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The Time I Attempted Suicide

Pills and broken glass, tears and blood, fear and despair. It was one of the darkest nights of my life. I didn’t want to do it yet I couldn’t see how to face the next day. The pain of ending everything there and then seemed lesser compared to the pain of going on. I lay down in bed, waiting to bleed out and knock out, to sleep the last sleep. I was 19.

Two years before that night, shortly after I entered junior college, I lost interest in my studies. It was a very stressful time for me. My grades took a nosedive, which made me even more unmotivated. I slept a lot and my mood was low most of the time. There were times when I’d cut myself. I thought that experiencing physical pain was the only way to express and cope with my inner pain. I didn’t know why I was feeling that way.

A few months after my A-Level examinations, I received a letter from the Ministry of Defence informing me of the date of my enlistment into National Service (NS)*. That’s when my world came crashing down.

You see, I wasn’t an athletic or sporty kid growing up. So my parents often told me that if I didn’t build myself up physically, I wouldn’t be able to make it through the rigors of NS. I understand now that that was their well-intentioned way of motivating me to be more prepared, but all through my teenage years, I took their comments to mean that I was inadequate for, and so would not survive, military life.

Since secondary school, I also struggled intensely with not being able to fit in with the other boys in class and I realized I was attracted to guys. So the idea of being stuck in a hyper-masculine military environment with other guys terrified me and I was worried of what might happen if they knew I was gay. All of my worries added up into a deep fear of enlistment.

I began to desperately plead with God to engineer a miracle to get me out of this situation. I made bargains with Him. If only He’d take this away, I promised to do certain things in return. I spent nights lying in bed with fearful thoughts and frantic prayers, crying myself to sleep, and getting up again in the middle of the night to beg Him to make this go away.

But the days went by, and nothing happened. I met up with my closest junior college friends for the last time, I researched quick and painless ways to die, and I wrote my final letters to my family members. All through that time, fear was building up in my heart and intrusive dark thoughts kept running through my mind. On the one hand, I didn’t want to end my life, but on the other hand, I believed this was the only exit from the situation I dreaded so much. I struggled with troubling questions of whether God would forgive me if I committed suicide. Was it a pardonable sin or an act so heinous that I’d be condemned to hell?

Then came the day before my enlistment. There was still no miracle. I waited at night until all my family members were asleep, and carried out my plan. As I laid down in bed, I was banking all my hopes on the pills or the bleeding to get the job done. I wondered what I’d see on the other side of life. Would I see God?

When I opened my eyes, the first person I saw was my mum crying hard at the foot of the bed. I gradually realized that I was in the hospital. My first thought was, “Oh, shit.”

I didn’t succeed. I was still here. What was going to happen now?

The love of the Father

Well, what happened as I recovered was that I found out how much I was loved. Sure, I was aware before this that my parents loved me, but that was not something that I knew in any deep, experiential way. When I saw my mum crying her eyes out, I realized she cared for me much more than I’d believed. And I’d never seen my dad and grandma that anxious and heartbroken before.

A close secondary school friend came to visit. She told me that the medical team had to pump the pills out of my body. My tuition teacher visited, and I was surprised to see her burst into tears. She read Psalm 121 to me to assure me that God would always watch over me and help me. After I was discharged, all my relatives came over, showing their concern and sharing their counsel in their own ways. I never knew the people in my life cared this much about me.

I remember the day my family took me home from the hospital. We didn’t talk much on the way back. I went to my room and sat down on my bed. A moment later, my dad came in with a paper bag. It contained my journals, in which I’d written what I’d meant to be my last words to my family members. He handed me the bag and said, “Let’s take it that this never happened.”

I understood it as an act of grace, of mercy. Perhaps it was the tender and quiet way he said it. Or perhaps, it might be how he offered that statement to me as a gesture of kindness. He laid there before me the gift of a clean slate. That, perhaps, was the miracle.

