Posts

A Letter to the Friend Who Feels Like Giving Up on God

Dear friend,

I was devastated when you told me that you’ve decided to “give up” on God.

But in some ways, your decision didn’t come as a complete surprise to me.

For a long time, you’ve been struggling with deep hurts, unresolved conflicts, and emotional baggage. You took your pains to be signs that God had abandoned you and left you alone in the wilderness.

I know it doesn’t feel this way right now, but I want you to know that nothing could be further from the truth.

Sometimes it can be difficult to see past what we’re going through, especially when the end seems to be nowhere in sight. And I know how hard you’ve tried to seek after God through the different trials you’ve faced over the past few years. I know how tightly you held on to Him even when you went through situations that you couldn’t understand. I know how desperately you tried to look for answers.

You sacrificed a huge part of your youth to serve Him. You traded lucrative job offers for the mission field—giving up material comforts, financial security, and even family relationships—to live among the poor and build His kingdom there. You were crushed when things didn’t quite go as you had hoped, and you were asked to leave after many heated disagreements with your co-workers. You came home broken, jaded, and disillusioned.

But still you did not let it deter you from continuing to live your life for Him. You wanted your life to count for Him, so you threw yourself into more ministry opportunities, signed up for theological studies, and spent more time with Him.

I remember the long conversations we had as we tried to process what you had been through—Why did God allow them to happen? Why didn’t He give you a way out? Why doesn’t He make it easier for us to see what He is doing behind the scenes?—and I wish I was able to help you find better answers, greater comfort, and more peace.

I still don’t have answers for you now.

But here’s what I’ve known to be true: Even at the lowest moments of my life, God has never abandoned me.

Do you remember the time when I felt like I was on the top of the world—I was in what I thought was my dream job then—and then everything came crashing down in a single day? That day, I didn’t just lose my job. I also lost my vision and zest for life, and all my well-laid plans crumbled into dust.

It took me a long time to recover from it, and to begin to believe again that God knew what He was doing with my life. But you were there with me when I decided to take a timeout and go into missions in India for six months, hoping that I’d have a clearer vision of what I should do next with my life at the end of it.

Do you remember those nine months I struggled to find a job right after I came back from India? As if it wasn’t exhausting enough to apply for job after job and hear nothing back, I was confronted with so many questions about why I was still unemployed (with the underlying suggestion that I wasn’t trying hard enough). You knew how difficult it was to push myself out of the house to meet more questions I couldn’t answer. And you celebrated with me when an offer finally fell into place.

You were there to listen to me when I was trapped in a toxic and suffocating work environment, questioning whether I had even heard God right in taking on that job. It was a huge struggle to get out of bed each day, and I’d reach home every night drained and depressed, wondering how I’d be able to summon enough energy to get to work the next day.

You saw me grow in despair as I watched the only friends I had at work moving on to other things. I envied how easily God gave them a way out—while I was still stuck there, left to fend for myself. I was bitter and angry with God, I couldn’t understand how it could possibly be good for me to stay in that place.

It would be more than a year before I finally found a way out myself.

Now, the different threads of pain and confusion from those past years are finally coming together. And I’m beginning to see the picture that God intended to weave all this while.

I don’t know if I can ever say that the pain of what I went through was worth it, but I know that it gave me a little taste of what it’s like to share in the fellowship of Jesus’s sufferings (Philippians 3:10)—and I wouldn’t trade that for anything in the world.

I’m sharing my story with you not to belittle or trivialize what you’re going through, or even to add salt to your wounds. I’m writing this simply to remind you of how much I valued those times when you sat with me in silence, mourned with me in my struggles, and rejoiced with me in my breakthroughs. And I want you to know that I’m here to do the same for you.

For many years, I’ve held Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 1:3-7 close to my heart, and I rejoice in the opportunity to walk with you, and comfort you with the comfort that I myself have received from God (v 4).

Today, one of your favorite songs snuck into my Spotify playlist, and it reminded me of the fire that you once had, your determination to see the goodness of God in your life and the lives of those around you (Psalm 27:13). Perhaps these words feel meaningless to you right now.

But just as your friendship and prayers helped me fix my eyes on God when I was tempted to falter, I am determined to keep praying and believing with you that we will see the Lord’s goodness together. That one day, everything will make sense. And none of what you have been through would be wasted.

