could only listen to gospel music. I was not allowed to sing any songs aside from Christian songs. I must turn off the television set or the radio if they were playing prohibited songs. Dolls, stuffed toys and graven images were not to be put inside the house because they were considered to be dwelling places or strongholds of Satan. If we got them as gifts, my father would burn them. In choosing a lifetime partner, I could not choose a non-Christian girl. (But what if I fall in love with a non-Christian? I wondered.)

All these things made my life miserable. How could I enjoy life when I must try to please other people in everything I do? I tried pretense. Like the fish in the aquarium, I tried to hide my true feelings. I pretended to be happy with my life. I followed every rule. I tried to always do right in their eyes. People praised me for being a blessing to them. But deep inside, I was only faking it. And this went on for a long time.

When my father noticed that I wasn’t happy, he asked me what my problem was. I told him everything—from the lies to the pretense, and even the pressure that I felt. I cried and fell down on my knees and asked for forgiveness. I admitted that I wasn’t pleasing God. I was only pleasing others.

My father embraced me and told me everything was all right. He said everybody made mistakes.

I guess that living in an aquarium may not be so miserable after all. I have realized that all those rules and standards shaped me into a better person. They made me stronger in resisting temptations.

Now that I am away from those people who look up to me as an example, I am free to do what I want. Now it’s up to me if I would choose to do things against God’s will or I would still succumb to His perfect will and plan for my life. But at least, the choice is mine to make.

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