What my dad did was a small yet significant reflection of what my heavenly Father did for me: God offered to forget my sins and give me a clean slate, if I would accept and believe in the gift of His Son, Jesus. The particulars of my story may or may not be similar to yours, but the love and grace of the Father for you and me is the same, regardless of our present struggles or past mistakes. God is eager to heal and restore; He’s in the business of resurrecting lives.

I saw a psychiatrist for two years after that. He helped me to recognize that I had been clinically depressed since my junior college days, and my depression had worsened as my enlistment date—what I’d deeply feared—drew near. Over time, with medication, counselling and a supportive Christian community, I got better.

My enlistment date was deferred until several months later. During my time in NS, I experienced how God was faithful in bringing me through those years. I learned to know Him more truly as the God from whom my help comes (Psalm 121:1–2), the One who constantly watches over me and carefully keeps me from harm (Psalm 121:3–8).

Today, you can still see scars, but much faded now, etched on my left forearm from that dark night. But because of the lavish love and merciful forgiveness of God, shown to me by the wounds of Jesus at the Cross, I can look at the scars of shame and see instead the marks of His grace (Isaiah 53:5).

 

* National Service (NS) is compulsory duty in the uniformed services for all Singaporean males upon finishing their tertiary education (but before any higher education). This usually includes two years of full-time service.

Is Masturbation Your Master?

“The M word.” “McDonald’s.” These are some of the words I’ve heard people use to refer to the act of sexual self-stimulation, otherwise known as masturbation.

My earliest memory of it was when I was around five or six years old. I must have discovered by accident that touching my private parts felt good at a very early age, and I was hooked on it since.

Even though I’d accepted Christ around the age of nine, no one taught me what the Bible said about it. To me, there was nothing wrong with masturbation because I couldn’t see any harm in doing it.

As I grew older, out of curiosity, I started to read up about the Christian view on masturbation. Most, if not all, of the articles spoke against the act, noting that it was accompanied by lust, brought about by sexual fantasy or pornography. I concluded that the main argument against masturbation was that it easily led one into the sin of lust, so I thought that as long as it didn’t result in lustful thoughts, there wasn’t anything to be worried about.

Though I did not fall deep into pornography—which I’m extremely thankful to God for, because that would have made it doubly addictive—I had developed the habit of sexual fantasizing. I tried to break the habit on a few occasions, but because I wasn’t quite convinced that it was that wrong, I’d return to it soon after.

In 2014, God began to break my bondage to sexual brokenness in several areas. One of them was masturbation. After one particular Sunday in April that year, my desire for the habit suddenly decreased significantly, without me doing anything about it. God allowed me to experience a period of supernatural freedom from that habit for a few months.

But after a while, the desire returned to the level it was before. However, having known what freedom from masturbation was like, I now realized that God was showing me that it wasn’t part of His will for me. I knew it was an act that could neither glorify God nor edify me—even if it wasn’t accompanied by the lust of sexual fantasy or pornography.

I am now on a journey of unlearning this habit, and I’d like to share what I’ve learned.

 

It can be an addiction

Through my years of struggling with sexual brokenness in this and other areas, I’ve discovered that sexual desire is like an appetite—the more I feed it, the more it grows. Masturbation had become addictive, and ruled over me as my master. I was no longer able to say “no” to it; instead, I helplessly obeyed its beckoning whenever the desire came.

This certainly isn’t a picture of the freedom and fullness of life Jesus intended for me to have (Galatians 5:1; John 10:10).

 

It can erode self-control

My habit of masturbation led me to think that sexual pleasure was within easy reach whenever I wanted it. It eroded my sense of self-control over my sexual desires. Why wait to experience sexual pleasure when I can have what I want immediately?

The Bible says, “Like a city whose walls are broken through is a person who lacks self-control” (Proverbs 25:28). The danger of having no self-control was that it left me vulnerable to being attacked by unhealthy or ungodly forces.