And the next time you sing the refrain “You are good” again, it will be with a different kind of fire. It will be with the hard-won confidence of the psalmist, who can now say, “The Lord is my light and my salvation, of whom shall I be afraid?” (Psalm 27:1). It will be with the purity of one who has gone through God’s refining fire, and emerged as pure as gold (Job 23:10). It will be with the tenderness of one who has tasted and seen the goodness of a God who pursues us relentlessly, even when we’ve decided to let go of His hand.

Until then, I will keep praying with you, walking with you, waiting with you.

 

Love,

Your friend

When I Befriended the Friendless

Written By Pearle Chua, Singapore

I met John when I was working at a library in Singapore. He had a routine he performed every morning when the library opened. First, he would greet everyone loudly and shake hands with the library staff present. Next, he would head to the counter to scan his expired identity card as he half-mumbled and half-declared to everyone that he has paid his bills to the government. Then, he would show the library staff his documents and again declare that he has paid his bills, before finally heading to the multimedia station.

Everyone working in the library knew John, and he was known as our “regular patron.” It was obvious that John had a mental illness, but no one knew what type of mental illness it was. Sometimes, he would get into quarrels with the other patrons at the library. There was even one time when the library staff had to call the Institute of Mental Health hospital to settle his case. Whenever we spoke of John, it was always with raised eyebrows.

At first, I would just shake hands with John in the mornings and mind my own business. But then I recalled the second most important commandment in the Bible, “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:31). I tried to practice this command in my daily life, at school, at work, and with family. But what if my neighbor was someone who lives on the margin of society?

As I thought about the commandment, I began to see John in a different light. I tried putting myself in his shoes, and thought that if I were John, I would have liked to be accepted by people around me. Finally, one day, I plucked up my courage to talk to him, as a way to show Christ’s love to him. I casually chatted with him as he shook my hand, and from then on, we would often talk in the mornings.

My colleagues were surprised by what I was doing. Some started to refer to him as my best friend. While I was not afraid of John, I was worried that he might disturb me at work. Would he demand to see me when he got into trouble at the library? However, I decided to release my fears to God, and sure enough, that did not happen. Instead, John got along better with others as I became his friend, and that gave me the assurance that God was at work supporting me as I reached out to John.

I showered John with my friendship, giving him presents for Christmas and birthdays, and eventually invited him to my wedding. That’s when the breakthrough came. Although John could not make it to the wedding, he asked me to bring him to church. I don’t recall telling him that I was a Christian, but maybe he guessed from the fact that I was going to have a church wedding.

Through our conversations, I learned that John and his family were from India, but he came by himself to Singapore on a scholarship when he was much younger, and has stayed here since. John is very smart and has a master’s degree.

However, John was diagnosed with schizophrenia two years ago, when he was 55. People suffering from schizophrenia often hear voices and imagine that they are being persecuted or controlled. This can damage their relationships with others, and in severe cases, can make one lose the ability to function in everyday life.

Though John now takes medicine to keep his schizophrenia under control, it has robbed him of the ability to work. His life was turned upside down, and he now lives in a one-room rental apartment in the poorer part of Singapore, relying on government subsidies.

 

The Turning Point

Going to church was a big step for John. Anxious to return to society, he spruced up his appearance by buying new clothes and getting a haircut. At church, he approached people to introduce himself. He smiled and shook hands.

Unfortunately, these efforts were not enough for John to become accepted. People noticed John’s social awkwardness immediately. John would be too anxious about introducing himself that he would insist on shaking hands with someone who was in conversation with another person. During the introduction, he held on to people’s hand longer than usual, which made some of the girls feel a little uncomfortable. He also did not hesitate to tell others that he has schizophrenia.

When he joined a cell group, John was so excited to attend that he arrived at the host’s house two hours earlier. Taking down his cell group members’ numbers, he often called them because he was lonely. Unfortunately, everyone would be busy at work.

To help John cope with his loneliness, I taught John how to use WhatsApp and Facebook. My intention was to get him to use WhatsApp to strike a conversation with his cell group members via text message instead of calling them. However, John did not use WhatsApp and Facebook the way I expected him to. Instead, he would enthusiastically send meaningless photos or posts to everyone he knew. He would also take photos of his cell members without them knowing and post them on Facebook or send them to others without their permission. This was too much for some people and they started blocking him.

