3-Ways-Discomfort-Discomforted-Me

3 Ways Discomfort Discomforted Me

Not again. I was at my wit’s end. A good two and a half weeks had passed since I had finished my second course of antibiotics, but as I gazed at the ceiling that night—awake, alert, and anxious—it felt as though I was back to square one.

For weeks, I had been experiencing a mild case of urinary tract infection (UTI). It was not the first time I had it; but unlike the first time, when a round of antibiotics easily cured it, the symptoms were relentless this time.

In most cases, UTI manifests as a frequent or intense urge to urinate. On some nights, I would go to the toilet as many as seven times before going to bed. On other nights, anxiety about having to visit the toilet in the middle of the night would plague me the moment I lay on the bed. I would end up tossing and turning for a couple of hours—and on some occasions, the entire night.

That night, I had just made five trips to the toilet within two hours. As I flopped onto my bed for the fifth time, I could feel my heart racing and a sense of dread setting in. I couldn’t help thinking about what else I should have done to ensure a faster recovery.

Take antibiotics, probiotics, and cranberry juice? Check. Drink a lot of water? Check. Pay a visit to the doctor? Check. Twice. Seek divine intervention? Big check. I even “formalized” my plea to God on three separate occasions by recording my prayers in my journal when the symptoms seemed to much for me to bear.

But none of these things seemed to work.

“Maybe this is the thorn in your flesh God has given you,” my brother finally said on one occasion after hearing me lament for the umpteenth time and trying unsuccessfully to cheer me.

That’s when it hit me. What if God had no intention to remove this “thorn in the flesh” from my life for the time being? What if the whole reason why I was going through this was that God was trying to teach me that His grace was sufficient for me—but I had just been too preoccupied to see it?

When I finally turned to scripture to read about Paul’s struggle and response to his thorn in the flesh (2 Corinthians 12:7-10), I felt rebuked by my own less-than-ideal response. That’s when I discovered three things about myself.

 

 1. I tend to rely on myself.

As much as I know my life is in God’s hands, I almost always resort to human means to address my problems. If I’m falling sick, I make sure I get enough rest and eat the right food. If I don’t achieve positive results at work, I try to put in more effort. If people don’t respond to me, I look at what I should or shouldn’t have said, and try to make up for it. Everything in life can be “fixed” with the right solution, and so can my health.

While there is nothing inherently wrong with these actions, I realize that it’s only when I exhaust all human means that I turn to God, delve into scriptures, and pray actively and fervently for relief. This is exactly what happened in my recent case of UTI.

 

2. I tend to focus on myself.

In the grand scheme of things, I knew that the physical discomfort I was experiencing wasn’t that bad. For one, it would hardly constitute the kind of suffering the Bible talks about (Romans 5:3-5). Also, aside from having to make frequent toilet trips, I didn’t feel any physical pain and could function perfectly well. I could eat, work, sleep, and play. As long as my mind was distracted by something else, I wouldn’t even feel the symptoms.

But I certainly made a big deal out of it. Whenever the symptoms became more pronounced— especially in the evening when I was resting at home—I would throw a pity party for myself and invite my family members to be a part of it. I also made sure those around me—my colleagues, church friends, and close friends—knew I was “suffering” and would never fail to request for their prayer.

I’m ashamed to say I don’t always remember to pray for friends the same way, especially if they share about their “minor” problems like cough and cold. In fact, I even secretly frown on those who keep harping on the same issue, such as when my mother kept asking my brother and I to pray that God would remove the itchy sensation around her neck. It was only when I had to go through a prolonged period of physical discomfort myself that I realized how “non-issues” like these could so easily affect and discourage me.

That realization made me more sympathetic to others going through similar discomfort. I decided to consciously pray for others every night as I prayed for my own relief. And that’s when God really put my problems in perspective. Compared to the aunty at church who was having a relapse of lymphoma and a friend who had just suffered a serious viral attack that almost took her life, what did I have to complain about?

