I was raised by a Christian mother, so I naturally grew up in a Christian household — which was a good thing.
It meant that I was introduced to the Christian faith at a young age: I was dedicated to Christ as a baby, attended Sunday School as a kid, rarely missed church on a Sunday, and worshiped the Lord through songs of praise. I was ticking off every box on the proverbial “How to Be Christian” list.
I believed then that this wasn’t just a “family thing,” and that I had my own commitment to the Christian life because when I temporarily migrated to Dumaguete for college, I was still consistent in my walk with God.
I walked to church every Sunday on my own—from the campus dormitory, through the empty pathways of Silliman, and on to the boulevard where the church was close by. I attended the service, listened to the sermon, prayed and worshiped the Lord.
Looking back, however, I have come to realize that I never truly had a deep and intimate relationship with God.
While I faithfully attended church services, listened, prayed, and worshiped, the rest of the days of the week were spent in self-reliance. This pattern persisted for many years, even after graduating from college, and transitioning to the workforce.
Initially, I didn’t see it as an issue. In fact, I felt like I was fulfilling my Christian duty by attending church regularly, especially since I was blessed with success in various aspects of my life.
I lived a comfortable life, had many friends from everywhere, was exposed to many extra-curricular opportunities, excelled in my academics, won several awards, served others through many leadership roles, traveled the world, completed what I believed was meaningful work, founded my own non-profit organization, and even gained some following from among the hundreds of thousands of viewers on TikTok for a brief time.
Everything was well and good! For the longest time, I felt this was my reward for being a good Christian.
But behind the facade of accomplishments was a lack of a genuine spiritual connection.
Behind that was a “good Christian” who had only memorized “Angel of God, my Guardian, dear…” at night. Behind that was a “good Christian” who rarely read the Bible. Behind that was a “good Christian” who was not sharing the good news of Christ’s love and sacrifice for us. Behind that was a “good Christian” who relied heavily on his own abilities, and would end a Facebook gratitude post with a hollow and tokenized “And of course, thank you, Lord, for all the blessings. Praise God!”
It became obvious to me that I didn’t really understand what it truly meant to be a genuine Christian.
“Where are you?”
The disconnect became more apparent during the pandemic in 2020, when I completely fell out of faith. I stopped attending church services (which were conveniently offered online). I stopped praying. I stopped reading the Bible. I was detached from everything related to God. This went on for three full years, and I didn’t even notice it.
Because I was getting further and further away from the Lord, I was getting closer and closer to things that were not good for me, nor for anyone, for that matter.
I was forcing myself into unrighteous, failed relationships. I was habitually doing wicked, promiscuous, and displeasing things behind closed doors. My sinning became persistent until it simply became like something being done through ‘muscle memory’, a force of habit. It was a downward spiral of worldly pursuits and sinful behavior.
And just like what science tells us in Newton’s Third Law, every action will always have an equal reaction. (The Bible also alludes to this in Matthew 7:17, “Every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit.”)
The final blow was when I was hospitalized due to medical concerns at the end of 2023. These concerns spawned other concerns that I struggle with to this day. And in my lowest moments, when I felt like it was the end, God reached out to me as if to say, “Hey, Val, I am still here.”
God was there with me. And He had never left me. He continued to relentlessly pursue me, just like He did with Adam and Even even after they had sinned. “Where are you?” God called out to ask them in the garden when they hid from Him, ashamed.
“Where are you, Val? I am still here.”
God was calling me to restore and deepen my relationship with Him. And I heard this call, and responded to it. Only by his grace and mercy.
Slowly, I began going back to God. I began praying to Him, and having genuine and intimate conversations with Him in prayer. I began reading Scripture through the Bible, where I got to know Him better, His characters, and His promises. I began going back to church, not only as a physical presence but as a child yearning to learn from wise elders, be surrounded by fellow followers, and praise and worship Him from the heart.
And I could actually see it, and feel it how I was being transformed by God.
On Jan. 27 this year, I publicly expressed my obedience to the Lord by declaring that Jesus Christ is my Lord and Savior through water baptism.
But listen, there was no supernatural magic or dramatic changes upon emerging from the waters.
Baptism itself is not a shortcut to salvation, or a guarantee of miraculous manifestations. It was, however, an outward expression of my inward transformation.
My baptism was a symbol of my dying to my old self, and rising anew in Christ, identifying with His death, burial, resurrection, and a commitment to live a life that reflects His teachings and love.
But why the struggle?
I always wondered why I needed to reach rock bottom, and be in great despair to be able to hear the call of the Lord; why I needed to go through so much suffering to seek salvation; why I needed to be in a hospital bed for some time to understand that my earthly presence is only fickle to the promise of eternal life.
And the answer was made clear to me: because I will never be able to go through “life” on my own, especially not without the Lord.
God promises us in 2 Corinthians 12:9 that His grace alone is sufficient, and that His “power is made perfect in weakness.”
I had to be the weakest version of myself so that I could see God’s power, grace, and mercy at work in my life.
What I though I saw as a strong and successful man was actually a disobedient person from God’s point of view.
And you know what they say about hitting rock bottom: there’s no way but up.
And when indeed I looked up, I only saw Jesus.
Looking back at the kind of life I was living, adorned with accolades and successes, I realized how all this was empty and meaningless because it was achieved only through self-reliance and self-interest, and by a person who was habitually sinning.
I had only placed God in the sidelines of my life when He should be at the center of my pursuit for meaning and purpose.
Earthly success is much different from success in God’s eyes, and now that I know that by heart, I want to seek Him more so that I understand better what success means, according to my Savior.
I could easily be ashamed of the double life I lived. But the God I serve rids me of my shame. He forgives and forgets, and no longer takes my sin against me, He declares in both Isaiah 43:25 and Hebrews 8:12.
That’s exactly the compassionate character of God—that He loves us so much to forgive us if we believe in Him, have faith in Him, obey Him, and repent of our sins. He is more than willing to cleanse us of our unrighteousness, and give us a new identity!
Because of this, I am proud to say that I am no longer who I was. The old is gone; the new has come. I have a new identity in Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17).
But this is not for me to boast about. It is only by the grace and mercy of God, through believing in Jesus Christ, that I am saved.
I continue to seek God every day. This is no promise of perfection (as only God is perfect), but a promise of His compassionate love for me, no matter what season I go through in life.
Indeed, God is my strength and my portion forever.
How is God calling you?
Val Amiel Vestil