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Are We Really #Blessed?

Written By Eudora Chuah, Singapore

Recently, I was intrigued to learn that one of the hashtags that took social media by storm in the past few years wasn’t a new concept—or new word, for that matter. It was the word “blessed”.

A quick scroll through Instagram will show at least 72 million posts tagged with #blessed. They cover a variety of things, from prized possessions and luxurious holiday destinations to pictures of friends and family. They’re also commonly used with an image of an inspiring quote, some from the Bible.

Although I have not personally used the hashtag on social media, I’ve found myself using the word in my conversations—sometimes quite casually. For instance, I tend to say, “I’ve been blessed to be able to know certain people, do certain things, or have certain opportunities”.

So what’s the big deal? you may be thinking. Well, here’s why: More often than not, blessed does not mean what we think it does.

As Christians, we use this word all the time—and certainly not only where possessions or wealth are concerned. But it may be surprising to note that even in a secular context, the word “blessed” is not defined as being materially well-to-do or privileged. In fact, the Oxford dictionary defines “blessed” as “being made holy, consecrated”, or “to be endowed with divine favour or protection”. Other dictionary definitions of the word include “bringing happiness and thankfulness”, or being “worthy of reverence or worship”.

It was interesting to read several news columnists voicing their displeasure at the use of #blessed. These writers observed that overuse of the word has stripped it of its meaning. To them, using the hashtag actually disguises an attempt to humble-brag—to promote oneself rather than express genuine gratitude for what one has.

What, then, does the Bible say about being “#blessed”? Ephesians 1:3 (ESV) tells us that we have been given “every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places”. One might wonder if this suggests that God has promised us material possessions such as holidays and prized possessions, or the assurance of good friends and a loving family. Yet, while these may indeed be good gifts from a loving God (Matthew 7:11, James 1:17, Luke 11:13), they are certainly not what the Bible has in mind when discussing “every spiritual blessing”.

How do we know this? Just after Paul talks about it in Ephesians 1:3 (ESV), he immediately explains that we are blessed because we are chosen before the foundation of the world (v. 4) and redeemed from judgment of our sin (v. 7). After God has redeemed us from judgment, He reunites all things in Christ. This is seen in the establishment of the church, made up of both Jews and Gentiles (v. 10). Lastly, we are blessed because we are sealed with the promise of the Holy Spirit (v. 13). God gives us these blessings “to the praise of His glory”—in other words, that He may be glorified in giving us these blessings.

How should we respond? For me, it’s about recognizing that being “blessed” is a status God the Father gives us because of what He has accomplished through His Son. Our focus should not be on the benefits we receive. Instead, in knowing that God alone is the author of our faith, our rightful response should be to ascribe greatness to Him—to take delight in God Himself and not just in His gifts.

Personally, this gives me great comfort and hope, because I know that being #blessed remains true regardless of circumstances and what I have done.

It is my desire that God will remind me of this truth constantly, that I may learn to be content with what I have—knowing that being #blessed has nothing to do with material wealth, but everything to do with having received the greatest gift of God Himself.

It’s Not Over after a Miscarriage

Written By Eudora Chuah, Singapore

Earlier this year, a couple whom I was close to shared with me that they were expecting another addition to their family. The wife was six weeks’ pregnant. Knowing how much they loved children, I was happy for them.

But there was a problem. The doctor had told them that there was a high chance that there would be a miscarriage, as the baby’s heartbeat was faint. It was matter of “when” rather than “if”, they were told.

I was informed of the tragic news six weeks later. My friend had suffered some bleeding and after a trip to the hospital, it was all over.

Some might view the incident as an unfortunate but random “pregnancy loss”. But the gospel explains why such tragic losses occur: physical death happens as a result of sin and gives us a glimpse of the pain and separation caused by spiritual death.

Faced with the pain death brings, grieving is natural. Christians can and should grieve. Yet, we know death is not the end. As believers, we grieve with hope in Jesus.

And that’s exactly what the couple believed and did. Later, they shared with some of us that they had bought a small tree to remember their unborn child, whom they had named “Star of Bethlehem”. It served to remind them of God’s kindness to them through Jesus, the baby whose arrival saved the world.

The pain and suffering my friends faced because of the miscarriage will not be the end of their story. When Jesus returns, He will wipe away every tear from our eyes. We will live in a world without death, mourning, crying, or pain, as these will pass away (Revelation 21:4). Knowing that things will be made right can help us find joy amid the anguish that miscarriage and death bring.