 

3. I tend to focus on this earthly life.

Though I know that this world is not my final destination, I tend to live my life as though I’m going to be here for eternity. It’s only in moments of helplessness that I’m reminded of the truth that I should not be holding on to anything in this life.

Discomforts and setbacks of any magnitude or nature serve as reminders that we live in a transient—and broken—world. Our physical bodies are not built to last; over time, they will naturally wear down and malfunction. How comforting, then, are the words of 2 Corinthians 4:17-18, which tell us that the suffering we go through in life now is preparing us for eternity: “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”

Though we see trouble and suffering on every front, we know that these are but signposts that there is something so much better ahead of us; difficulties and suffering in life will come to an end. And while there’s nothing we can do to escape problems in life, we can certainly change how we choose to respond to them. American pastor Charles Stanley once said that nothing attracts the unbeliever like a saint suffering successfully. Based on how I had been responding, I’m pretty sure I looked more like a saint suffering sorrowfully. Still, I thank God for using this episode to correct the way I have been viewing and responding to “suffering”.

As I write this article now, I’m thankful that God has stopped my UTI from flaring up in the past week. I’m not sure it will recur, but this experience has given me the determination to do these three things the next time I’m faced with any form of “discomfort”:

  1. Commit my discomfort to God and ask Him for strength and wisdom to respond to it.
  2. Remember that there are many others around me who are facing similar discomfort—if not worse—and pray for them.
  3. Thank God for giving me the discomfort, because it is a reminder that this earthly life was never meant to be a comfortable one.
Letter-to-My-Past-(Gay)-Self(1)

Letter to My Past (Gay) Self

Dear Raphael,

I am you in 10 years’ time. Before I say anything else, I want you to know that you’re deeply loved by God and you’re very precious to Him. You are the apple of His eye (Psalm 17:8).

I know you don’t feel this way right now—not when God just told you to stop pursuing a gay relationship. You feel like your only hope at happiness has been crushed. There’s pain in your heart and you’re crying out, “How can something that feels so right be so wrong?”

I get it. It does feel right and natural. Since you started having romantic and sexual desires, it has only ever been for guys. It’s all you’ve ever known, and it feels like a natural part of you. It feels like acting on these desires can lead you to a wonderful relationship that will finally make you happy.

Oh yes, I remember, Raph. How can I forget the first major crush you had in junior college on that guy the minute you laid eyes on him? Your heart would leap whenever he so much as glanced in your direction and you’d long for him to hold your hand one day.

I remember your first boyfriend, whom you met four years later. I know how happy you felt with him.

So you’re wrestling with lots of questions now. You’re asking, “How can all of this be wrong? Why would God forbid me from pursuing happiness? How can God be so cruel? What kind of God would tell me to deny something that’s so natural to me?”

You will find this hard to believe right now, but I want to tell you that it’s precisely because God loves you that He’s calling you out of homosexuality. Far from being cruel, your Father is acting out of His love, grace, and mercy for you. He cannot bear to see you wrecked by a life of sin and brokenness.

Please hear me out. I finally saw the truth of what God was doing after 10 years, and I want to share with you what I’ve learned—what you will eventually come to see for yourself.

Being gay is not who you are. When you became a Christian, you became a child of God. That’s the deepest truth of your identity, and that’s how your Father always sees you. He calls you “son”. Yes, you experience attraction towards guys, but that’s what you have, and not who you are: you have gay desires, but you are not gay. You are—first, foremost, and forever—God’s beloved son.

I know this attraction feels natural to you. They still do to me. But God showed me—as He will show you—that these desires aren’t as natural as they feel.

Remember how you always wanted an elder brother to show you the ropes of life when you were growing up? In upper primary, you looked up to this older boy in your class as a kind of big brother and wanted his attention. Do you also remember how you hated your secondary school years because of how much you wanted to fit in with the guys in your class, but couldn’t? You didn’t think these two things were connected, did you? Well, God showed me that they both stemmed from a longing to be taught by a man on how to be a man.

It wasn’t a coincidence that just when you were struggling intensely with not belonging with the other boys, you started to have crushes on some of them. Your desire to be like these boys, during the sexual awakening of puberty, turned into a desire for them.

