When My Hard Work Amounted to Nothing

I know people who are avid fans of Japanese author Haruki Murakami—his most notable books include Norwegian Wood and 1Q84. But while I don’t understand the extent of their fanaticism, I do see why Murakami’s works are so well-received: he captures the essence of a person’s meaningless drift through life brilliantly.

After all, most of us go through times where we find ourselves thinking of life as a meaningless journey. This could happen when we’re doing or learning something that seems impossible to master, doing work that doesn’t seem to impact anyone, or trying to keep up with difficult friendships and relationships.

If you’ve ever been on an internship, you might identify with the story I’m about to share. Unlike my friends who went through school scouting for internships every summer, I—being the passive person I was—did not. So when a good opportunity in an advertising agency came up when I was in my third year, I decided to take a semester off school and dived into my first working experience.

I remember loving the first month of it. I loved the creative and flexible nature of the work, and the influence, beauty, and wit that a great advertising campaign could have. I loved the fast-paced environment and culture—the fact that people could be themselves unashamedly. I loved my fellow intern, who became a good friend in a matter of days, thanks to hours of talking and working together. I even loved my supervisor, which is probably not a very common thing.

But then there was pitch season, when companies choose the advertising agency they want to work with. It was then that a big part of me died. Advertising pitches in my country work like this: you come up with an entire advertising campaign for a company’s consideration. If they like it, they hire you to do their advertising and give you the money you need to survive another year. If they don’t, you’re forced to ignore the weeks of hard work and sleepless nights you’ve had to endure, and then pretend you’re okay with about 400 hours of good, creative work being dragged into the tiny trash icon on your computer (which most people, obviously, aren’t okay with).

We came into the office daily, only to see our ideas on post-it pads dumped into a bin, our writing deleted, our art trashed, and our hours wasted at the end of each day. I remember a time when my friend and I would come up with (what we thought were) good ideas for the campaign, only to find them all placed on the “unrealistic” and “ineffective” quadrant of an evaluation chart—or in other words, the “bin”.

I felt like a hamster running on an endless wheel (except that hamsters do at least get fit from the workout), and found myself exhausted, disillusioned, and thinking increasingly about the meaning of life. I began to wonder: How many people working in this office and elsewhere found joy, purpose, and satisfaction in whatever it was they were doing? Did they, like me, think that work was futile and everything boiled down to nothing in the end? While I knew that some had found inspiration, happiness, and excitement in this job, my fellow intern and I found happiness only in our hour-long lunch break (and of course, weekends).

While I was thinking about life, God spoke to me through 2 Peter 3:11-12 at a Bible study group that I was attending. The verse said, “ Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming.”

It struck me then that it wasn’t about what I was doing at my job, but about what kind of a life I was living. Was it holy and godly? Was I looking forward to Jesus’ return? Or was I looking for earthly things, such as a fulfilling job to satisfy the craving I had for purpose in life?

Living a holy and godly life while waiting for Jesus’ return doesn’t entail going to church 24/7, or living on a mountaintop in quiet contemplation. It could mean very practical things like pointing a hurting friend to Jesus, refusing to engage in unethical behaviour, or being patient with a younger sibling. For me, I’ve been encouraged by this verse to teach children who come from dysfunctional homes and whose parents don’t have enough to give them a good education. This has taught me to wait for my reward in heaven (because there isn’t any tangible reward now), and to seize the opportunity to do God’s work of pointing others to Him while I still can.

Life is not meaningless if it’s lived in the way that our Creator meant for it to be lived. I now keep this verse on a post-it above my desk as a reminder to myself that all these earthly achievements and pursuits will be destroyed, and to live for something that will last—God’s heavenly kingdom.


Battling Futility in Motherhood

My baby cries. I look at the clock and sigh. Quickly, I finish drying the plate and get him from his cot. Here we go again.

There are some women who have a strong innate calling to motherhood. I was one such woman. I was eager for children and did not make the decision with my husband flippantly.

But when I did become a mother to a little bundle of joy last December, my happy expectations slowly withered away. I learned just how many things will not go my way—especially when sleep is involved.

My baby is a light sleeper who overtires easily, so my goal is to make sure he catches enough sleep. It is an ongoing cycle that never seems to end. But on occasions, when it seems as though I’ve finally cracked the magic code, something new—such as a developmental milestone or a change of surroundings—throws a spanner in the works. All my effort goes down the drain, and the struggle to get my baby to sleep becomes mentally defeating and tinged with tears.

I know that caring for a baby is tough, comprising days of unfinished plans and nights of interrupted sleep. I was ready for that. But I wasn’t ready for the sense of futility that came with it. Overcome by exhaustion and frustration, I lost sight of the call of motherhood that had shone so brightly months earlier. I found myself asking, “What is the point when I fail every day?”