The tipping point came when he used my Facebook account to start conversations with my friends, and even called them using the Messenger app, which caused some confusion for my friends. I quickly stopped John and did my best to explain how he should conduct himself according to social norms. While John was a little disappointed when I corrected him, he took it in good stride.

John was also getting on the nerves of the people in church. However, they tried their best to show love towards him. Eventually, some members of John’s cell group started reaching out to help him. Two men in church felt prompted by God to guide John. They stepped up as male role models for him. One of them would meet up with John for a meal every Friday to talk to him, find out more about him, and give him feedback on his behavior. John was receptive to their feedback and started attending church regularly.

Additionally, John’s cell group made the effort to include him in cell outings and lunches after church. Whenever they were not available or had no outings, I would invite John to join my cell group or join my husband and I for outings.

Without us noticing, John learned to get along better with others. At the library, John no longer scans his identity card at the counter or show his documents. He is friendly to everyone, and sometimes helps out at the library. No one avoids him anymore, and some even comment on how John has changed. When John went back for a visit to India, his family was surprised and shocked to see how much he has improved.

At church, John no longer holds on to a person’s hand for too long during an introduction and the women at church now feel at ease with him. He is also able to maintain some conversation with others, something that he struggled to do at the start. John has now become a part of the church congregation, such that whenever he is not at church, people would ask about him.

By God’s grace, after attending church for a year, John confessed his sins and accepted Christ as his savior. God’s amazing grace also softened his family’s insistence that John should stay a Hindu, and now they accept that he is a Christian.

My friendship with John has shown me how powerful God’s love is, and how His love, through us, can change lives for the better.

Why Do I Long to Feel Loved?

Written by Rachel, Malaysia, originally in Simplified Chinese

I grew up in a warm and affectionate family, and have never needed to work for my family’s love.

However, I’ve found that I am easily jealous for the affections of my close friends. Whenever my close friends are more concerned for other friends than they are for me, I feel an inexplicable sense of disappointment. When they forget to invite me to gatherings, I feel sad and abandoned, thinking that they do not love me.

Being single, I also desire a partner who loves me. In times of sadness, I often wish I had someone who would encourage, comfort and support me. Though I may not be actively looking for such a person, I wish in my heart that I had a special someone to spend time with.

I have always wanted others to empathize with me during my difficulties. When I struggle with my studies, I want to be encouraged and supported. When I face challenges in my relationships, I want a friend who would offer me advice and help.

I yearn to be first in others’ hearts. I long to be treasured and loved. Yet when I hold my friends to certain expectations, it is only a matter of time before I am disappointed. Perhaps the disappointment stems from high and unrealistic expectations. As a result, I become very unhappy in my quest to seek for love from my friends.

When I realized that seeking to feel loved makes me less content and joyful, I decided to change the way I deal with my longing. Though I want others to love me and care for my feelings, I am learning that I should do likewise for them. My desires should urge me to understand those around me—who similarly desire to be loved and cared for. Instead of seeking to be loved, I need to love and empathize with others in their weaknesses and sufferings.

So whenever the longing arises, I would ask myself the following questions:

1. Does God’s love satisfy my longing?

“This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” (1 John 4:9-10)

Have I forgotten the love poured out to me by Jesus Christ, the Great High Priest? I am deemed righteous because of His atoning sacrifice on the Cross. Can’t the love of God fill my heart completely? Or have I not truly reflected on and accepted this truth?

Neither the love from friends nor a partner can fill the emptiness within me. After all, they are imperfect humans who need to be loved and cared for just like me. Only the love of God can satisfy us. I am already loved, and by a perfect Love! I do not have to worry about feeling loved. Instead, I ought to love those around me—with the love that has been poured into me. When I came to this conclusion, my heart was filled with a renewed sense of gratitude.

I have since learned to take the initiative to care for those around me. All of us inevitably face difficulties and grow weary in the course of life. Being able to encourage and lend a hand of support to my friends during such times can make a huge difference in their lives.

 

2. Am I pursuing a misplaced identity?

Is a moment of negligence by a friend really that important? Do I have to be offended when I am not my friends’ first priority? I took some time to reflect on these questions, and was reminded that my identity is that of a child of God, not merely a popular friend.

