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.

What If I’m Not Sure What to Do With My Life?

Written By Sam Ly, Singapore

“What is your advice to people who do not know what they want to do with their lives yet?”

I was recently asked this question by a polytechnic student at my alma mater when I was there to share about getting into law school and studying law. My reply in short was this: It’s okay if you’re still not sure, don’t be afraid of uncertainty.

Let me explain.

In Singapore, one has to make the decision about what course to study either at the age of 17 (for those applying to polytechnic or the Institute of Technical Education) or 19, for those going to university. At this stage of our lives, most of us may not be entirely sure about what we like to do, or want to work as in the future. While we may pray and ask the Lord to tell us clearly what we ought to do with our lives, God doesn’t always give us a clear “calling”.

Was I crystal clear that it was God’s will for me to pursue a diploma in law? Certainly not at the beginning. Law was recommended to me on the simple basis that I was always a strong advocate of right and wrong. As I continued to grow in my relationship with the Lord and through my studies, God showed me—through conversations with other believers and my internship experiences—that I was suited for this area of work, and that my knowledge of the law could indeed be used for His kingdom. That’s when I continued to pursue a degree in law as well.

Am I now crystal clear that it is God’s will for me to become a lawyer? Certainly not either. While I know that I want to serve in the field of law, and have been working hard to ensure that my understanding of the law will be useful for His Kingdom work, I do not have full assurance that God wants me to become a lawyer for the rest of my working life. There are many things beyond my foresight and control which may lead me to reconsider the very question I started this article with: what am I to do with my life?

So, what am I actually clear about? Did I bring you around in circles just to tell you that we can never have clarity about how to live our lives?

No, certainly not. There is one thing I am crystal clear about and it’s this: my life ought to be spent in full seeking God’s kingdom first and His righteousness (Matthew 6:33). While I may not be so sure about my “what”, I am sure about my “why”.

The world operates on a system that convinces us that our identity rests in what we do as a lawyer, an athlete, a pastor, etc. But I believe the true answer can be found if we are clear about who Jesus is and who we are. When Christ forms the core of our identity, we have the greatest reassurance of who we are and why we walk this earth. Our identity lies in being God’s children, and not in what we do.

To clarify, I am not advocating a nonchalant and lazy approach of merely waiting for opportunities and “signs” to drop from heaven. To a large extent, we still have to seek opportunities and put ourselves in places where we can understand more about ourselves. What I’m saying is this: the fear of not knowing what to do with our lives need not cripple us. In fact, our scramble to have everything in complete order may come from a heart that is seeking to wrestle with God for absolute control over our lives. That mad dash for grades, internships and other things in our “to-do” list may suggest that our actions are motivated by fears and desires instead of whole-hearted trust in God (Proverbs 3:5-6).

I may not be crystal clear about what I will do or how I will do it, but I am crystal clear about why I will do whatever God calls me to do. As long as I’m seeking first His kingdom and His righteousness, I know that all these things shall be given to me (Matthew 6:33). So, fellow believers, may I encourage you not to fear seasons of uncertainty, for we surrender our lives (and our future) into the safe and trustworthy hands of God.