The thing is, I know the general purpose of parenting. I know that we are to “start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it” (Prov. 22:6). A good book on parenting I read said that parents are to demonstrate the gospel to little ones. But at this stage of babyhood, I need a purpose more specific than that to anchor me down. How am I supposed to share the gospel to a baby who’s only just started babbling?

I prayed for a light bulb moment. Instead God answered me in a whisper of a thought from 1 John 3:16, “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.” God revealed that my purpose this season is to demonstrate—and to grow in—selfless love.

I understand now that through parenting, I am to learn what it means to love unconditionally. There is nothing my son can do for me in return for all my efforts. Sometimes it even feels as though he’s making it harder.

But that’s not all. Now that I have a child, I am responsible for this person for the rest of my life—or at least until he becomes an adult. That means no giving up. No surrendering. It teaches me how to live out the second commandment to love others as myself. I had thought that marriage teaches that, but parenthood brings it up a notch. It’s really learning to give of myself, my time, nourishment, and words—to give my best essentially—because this little human deserves nothing less.

It’s amazing how one’s attitude can change the minute one has a clear purpose. I still face the daily challenge of making sure my son sleeps enough. Yes, I’m still tired and still fail. My son is still a light sleeper. But I don’t feel bitter about it anymore. Purpose has helped me find peace, nurture patience, and practice grace through the little acts of feeding, playing with and comforting my child.

There are various dimensions to the role and purpose of motherhood. But to me, the one that sums it up the best is this: To love selflessly in its fullest. And that is how I can demonstrate the gospel to my baby.


5 Humbling Lessons I’ve Learned As a New Mom

As I’m writing this article, my 3½-month-old baby is stretching in her rocker and “talking” to herself. It amazes me how much she has grown in these past months—from a wrinkly, frowning newborn to a chubby, still frowning baby.

Clichéd as this may sound, I’ve grown too.

These past few months of motherhood have not been easy, to say the least. I thought I was all prepared for it, but as it turned out, nothing could prepare me for what child-rearing would bring. I was constantly overwhelmed and found myself muttering prayers under my breath whenever things got too crazy.

Although I am feeling less overwhelmed now, the prayers have not lessened. Looking back, there were five experiences which stood out for me as a new mom.


1. I did not feel the waves of maternal love.

Before the delivery, I saw countless posts on social media by blogger moms oozing with maternal pride and love. When it came to my turn, I was eagerly waiting to feel the same way too. But the moment my baby was born, I found myself busy wondering why she seemed to have a bruise on her forehead and figuring out whom she resembled more (and of course, after being in my body 10 months, she had to look like my husband). Even in the weeks after her birth, I kept waiting to feel the heart-bursting love for my baby . . . but I didn’t.

Motherhood brings a jumble of emotions. I’ve felt frustrated and even resentful many times in the past few months. Please don’t misunderstand me: Though I didn’t feel ecstatic about my baby’s arrival, there were definitely moments of joy too. However, it was difficult to pinpoint the exact emotion I felt at any given time, so that made it hard to identify with the feelings shared by the blogger moms.


2. I felt resentful towards my child.

I know babies cry, but my baby cries a lot—especially at night. In the early days, she would scream for at least five hours before falling asleep. I pored over books which diagnosed her as having colic, or just needing to expend energy before she sleeps. I tried all the methods recommended to put her to sleep, but all to no avail. This left me feeling physically and mentally exhausted, frustrated, and even resentful at times.

I have lost count of the number of times I have broken down and asked God why my baby behaves this way. However, He reminded (and continues to remind) me that my baby is completely dependent on me for what she needs—milk and comfort—so I should not deprive her of it just because of my own selfish desires.


3. I needed to have some “me-time”.

The first time I went out by myself after the birth of my baby was sheer bliss. It was a short trip to the city to pick up some things for her, but it was all that I needed to be refreshed. However, I must admit that I was plagued by “mom guilt” during my “me-time”. I felt guilty for leaving my baby behind to get back some of my sanity. I felt guilty for feeling that I was entitled to that time alone.

On hindsight, I realized that the “me-time” helped me to be a better mom to my baby. I just needed to get away from the routine and confines of my home for a while, but the benefits that it brought lasted for a long time.


4. I learned that post-natal depression is real.

I read about post-natal depression when I was still pregnant, and to be honest, I thought that it would never happen to me—until I realized that I was experiencing more than the usual “baby blues” after my baby was born.

I am not sure if it was because my baby was fussier than the average baby, but I realized that I had started to become fearful of night time. It got to a point where I would start to have irrational fears during the night, and become so anxious that I would not be able to fall asleep.