In recent years, God helped me to understand that what I really craved was male identity and intimacy, which I should have received from Dad when I was growing up. What you long for, deep down, is Dad’s attention, affirmation, and affection. I know he wasn’t perfect, but he was the best father he could be. (We’ll talk about working on a better relationship with Dad in another letter.)

And because your gay desires aren’t a natural part of you, pursuing a gay relationship won’t actually bring you true happiness. In fact, it would bring you further away from your real needs. What you actually need is learning how to develop a secure masculine identity and to receive male intimacy in healthy—non-romantic and non-sexual—ways.

This may all sound rather abstract and foreign to you at the moment. Maybe I can put it another way. You know how you’ve been looking for that perfect relationship with a guy, but never seemed to find it? How you’d think a guy you’d met was the one, but when you got to know him better, one thing or another would make you feel he wasn’t the right guy? How your heart was broken over and over when your hopes were dashed again and again? It all seemed so elusive, didn’t it? Have you ever thought that maybe the reason no guy ever seemed to be the right one was that a guy is not actually what you need?

In fact, hasn’t that search thrown you into frustration and despair many times? In your moments of intense loneliness and longing for intimacy, you’ve often turned to alcohol to numb the pain, and to one-night stands. You knew they gave you little more than short-lived comfort and a shadow of what intimacy was, but you desperately wanted whatever scraps you could get. Then the guilt and the shame would come, and you’d plead with God for His forgiveness and promise Him you wouldn’t do it again. But it wouldn’t be long before you fell into it once more. I understand the pain you felt going through that cycle, and how deeply regretful you were each time. I know you’re so sick and tired of going down that spiral again and again.

How about the many nights when you’d cry yourself to sleep? I remember that one night when you cried so badly because you were struggling so much with loneliness. You just couldn’t see how you could be happy. Do you remember what God said to you that night? He said, “Trust Me.” I know that for years after that, you didn’t think He could be trusted to bring you the happiness you want. I’m here to tell you that God is faithful. He came through on His promise—just not in the way you think. He who knows better will give you far better.

God will show you that there are many other Christians who have gay desires, but who choose to obey Him by not acting on these feelings. There is a better way to live. He will also bring into your life Christians who can walk with you in this journey. I assure you that, even though there will sometimes still be struggles, there is much joy and peace in living a life being obedient to God and His life-giving ways.

He wants to bring healing to all those broken places in your heart that ache for love and intimacy. Getting into a gay relationship will not make you feel complete; it will only deepen the wounds you have. Trust me, I’ve been there. So I recognize now that God is merciful and gracious when He calls you to stop acting on your gay desires—because when you do, you’re only hurting yourself. How can a good Father do nothing and let His child keep throwing himself into what will bring him more pain?

Instead, God wants to heal your broken heart and bind up your wounds (Psalm 147:3). But in order for Him to do that, you have to stop injuring yourself and stay still long enough for Him to bandage you up. Be still, and know that He is the God who forgives and heals you (Psalm 46:10, Psalm 103:3).

Yes, I’m still attracted to guys, but I’ve decided not to act on my same-sex desires anymore. I don’t have to always give in to them helplessly. But you know what? I am much happier and at peace now than I was back then, when I was looking for a gay relationship. You do not understand this yet, but believe it. Or at least, believe me; I’ve gone through this long enough to know. God is very trustworthy, Raph. Trust in Him with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. When you acknowledge Him in all your ways, He will direct your paths (Proverbs 3:5–6).

Hold on to God, because He holds on to you. In the coming days, you’re going to feel like Jacob as he was wrestling with the angel of God (Genesis 32:22–32). Don’t let go of the Lord. Don’t let go even when you feel overwhelmed by the struggle, not even when you feel so weak that you want to give it all up. The wrestling will be worthwhile. As God did with Jacob, He will also bless you through this struggle.