Responding to a miscarriage
When my friend suffered the miscarriage, I didn’t know the right words to say. So I decided to offer practical help: helping with the laundry, and buying her other children ice cream.

Having been through such an experience, I’ve been thinking about how we as a community of believers can support those who go through such trying experiences.

1. Grieve with the parents

Be a listening ear and be ready to grieve and cry with them. Although we may not understand how they really feel, we can support them emotionally and reminding them that they have a community who care about them.

2. Make or buy something to remember the baby

My friends bought a plant to remember their baby. This is one way that we can honor and mark his or her short, but precious, life.

3. Be sensitive to the feelings of those who have miscarried

When the miscarriage happened, I was encouraged to see mutual friends—who had just had their own babies not long before—try to be as sensitive and careful as possible in their words and actions towards the couple.

4. Be careful not to say well-intentioned but hurtful things

Telling friends who have miscarried to adopt, or to remind them of the other children they have, or to try again may be well-intentioned but inappropriate. Having existing children neither negates their loss nor makes it easier to bear. In the moment, they don’t want another baby; they want the one they had.

The truth is that there is not much we can do to help in times of such devastating loss. But we can certainly learn to be more sensitive towards friends who suffer a miscarriage. May God grant us the wisdom to know how to respond in the most loving way.

How Should the Church Respond to Health Disorders?

Written By Eudora Chuah, Singapore

Clare* sat up in bed, half an hour past her bedtime. “What’s wrong?” her mother asked, as the 10-year-old proceeded to dash out of her room.

I don’t know. I think I need to check my school bag again. What if I forget to bring something to school tomorrow?” she wailed, evidently distressed. Despite her mother’s attempts to reassure her, Clare’s panic did not fade. “I know I checked—but what if I missed something out?”

Fast forward to the present. Clare is now a teacher in her 20s. These days, she finds herself re-reading her lesson plan submissions over and over again to ensure they are impeccable. Despite that, she is hardly ever satisfied with the finished product. It’s the same when it comes to how she conducts herself. After any parent-teacher meeting, she would wonder, “What if I didn’t conduct myself professionally enough?” Other times, she finds herself questioning, “What if I didn’t give that parent a satisfactory reply to her email?

But unlike the past, Clare knows exactly why she’s behaving this way. A couple of years ago, she was diagnosed with an anxiety disorder. This involves the constant fear of the worst possible scenario happening, even when the fear is irrational.

Initially, the diagnosis was difficult for Clare, a second-generation Christian, to accept. It caused her to question her faith. Christians aren’t worrywarts, she often thought to herself. So was her constant worrying due to her lack of faith?

Well-meaning friends whom Clare confided in about her struggles occasionally quoted Jeremiah 29:11 to assure her of God’s providence and the resulting peace that comes from knowing God is in control. While she tried to take comfort in those words, she couldn’t help but feel that the one-liner “solution” for anxiety was too simplistic. This was especially because God’s peace often felt elusive to her.

It was only on closer reading of the full chapter that Clare realized her initial understanding of the verse was inaccurate. The promise to “prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” had been given to the Israelites who were in exile. They had to experience 70 years of exile and wandering before God delivered them from their enemies (Jeremiah 29:10). That put an entirely new spin on the passage for Clare. Clare recognized that God wanted her to cling on to hope of His ultimate deliverance in the midst of her struggle and press on in her walk with Him, just as the wandering Israelites did.

Later on, Clare also read and was encouraged by the stories of men of faith who were used mightily by God despite their struggles with mental health issues. William Cowper, a poet and hymn writer, experienced four episodes of paralyzing depression throughout his life. Yet, his perseverance in the faith despite his anguished circumstances is captured in one of his best known hymns, “God Moves in a Mysterious Way”.

Knowing Clare’s story and journeying with her has got me thinking about how we, as a community of believers, should respond to the topic of mental health issues. And here are some helpful ways I’ve thought of:

1. Be open to talk about mental health issues within the Christian community.

If the church does not act as a safe space for people to express themselves regarding mental health struggles, it creates the impression that depression and anxiety are bad or wrong. In turn, this could lead the believer with mental health struggles to perceive that something is wrong with his or her faith.

