Why I Abandoned My Bullet Journal

Photo by Lynn Tran

Written By Sam Ly, Singapore

In recent years, bullet journaling has taken the world (or at least my friends and me) by storm. The concept is simple. You use just one book for everything—scheduling appointments, recording tasks, journaling, drawing, you name it. There is a basic standard template to help you get started, but you’re basically free to customize it according to your own lifestyle.

If you’re wondering how the name came about, it’s because it involves writing down everyday plans and events in the form of bulleted lists.

As someone who has a weekly scheduler along with seven other journals for other things (expenses, dreams I remember, thoughts from quiet time with God, etc.), the concept of bullet journaling was enticing. Finally, I could combine everything into one!

That’s when I realized it wasn’t so simple in practice. Because bullet journaling involves starting with an empty notebook, one needs to create everything from scratch. Search “plan with me” on YouTube and you will see the sheer amount of effort it takes to create each month’s calendar and weekly spaces, which includes writing neatly and drawing amazing illustrations.

As it turned out, I ended up spending a lot of time researching and watching videos on how to create my bullet journal and spending money on materials I “needed” for it. Instead of spending time to do the things I wrote down, I was spending time decorating my bullet journal and fussing over my messy lines and ugly attempts at hand-lettering.

That’s when it dawned on me: this was happening in my Christian life too—I was letting the “good to haves” drown out what I really needed.

There are a lot of things a “good Christian” is supposed to have, which are present in my life. Perhaps you have them all too—cell group, youth ministry, church on Sundays, prayer group in school, volunteering at a para-church organization that reaches out to youth etc. While these are all good things to help me grow in the knowledge of God and relationship with other brothers and sisters-in-Christ, it reached a point where I started to miss the big picture: God himself.

I knew something was wrong when I would tell myself I had no time to sit down to read His word and pray because I was too busy preparing for the next Bible study I had to teach, too busy trying to coordinate and plan for my portion in ministry, too busy with “Christian things”. How was it that I was too busy for the very God I told others to trust and obey?

I realized the answer to this was simple: I had said “yes” to too many things without realizing that I had limited time and energy. Instead of guarding my time with God, I packed my schedule to the brim thinking it would work out in the end because I was doing all these in His name. As I struggled to fulfil all my commitments as well as my responsibilities as a student, I began to drown in all the work I had to do.

I know that the Lord can use difficult and trying times to reveal to me that His grace is sufficient for me, for His power is made perfect in weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9). I also know that the testing of our faith through trials produces steadfastness (James 1:2-3). But I also learned that I need to be discerning and wise in the way I manage my time and energy.

God does not need us to embellish and pack our lives to the brim to prove that we are His faithful servants. Friends, God loves us as His children—our identities are secure in Christ alone, and we are much more than ministry machines. When we abide in Him and He in us, we will naturally bear fruit and so prove that we are His disciples (John 15:4-11).

I am still learning to be a wise steward of my time and energy. While I remember to discharge the duties of my ministry (2 Timothy 4:5), I must also remember to watch my life closely (1 Timothy 4:16). Instead of embellishing my schedule with many good things that call for my attention, I have peace in my heart to say no to some of these, if they come at the expense of my own relationship with God.

Pornography: You Can Break Free

Written By Stacy Joy, USA

October 3, 2012, is a day my husband Andrew and I will never forget. On the same day every year, we dress up, go out to a fancy restaurant, and celebrate a unique anniversary: Andrew’s freedom from the chains of almost two decades of addiction to pornography.

You heard that right—freedom is possible, friends. But breaking free from the enticement of pornography truly is a war. I’ve heard counselors say that it is harder to break free from pornography than cocaine.

Andrew’s complete break came after four years of struggle. He had turned to mentors for support, installed programs on his computer to block websites, and tried everything he could to end his addiction.