As you hold on to God, you will get to know Him up close and personal. You will come to know that God isn’t uncaring and unreasonable, but He loves you so fiercely that He wants to pursue you relentlessly. He cares for your well-being and wants to give you His best. He’s a loving Father who is willing to let you, His precious child, hate Him for a season when you didn’t understand His ways, so as to save you from more pain and anguish.

So don’t misunderstand God’s heart. He isn’t cruel at all. Through His divine intervention in your life, He is actually showing you His love, grace and mercy by calling you out of brokenness into wholeness, out of darkness into His wonderful light (1 Peter 2:9).

Will you trust the Lord? Will you hold on to Him? Will you let your Father bless you?

 

God’s faithfully,

Your Future Self

Why-We-Must-Engage-Both-Mind-and-Heart

Why We Must Engage Both Mind and Heart

When I was a much younger Christian, I was taught that feelings were unreliable. I learned that God still loves me even when I don’t feel like He does—just as a chair would still support my weight even when I don’t feel like it would.

My feelings did not determine reality, I was reminded, and neither should they be allowed to dictate my actions. I was told that I didn’t have to wait until I felt like praying before I started to pray; I was to pray because it was in line with God’s will.

I’ve tried to keep this in mind, but I’ve found that it can be challenging to act against my own emotions. There were times when I willed myself to go to church or cell group, but my heart remained unwilling or even grudging towards God. Although I was obedient outwardly, I felt no joy inwardly.

That is how I’ve come to realize this: it’s not healthy to always act according to my mind without engaging my emotions.

After all, Jesus calls us to love God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength (Luke 10:27). Both our heart and mind must be engaged in loving Him. Just as it isn’t wise to trust the heart without checking back with the mind, it isn’t healthy to always go with the mind without engaging the heart, either.

But how are we to do that when the heart and mind sometimes pull us in different directions? God has taught me a few things that helped me to see that this doesn’t always have to be an ongoing battle, but the heart and the mind can instead have an ongoing conversation.

 

Listen to our Emotions

God showed me that while my feelings aren’t always reliable, it doesn’t mean that I ignore them. Even though my emotions may not always tell the truth about reality, they do tell me something about myself.

So if I feel a sense of rejection even when I’m surrounded by loving family and friends, I won’t immediately think that they are actually rejecting me. But I would ask myself why I’m feeling this way. I would seek God’s help to reveal to me any deeper issue that’s causing me to feel like that. After I get some idea of what might have led to that feeling of rejection, I’d ask God to comfort and heal me, and to show me His truths about me and the situation. He might remind me, as He has in the past, that He has accepted me (Romans 15:7) as His beloved son (1 John 3:1). And He might show me how I’ve misunderstood the situation or misperceived the intents of others.

Processing my emotions with God can help me to apply His truths to myself. If I have been hurt by something, God can bind up my wounds (Psalm 147:3). If the underlying issue is a sinful attitude, He can show me where I’ve gone wrong, so that I can confess my sin to Him and repent of it.

By digging deeper into what our emotions may be trying to tell us, we can receive God’s comfort or cleansing from sin. Our minds can then use the truths revealed by God to align our emotions closer to Him and His truths.

 

Get our Treasure Right

That said, while emotions are important, it doesn’t mean that we need to be controlled by them. When I was younger, I thought that my emotions would always have a huge hold over my actions. If I felt like doing something, it’d take a lot for me to not do it. I believed that there was nothing I could do to change how I felt.

That is, until one day when God spoke to me through Matthew 6:21: “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” He brought to my attention that the verse didn’t say, “Where your heart is, there your treasure will be also”—which would mean what I love is dependent on how I feel—and if I don’t feel that way, then I can’t make myself love it.

However, what God was saying in the verse was this: what I intentionally choose to value will eventually become what my heart cherishes. This gives me a lot of encouragement because it means that I don’t have to helplessly succumb to the influence of my emotions!

For example, I didn’t use to like to pray or read the Word. But I asked the Lord to help me to want to treasure whatever was upon His heart. So, with God’s help, I began to pray and read the Word as my way of giving value to these things, regardless of whether I felt like doing so or not. Over time, my heart began to follow suit. Today, I love to pray and read the Word much more than I did in the past. Through this, I learned that what I choose to value with my actions can affect what I emotionally treasure in my heart.