The Holy Spirit is a Spirit of “self-discipline” (2 Timothy 1:7), and one of the fruit He produces is “self-control” (Galatians 5:23). How can I be filled with the Spirit (Ephesians 5:18) if I don’t let Him empower me to have self-discipline or cultivate the fruit of self-control?

 

It can be a way of avoiding deeper issues

When I looked back on the times when I was drawn to masturbation, I realized that those were often the times when I had an underlying pain or discomfort I didn’t want to deal with, or when I was feeling lonely or deep sadness, and craved the comfort of sexual pleasure.

Other times, it was when I was feeling frustrated, stressed out or angst about something, and I wanted to numb myself with a sexual high, to momentarily forget about what was bothering me. And there were times when I was simply bored, and sought a moment of exhilaration.

But it was a vicious cycle. Whenever these issues weren’t addressed in a healthy way, they continued to build up and cause me more distress—which in turn drove me to masturbation and other unhealthy means to cope with the pain even more. But each time, the pleasure was temporary and I was left having to deal with a sense of guilt and emptiness afterward.

As part of my journey out of masturbation, I have to remind myself not to turn to it as a means of quick relief again. Instead, I’m learning to talk to God about what I’m feeling, so that I can process my thoughts and emotions with Him, asking Him for His perspective on what’s troubling me and then standing upon His truths.

Over time, the more I experience God’s reliable comfort for the underlying issues that bother me, the more I’m able to turn away from the false, short-lived comforts of masturbation and other unhealthy coping mechanisms.

 

It misses the mark of God’s best for us

The Bible doesn’t call masturbation a sin, but I believe it’s one of those things that we are called to throw off because it can hinder us from running the race of faith well (Hebrews 12:1-2).

American author and speaker Dannah Gresh, in her book What Are You Waiting For?: The One Thing No One Ever Tells You About Sex, makes the case that God’s intended design for our sexuality is for us to know and be known, and to be deeply respected by the person with whom we are in a marriage covenant. Therefore, she believes masturbation misses the mark of God’s ideal purpose for our sexual desire.

I agree with her. In all my years of being caught up in the habit of masturbation, it taught my mind to think that sexual pleasure was all about taking instead of giving, and it trained my body to be accustomed to experiencing sexual pleasure in a certain way—mine. This way of living out my sexuality doesn’t help me to know and be known by another person.

I believe that God’s intent for a marriage covenant is for a man and a woman to be giving and submitting to each other out of love (Ephesians 5:21-32). This applies to their sexual union as well—husband and wife are to devote themselves to giving the other person sexual pleasure out of their love for each other. In their giving, they receive as well. However, if each person is focused on taking sexual pleasure from the other, the mutual joys of their sexual union would be diminished. That’s hardly a picture of mutual submission—it’s of one or both dominating over the other.

For this reason, I don’t believe masturbation bears out the will of God for my sexuality, even if my singleness were to be lifelong. When I miss God’s mark for my life, I also don’t experience God’s best in my life.

 

There is hope

You might be in a habit of masturbation and want to find freedom from it. There is hope, because God delights to bring restoration into our lives.

If you’ve been masturbating to (visual or emotional) pornography or sexual fantasy, reducing and eventually removing these two things in your life is a good start to decreasing the addictive power of the act.

I’ve found that the more I spend time with the Lord—worshipping Him in song, reading His Word, praying to Him, building relationships in a Christ-centered community, ministering to others, etc.—the more I’m able to turn away from the urge to masturbate. This, for me, is how I have learned and applied the wisdom of Galatians 5:16-17 in my life: “walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh.”

If you, like me, have been using masturbation as a coping mechanism, I encourage you to examine the deeper issues you’ve been trying to avoid. Dealing with them may be uncomfortable, even painful, but I’ve seen for myself that it’s worth it because the cost of not addressing them healthily is even greater. God is there to examine these issues with you, and He will provide the comfort and help you need as you courageously take steps to seek His restoration.

I may stumble now and then, but I still hope to finally find total freedom from masturbation. Will you join me on this journey of experiencing God’s freedom in this area of your life?

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

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.