One of his biggest motivating factors to end his addiction was our relationship. We were dating at the time and it dawned on him how much pornography already had and would continue to damage me as well as the marriage we were planning to pursue together. I know he truly hated all the pain it caused me: I was deeply concerned that my future spouse would compare me physically and sexually to the images he had ingrained in his mind for years, and his addiction had also planted seeds of distrust within me—I wasn’t sure if he would be able to keep his eyes from wandering when I was absent, or even when I was around. I sought much counsel on whether we should continue to pursue marriage or put the brakes on our relationship.

I praise God that Andrew was eventually able to stop—and it was only truly because the Lord enabled him to do so. There’s no other way to explain how he managed the seemingly impossible. He is now a pastor and has been able to speak into the lives of many surrounding us regarding his previous struggles, encouraging them that they, too, can have victory.

I know that Andrew’s story of struggle is not rare. The use of pornography is prolific. We may think that it affects adult men only, but it is in fact a struggle for both men and women—one-third of visitors to pornographic sites are women—and an even higher number are younger people. Studies show that the largest consumer base of online pornography is made up of 12 to 17-year olds.

Another heart-breaking reality is that Christians are no less susceptible: Nearly half of all Christian households face a severe problem with pornography.

As a pastor’s wife and counselor-in-training, I have counseled many people regarding their struggle with pornography; all of them, without exception, were exposed to it before the age of 10.

But am I being a bit too rigid? What’s so bad about pornography? you may be thinking. After all, sexuality is a beautiful gift that was fashioned by God himself. Isn’t it a part of His perfect creation that the Bible describes as a gift to be cherished? Yes, absolutely! But there are also many warnings in Scripture regarding the abuse of sexuality. Ephesians 5:3 warns us to not even have “a hint” of sexual immorality in our lives, while 1 Thessalonians 4:3 warns that sexual immorality will affect a believer’s sanctification, as it will hinder our ability to grow into the likeness of Jesus. Since we are to glorify God with our lives, we need to take the sin of pornography seriously.

As my husband and I counsel and meet with many couples and young adults, we’ve observed (and research confirms) that the use of pornography lies at the root of well over half of failed marriages. Some studies have also said that it increases the chances of infidelity by three times, and I would venture to guess that this is because of the insatiable desire that pornography creates. Users always want more—more options, more danger, more of the forbidden, more body types, etc. Having a lifelong partner in marriage is a gift from God, but pornography affects the ability of a person to see that gift as precious and “enough”.

How does one begin breaking the hold of pornography on his or her life? Any attempt to break this bondage has to begin with a heart fully surrendered to Christ, ready to obey no matter what the cost.

In an article about fighting the temptation of pornography, Christian counselor Ed Welch notes, “Power doesn’t come from mere knowledge; it comes as we grow in the knowledge of God and respond to him with obedient trust. It comes only as we discover that in God’s presence—not from what the world or fleshly pleasure can offer—do we find fullness of joy and pleasures that never lose their capacity to satisfy (Ps. 16:11).” We must trust God that what He has to offer is more glorious and fulfilling than anything the world has to offer—including pornography.

Another step we must take is to share our deepest struggles with someone we trust, for both accountability and support. Welch explains the importance of community in this battle: “We could easily argue our sin is private, it’s against God, and it should be handled privately. But if we easily confess to God yet refuse to confess to others, the authenticity of our confession is suspect. Openness is a way we can avoid being tricked by new justifications.”

If you’re struggling with some type of sexual addiction, find someone who will hold you accountable—not the type of person who pats you on the back because you “only looked twice this week instead of five times”, but someone who cares enough about you to ask you the hard questions.

I have talked to people I dearly love who speak of going to bed for years crying out to God to help, but hearing no answer. Their despair leads them deeper and deeper into depression, and they believe that they will never be able to have a fulfilling, God-glorifying marriage or life. By God’s grace, they have since broken free from the addiction and are now thriving in godly marriages and are intentionally helping others who struggle. Satan wants you to believe that deliverance is never going to be within your reach. Do not let the lies of the enemy win the battle of pornography in your life. Do not give up hope—for we serve the Almighty God, who created the Heavens and Earth, for whom nothing is impossible (Luke 1:37).