2. Accept “secular help” where necessary.

God intervenes through human agents. These could be doctors and therapists with necessary expertise to assist depressed or anxious people back to mental wellness. Medicine and therapy can, and should, be an integral part of recovery, as deemed appropriate by the medical team.

3. Accompany a loved one or friend to their first appointment.

Clare was very appreciative of her cell group leader who accompanied her to her first appointment. Though it may have been a small gesture, it spoke volumes because it validated the struggle she faced, which could strike anyone.

4. Invite Christian speakers to share about mental health issues within the church.

Clare attended a talk about depression last year, and saw how it helped the audience have a better understanding of how depression impacts the sufferer and his or her loved ones.

5. Be empathetic towards those who struggle.

This could be as simple as inviting friends who struggle with such disorders to church activities—and to be understanding, should the individual decline the invitation or decide to leave halfway through the event.

Let’s be a community that provides both spiritual and practical support to those among us who are facing these problems!

 

*not her real name

When Did You Last Try to “Fix” Yourself?

Written By Eudora Chuah, Singapore

It’s a bad day at work. One of the kids is acting up again. This time, he’s putting his legs up onto his chair. Regardless of how many times I tell him to put them down, he refuses. Each time I repeat myself, it sounds like I’m nagging.

“Put your feet down, NOW!” I finally yell in frustration. My anger rubs off on him. “You’re just yelling at me because you have a mental problem!” he retorts. He’s close to tears.

Aghast at his rudeness and hurt, but not wanting to draw further attention to the situation, I make a mental note to relay this incident to his parents. I’m not inclined to let him off because of his age—since when was it acceptable to address others disrespectfully, and to use such labels?

Hurt and anger soon morph into frustration and shame. Unaccustomed to these feelings, I decide that they should be quickly fixed. Instinctively, “Eudora’s Dummies’ Guide to Handling Bad Feelings” kicks into gear.

I fiddle on my phone aimlessly, trying to push my emotions away. But the frustration and hurt don’t fade away. That’s okay. I can text a friend. Maybe we can meet for dinner. Good food and company should ease these nasty feelings. My friend agrees to meet. See, I tell myself, this works already. “Eudora’s Dummies’ Guide to Handling Bad Feelings” is fool proof!

Next step in the Dummies’ Guide: I walk into a Marks & Spencer store, where the shelves of snacks immediately catch my eye. Buying these chips might help. A pack of biscuits might do the trick, too! Comfort food is always useful in such situations.

While paying for my purchases, my mind drifts back to a previous episode where I had attempted to comfort myself in a similar manner. Then, I had walked into Candy Empire and bought two chocolate bars which I had taken a long time to finish, because I felt too undeserving of them as soon as I paid for them.

On other occasions, I’ve attempted to “fix” my feelings by seeking assurance from my friends. Was what I said really okay? Did I sound stupid in front of the audience? On days when I feel even more insecure, I’ve even questioned my friendships. Are we still friends? Really? Why would anyone want to befriend someone like me?

Often, I feel like I’m trying to crack a code. If only I did this or that, perhaps in a certain sequence or after a required number of times, that may have helped to erase those bad feelings and make me feel better.

Yet, for the most part, I know that these fix-it methods don’t actually solve the real problem at the end of the day. Each time I buy snacks, I feel better—momentarily. But these material things never truly fill my emotional black hole and on the contrary, I end up feeling a double dose of shame. And even when my friends reassure me that our friendship is unchanging, I often find myself skeptical. I wonder if my friends are just sugar-coating what they really think of me.

But God has worked constantly in my life through my church community. Each time I find myself in a self-deprecating episode and tempted to resort to one of my fix-it remedies, they remind me that Jesus loves me just as I am. They identify when I’m being self-dependent, yet gently encourage me to fix my eyes on the gospel. Jesus has already taken our shame upon Himself by dying on the cross, and all of us can be “fixed” when we put our trust in Him. In doing so, we are accepted, made righteous and loved by Him (Hebrews 12:2), even in the midst of our messiness.

The learning process has been slow, often humbling, and sometimes painful. More often than not, I find myself failing and slipping back into my “fix-it” behaviours. Yet I am thankful that God is patient with me, and has also graciously given me a loving community that mirrors His patience and love.

So why are we trying so hard to “fix” ourselves? We don’t need to—Jesus’ death on the cross has already accomplished that for us.