By God’s grace, the frequency of these feelings has since lessened. But it still happens from time to time. I am constantly reminded to commit my worries to the Lord, for He is my “refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble” (Psalm 46:1).


5. I learned that it truly takes a village to raise a child.

I am thankful for the help and support that my husband and family gave me in the first few months after my baby’s arrival. Before the delivery, I naively thought that I could handle the baby on my own. But everything was foreign to me, and I found the learning curve extremely steep. It wasn’t long before I was welcoming any help that I could get.

Now that I’m back at work, my baby is being cared for primarily by my mom, with my aunts helping out from time to time. When my mom heard that I was expecting, she had made plans to quit her job just so that she would be available to care for my baby when I headed back to work. Words cannot express how grateful I am for the way my mother selflessly put her entire life on hold just to help me out.

As I reflect on these past months, I am encouraged by the hearts of my mother and my aunts who willingly sacrificed their time and comfort for us. Their actions remind me of the woman described in Proverbs 31:25-30: She is clothed with strength and dignity; she can laugh at the days to come. She speaks with wisdom, and faithful instruction is on her tongue. She watches over the affairs of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness. Her children arise and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her: ‘Many women do noble things, but you surpass them all.’ Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised.”


This Mother’s Day, I am thankful for my mom and my aunts who play a “mothering” role in my life. They have shown me what it means to be joyful in the midst of suffering and to be obedient stewards of their households.

On this day, it is my prayer that God will use and mold me in my new role as a mother, as I strive to live my life as a reflection of what the Bible describes in Proverbs 31.


Why I’m Not Pursuing Gay Relationships Anymore

It was past midnight. I was with the guy I had liked for more than a year. We had just left a gay bar and, for some reason, started to talk about Christianity and homosexuality.

We were both Christians, but he and I held different views on this matter. He believed that it was not compatible with Christianity to act on gay desires, while I was convinced that God would bless same-sex relationships between Christians.

This wasn’t the first time we had talked about this. Every time we broached this topic, we’d disagree sharply with each other. I’d argue that since being gay wasn’t a choice, God surely would not forbid us from acting on what was natural to us. He’d contend that the Bible was very clear that homosexual behavior was sinful and not part of God’s will.

In the thick of our disagreement that night, God planted this thought in my head: “Your belief that Christianity is compatible with homosexuality is based on the borrowed arguments of others who hold such convictions. Why don’t you look into this matter for yourself and come to your own conclusions? Besides, if this is true, what do you have to lose?”

Until that moment, I’d been unreservedly gay-affirming. I was 13 when I realized I experienced gay desires. When I was 17, I went onto the Internet to find out what Christianity had to say about homosexuality. I came across and accepted many arguments that interpreted Scripture in a way that condoned the pursuit of gay desires in a loving relationship. So when I started to look for romantic love, I did just that—I sought a loving, committed, and monogamous gay relationship.

But when God prompted me to pursue the truth on homosexuality, I decided that I would conduct an intellectually honest inquiry. So, from 2008 onwards, I began to look at arguments on why homosexuality wasn’t aligned with God’s will, even though I didn’t agree with them at that point. I also figured that I ought not to get into a gay relationship as well, since that would compromise the integrity of my quest.

Over the next seven years, even as I examined arguments in favor of the traditional reading of Scripture on homosexuality, I remained largely gay-affirming and was actively looking for a gay relationship. In spite of that, God led me on a journey in which He showed me His heart on the matter and the beauty of His design for my sexuality.


Discovering Loopholes

As I re-examined the arguments that said Scripture permitted loving gay relationships, I found that they weren’t as convincing as I had initially thought when I first came across them. I discovered many loopholes in those claims. Besides being built on presuppositions that remained to be tested, there were leaps of logic that begged further questions, and the isolation of biblical verses from their proper context.

The more I read, the more I realized these arguments were not watertight and the more I started to ask questions such as: If homosexuality is so good, why did God forbid homosexual behavior so consistently all throughout the Bible, in the Old and New Testaments? Why did He not clearly hold up committed gay relationships as something to be aspired toward, just as He did with committed heterosexual marriages? If gay relationships are part of God’s will, why couldn’t He have made gay people with sexual parts that complemented each other? What am I to do if it’s indeed wrong to act on my gay desires, even if it’s out of love? How else would I find love?

At the heart of my grappling, I had to address core questions of surrender and trust: Am I just holding on tightly to my own views out of fear or pride? Am I really open to seeking out and believing what God has to say about homosexuality? If His will is indeed different from mine, am I willing to trust Him to provide for me in His ways?


The Beauty of God’s Design for Marriage

As I began to move away from gay-affirming theology, God used numerous occasions to solidify the conviction in my heart that homosexuality was not aligned to His will. One of these decisive moments was when He opened my eyes to the beautiful design of heterosexual marriage.