The beauty that could await you someday within your current marriage, in a future marriage if you are single, or in joy and peace within obedience as a single, is tangible and available. Having been married for almost four years now, I can honestly and happily say that we have never had a more content, fun and satisfying sex life. Praise to our God of redemption!

I pray that you too will soon have a day to look back on and celebrate, just as Andrew and I do. Be vigilant in this war and always remember that you can boldly come to Jesus’ throne of grace, knowing you will receive mercy and find grace in times of need (Heb 4:16).

Why I Went on a Social Media Fast

Written by Phyllis J.en, Singapore

About two years ago, I decided to delete or deactivate most of my social media accounts for a while. Things remained that way for the next six to nine months.

It took much thinking and hesitation before I was able to bring myself to do it. “Can I live without it?” “How do I contact people?” “How will people take it?” After all, social media had become a big part of my life.

But there were two main reasons that propelled me to do so. First, I wanted to go offline to reconnect with people face to face. Social media had affected the way I treated and viewed people. I wasn’t being loving or intentional in my relationships with people. During meal times, I would rather text or scroll through my social media newsfeeds than talk to people and get to know them personally. I found their timelines and posts more interesting than their actual persons.

Secondly, and more importantly, I realized that social media had become an idol in my life. Whenever I did my daily devotion, I would keep glancing at my phone, unable to concentrate on what I was reading or writing. And whenever my phone alerted me with notifications, I would put the Bible aside to check them. It was scary—I couldn’t seem to be able to restrain myself: I had to check my phone immediately. I felt like I had to reply immediately even when it wasn’t about something urgent.

In fact, it was an incident of this nature that was the straw that broke the camel’s back. One day, I got really angry when a friend I messaged did not reply me quickly enough. When I cooled down and reflected on my reaction, I realized that it was irrational and showed how emotionally dependent I had become on social media.

But I didn’t delete or deactivate my apps all at once. What I did was to delete apps that didn’t really matter to me first. Snapchat was the first to go. Next was Instagram, followed by Facebook. The last to be deleted was WhatsApp, which I was the most reliant on, as I used it the most often to contact my friends and disseminate information—I was a subject representative in school and had convey information from my teacher to the rest of the class.

Initially when I “lost” everything but WhatsApp, the loss didn’t feel so apparent. It was only when my WhatsApp was gone that I felt the impact fully. Deleting WhatsApp was the most painful and difficult thing to do, partly due to my dependence on it, and partly due to how people reacted when I told them about my plans.

“Are you crazy?” some said. “That’s so drastic!” “Why must you be so extreme? Don’t you know that’s going to cause a lot of inconvenience to people around you when they want to contact and connect with you?”

But a few affirmed my decision, calling it a “wise” one.

I was hurt by some of the comments. But being the stubborn person I was, I decided to carry on with it. What I wasn’t prepared for, however, was how lost and empty I felt. The sudden silence and disconnect was disconcerting. I didn’t know what to do. I found myself checking my phone often—even though I knew that there would be no messages. I even contemplated downloading the app again. I was more addicted to it than I thought.

Although being offline changed my lifestyle a lot, it did not automatically change my mindset. The vacuum created by the loss of social media was filled by other forms of entertainment. K-drama, anyone? I watched so much K-drama that I got tired of it. Then, slowly, I started to spend time reading the Bible and praying. And that’s when I came to the realization that only God can satisfy. None of the other things could fill the emptiness in me.

Deleting my apps also made me realize how much time and energy I had been wasting. With the amount of energy and time spent on social media, I could have been doing more important things such as evangelism, meeting, and praying for others. Going offline made me more intentional about the relationships around me, and improved my spiritual walk. It made me realize that I had not been fixing my eyes on God’s kingdom.