There’s something my pastor used to say which I’ve come to experience personally: “When you see as God sees, you will do as God does. But sometimes, you have to do as God says before you can see as He sees.”

When my heart isn’t aligned with what is upon God’s heart, I’m very thankful that He has given me a mind that can lead my heart to prefer His ways. Instead of needing to first feel like I agree with or value what He says before I can obey Him, God showed me that—regardless of what I feel—when I choose to do what He says and lay my treasure where He wants me to, that would help me to see as He sees and so, treasure what He treasures in my heart.

 

Think Right Thoughts to Influence Emotions

And ultimately, we can also influence our emotions by thinking the right thoughts. I’ve heard a quote that goes, “You’re not what you think you are, but what you think, you are.” Another saying explained it this way:

“Watch your thoughts, for they become words.
Watch your words, for they become actions.
Watch your actions, for they become habits.
Watch your habits, for they become character.
Watch your character, for it becomes your destiny.”

This, to me, underlies how our thoughts play a primary role in determining the kind of person we become and life we live. This must be why the Bible instructs us to “take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5).

This helped me to better appreciate why God’s Word exhorts us to think about whatever is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent and praiseworthy (Philippians 4:8)—and nothing is more excellent and praiseworthy than God and His Word, will, and ways. If these are what we think about more, our brains will not only retain them, but these thoughts will also affect our heart, and ultimately, our life.

 

In my desire to love God, I want to love Him with both my heart and my mind. American pastor and theologian Timothy Keller said, “You have a circumcised heart when what you ought to do and what you want to do are the same—pleasure and duty are the same.”

On our journey of letting God circumcise our heart more and more, I’m glad that God has given us ways for our heart and mind to engage each other so that we can love God fully. He is totally worthy of us loving Him with our whole being—because He’s the One who first loved us with all His heart, mind, soul, and strength.

The-Day-I-Compared-My-Mum-to-a-Crow

The Day I Compared My Mum to a Crow

“My mother is like a watchful crow” began the poem I had written as a gift for my mom. I was convinced it would bring her tears of joy—amazed by the exquisite talent of her 7-year old daughter.

In reality, my mom impressively stifled a laugh, then sputtered her appreciation for my little “sonnet”. Somehow, she managed to look past being compared to a crow and focus on the gratitude I was attempting to show for her dependable presence.

In the same way, God looks directly at our hearts (1 Samuel 16:7), and receives the little gifts we offer Him as tokens of infinite worth. While we can’t earn God’s love, no act of service that overflows from a grateful heart will slip by unnoticed.

In this coming year, let’s prayerfully strive to replicate God’s attitude in how we accept others’ presents.

Perhaps you’re getting ready to tackle your list of “thank you” notes, and wondering how you can sincerely express gratitude to Aunt Betty for the hand-croqueted, picture-frame she stitched. I don’t think you can convincingly will your heart to overflow with gratefulness. If you aren’t seeing the appeal of a fuzzy picture-frame, taking on a tone of appreciation probably won’t convince anyone. And, you can be sure of one thing: you aren’t fooling the “Big Man Upstairs”.

So, pray for a change of heart—from one that is focused just on the present, to one freed to see past the temporary items. Shift the focus from the gift to the person who gave it to you. Tell the giver exactly how their presence has impacted you. It doesn’t need to be a dramatic story about how they convinced you to leave the circus and go back to school.

Just be honest, such as: “I love the example you provide me of prioritizing people over activities. You inspire me to do the same, so I’ve really valued the opportunity of getting to know you better this year!” And, in your effort to describe the blessings others bring to your life, take my advice: don’t compare them to a crow.

My mother is like a watchful crow,
She sees your every move.
She knows when you are good or bad,
Or when you are just you.

She’s always there,
Whether you do or don’t need her.
But when it comes time for bed,
You know you’ll always see her.

“Poem” by Laura, age 7