By this point, God had already led me to understand how the key differences between men and women led to a harmonious complementarity between the two sexes. So when He showed me that human marriage between a man and a woman was a powerful, compelling picture of the divine, complementary marriage between Jesus and the Church, it made sense to me.

I learned that marriage is meant to be a beautiful, lasting, and holy covenant in which the husband lays down his life for his wife—just as Christ sacrificially laid Himself down for the Church, His Bride—and the wife submits to her husband’s loving headship—just as the Church is called to pour herself out in willing submission to Christ, her Bridegroom and Head (Ephesians 5:22-33).

I saw that the Word of God consistently referred to Jesus as the Bridegroom (male) (Mark 2:19-20, John 3:29) and the Church as His Bride (female) (Matthew 25:1-13, Revelation 21:2; 9-10), and that the consummation of history was described as the Wedding Feast of the Lamb of God (Revelation 19:9). This sealed the conviction in my heart that God has created us male and female for very good reasons (Genesis 5:2). One of them is that He intends for marriage to be a union between a man and a woman so that the marital covenant can be lived out as a profound sacrament that embodies and expresses to the world the way Jesus loves the Church and the way the Church loves Jesus.

I remember having tears in my eyes when I learned this truth that day. Firstly, I was very moved by the beauty of God’s design for marriage and how it displayed the glory of Jesus’ covenantal love with His Church. Secondly, I knew that this truth meant that acting on my gay desires did not glorify God and it demanded a reorientation of my life.  


Understanding the Underlying Issues

That was how God convinced me on the theological and intellectual fronts. What He did next was to address my emotional concerns.

Throughout my gay-affirming years, I had firmly believed that being gay was a natural part of who I was and that I was born gay. Then God helped me to become aware of the issues that likely led to me having same-sex attraction.

The Lord showed me that all my life, I’d longed for my father to give me more attention, affirmation, and affection. Though my father did the best he could and I’m thankful for him, he could only give me the kind of love he had received from his own father. There were also other reasons why I didn’t perceive and receive his love very well when I was growing up.

In primary school, I constantly wished that someone would show me the ropes and how to be a guy. And throughout my secondary school years, I struggled with not fitting in with the rest of the boys in my class. I neither felt secure in my identity as a boy nor did I feel like I belonged with the guys.

I’m now aware that it was not a coincidence that it was also in secondary school that I started to have crushes on my male classmates. My longing for the attention and affection of my father, coupled with my desire to have for myself the masculine traits of other guys, turned into a romantic longing to have the attention and affection of desirable guys. It became what I began to experience as same-sex attraction.

When God surfaced these underlying issues, He led me to understand that my same-sex desires was not a natural, innate part of who I was. Rather, it was a symptom of deeper issues I needed to address.

I realized then that the way forward was not to keep looking for a gay relationship to try to meet these needs, but rather, to meet these needs in healthy ways—in the ways that they should be met. I also needed to seek healing for these wounds, so that God could build up in me what had been lacking for years.

As I came across the life stories of others with same-sex desires, the issues they faced were similar to the ones I dealt with. And I knew that if I were to act on my gay desires with someone else, I would not only be deepening my own wounds, but I’d also have a hand in deepening the wounds of my romantic or sexual partner. It’s like two people feeding each other sand in an attempt to sate their hunger, when their real need is for food that truly nourishes and satisfies. Not only does the sand not fill their hunger, it’d further bring ill health to their bodies, and misdirect and ruin their actual appetites for food.


A Life-changing Journey

Needless to say, those seven years of searching and researching were life-changing. Although I started out being gay-affirming and had no interest whatsoever in changing my stand on homosexuality, the Holy Spirit planted and deepened the conviction in my heart over the years about God’s wonderful design for my sexuality.

Though my heart was often unwilling to accept what I had read, I found myself gradually giving intellectual assent to what was written and, eventually, realizing that these words were true because there was a deep witness in my spirit. The Bible says that the Holy Spirit is “the Spirit of truth [who] leads [us] into all truth” (John 16:13).

That night, when God challenged me to look into this matter, He asked me, “If this is true, what do you have to lose?” Well, I lost my right to hold on to what I would prefer to be true and a way of living for myself that would have felt so much easier. But I gained a deeper trust in God, knowing that because He is who He says He is, His loving and righteous ways are much better than mine. And I gained a way of dying to myself that led to God’s truth, healing, and abundant life—to true, lasting happiness (John 12:24-26).

So today, even though I still experience same-sex attraction, I’m no longer pursuing gay relationships because I want to pursue a loving relationship with God, who first pursued and loved me.