The other thing I learned was about my over-dependence on people. Prior to the “loss”, I would turn to my friends and family for help and advice every time I faced a crisis—and not the Bible. As for prayer, it was usually an afterthought. Don’t get me wrong, turning to friends and family for advice is not a bad thing. They just shouldn’t be the first people we turn to.

So I am really thankful that through this social media fast, God helped me learn how to depend and listen more to Him.

Although I’ve since reactivated my Facebook account and reinstalled WhatsApp, these platforms don’t appeal to me as much as they used to. In fact, I send mostly text messages to my friends; WhatsApp is reserved for those friends who I know have limited number of text messages they can send out every month.

But even though the temptation is not as strong these days, addiction in any form will always be an ongoing struggle. What I find very helpful is to keep praying and asking God for wisdom and depending on Him daily. Also, having an accountability partner helps!

Sharenting: The Good, The Bad And The Ugly

You must have seen it: Parents sharing photos, updates, and other information about their children on social media platforms.

It’s a practice known as “sharenting” (a portmanteau of the word “share” and “parenting”). The word even made it to the Collins English Dictionary in 2016.

I’m one of those “sharenting” parents and my journey began on my blog. You see, it was lonely spending hours alone at home with an infant who could not yet interact with me, so writing became an outlet for the emotions I was experiencing. I would pour out my woes about motherhood and people would comment, give suggestions, or write personal messages. That encouraged me greatly in the first few weeks of becoming a parent two years ago.

Then it evolved into a convenient way of documenting my daughter’s growing up years. I began to post monthly updates of her physical progress, significant milestones, our outdoor adventures, and so on. Before long, the readership grew and readers began to request posts about specific parenting topics. These ranged from what books we read for bedtime, to how we prepared her meals and what we did on holidays etc.

But soon, I experienced the downside to “sharenting”. On one occasion, while we were at the supermarket doing our weekly grocery run, a stranger came up to us, called my daughter by name, and then proceeded to try and carry her. Shocked, I quickly and courteously declined her request. The lady insisted she knew us and revealed that she was a follower of my blog and an ardent fan of my daughter, who was then barely a year old.

Despite that rather unsettling incident, I continue the practice of “sharenting”—now slightly wiser and a whole lot more careful. For one, I no longer put up my child’s personal information on a public sphere. I am also selective about whom I allow access to my blog, as far as possible.

After speaking with a handful of fellow blogging mums, I’ve come up with a few guidelines for myself which I now also try to reflect in my posts.

 

1. Keep it recent

I try to write about events within the same month, week, or day, if I’m able. The memory of the event might get fuzzy and the sharing inaccurate if I take too long to record what happened. The experience ought to be recorded fresh, such that authentic emotions, expressions, and so on are reflected.

 

2. Never shame your child

Naked baby photos, embarrassing birthday party surprises, and falls are fun to record, but these ought to be for personal consumption alone. Let us remember that like us, our kids will one day grow up and would want their privacy and integrity intact.

 

3. Spend more time offline

In this day and age, it is so easy to be caught up in the digital world. You plan to upload one photograph, but you end up scrolling your newsfeed and tapping on various links. And before you know it, a whole hour has passed. I know it because it happened to me too.

Let’s take great care to protect our time with our children, because that time is precious. While capturing moments on camera is important, your child would rather you go through the experience with them, rather than just having a pretty snapshot of himself/herself. Be with them in the moment and you won’t regret it later.

 

The greatest takeaway for me in my “digital” parenting journey so far has been having like-minded parents to interact with—fellow Christian mums whom I liken to allies in this battle to raise a generation of selfless (rather than entitled) individuals living for the cause of the Kingdom of Heaven. Young mums who share my struggles and older, more experienced mums who empathize with me and give me valuable advice.

I may not profess my Christian beliefs explicitly on social media, but I’d like to believe every choice and every parenting “theory” I share is centered on God’s love for me.