Romans 8:16-17 says, “The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.”

My pursuits should be in line with my identity. As a co-heir with Christ, I have access to a love that can fill me with greater joy than any friends will ever be able to. Whenever I’m tempted to reach for the love of my friends instead of seeking God for comfort, I tell myself that I am first and foremost, a child of God.

 

3. Am I allowing my insecurities to get the better of me?

Perhaps one of the reasons why I struggle with this question is because I’ve had low self-esteem since a young age. I have always thought that I was neither pretty nor smart, and have always found it hard to find favor with people. Because of that, getting affirmation from my friends and even a partner became really important to me.

But God’s love has shown me the value I have in Christ. I am bought with a price (1 Corinthians 6:20). Jesus Christ suffered on the Cross so that I am deemed righteous by faith. God created me to glorify Him, so how can I look down on myself?

Romans 8:38-39 says, “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

My low self-esteem, insecurities and fears cannot separate me from the love of God! This love comes from Jesus Christ alone, and it cannot be found in our friends, family or partner.

 

I couldn’t help smiling as I pondered the answers to these questions in my heart, because I know that I no longer have to long for the feeling of “being loved” when I have the greatest love of all. And because I’m a child of God, I have the privilege of helping others fill their longing to be loved with the love of Christ.

There are times when I still revert to my old mindset and feel neglected by my friends, but remembering God’s truth about who I am helps me to refocus my actions on loving others and showing the love of Christ to them.

1 John 4:12 says, “No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us”. When we love, encourage and forgive one another in fellowship, others will see God’s love in us.

Why Is It So Difficult to Make Friends?

It started as a simple plan—“Come meet us at the splashpad with your little ones.” This email from the Children’s Director at our church was a great idea. Moms bringing their toddlers to play on a hot day: a good plan, yes?

Then why was I so terrified to go? Why did the idea of meeting other young moms fill me with such anxiety that Monday morning?

I’m not the only one who struggles with this. Others have told me that making friends as an adult is not easy for them either. I met most of my good friends in high school and college, and the few friends I’ve made since then are typically several life stages ahead of me. For some reason, there is a sort of barrier with forming friendships with people my age.

Often, that barrier is a set of unspoken expectations or fear of comparison. For example, when I’m with other “young moms,” I feel the pressure to fit in with that mold. I wonder what they think of how I’m disciplining my daughter, what they think about whether I work or stay at home, and the list goes on.

I end up so concerned about what they think, and so focused on my own choices, that I am not able to interact with them as a friend. But you know what? Other young moms probably aren’t sitting there worrying about me and my decisions; they’re likely worrying about their own decisions and what people think of them!

It’s a ridiculous cycle. But here’s the deal, I find that when I’m free of this cycle, free of the pretense or expectations, I am free to be myself. Perhaps that is why I am more able to be a friend to people in different life stages, or with people I’ve known for years. There isn’t the same flawed expectations and sense of comparison.

As I’ve struggled with this, God has continued to impress on me several things:

 

1. Don’t be afraid to look outside the box

First, we need to broaden our expectations about friendships. We need to realize that “our people” might not be who we thought they would be. I’m reminded of Mary, mother of Jesus, and her cousin Elizabeth. The Bible tells us that when Mary was pregnant with Jesus, she went to spend several months with Elizabeth, who was many years older than herself (Luke 2). We don’t exactly know why Mary sought the company of someone so much older, but perhaps she felt judged by people her own age, for being unmarried and pregnant? Whatever the reasons, the several months that the women spent together must have been something special.

In my own life, I have also found unexpected friends. At school, for instance, people might expect me to fall into the group of “young teachers” on staff at my school. And while there are many young people on staff that I love dearly, in actuality my dearest friend on staff at school is twice my age.

Sandy and I meet for breakfast regularly, and we laugh and giggle and pray and cry together. With Sandy, I find wisdom, experience and perspective, instead of competition and comparison. It would seem to the outside world that we are an unlikely pair, but with her, I’m free to be myself. I don’t have to struggle to fit into the mold that is expected of “young teachers today.” I don’t need to worry about being “cool” enough or “liked” enough. Through my friendship with Sandy, I realize that we should not be afraid to look outside the box when it comes to friends.

 

2. Focus on who God says you are

Secondly, while we surround ourselves with diverse friends, what do we do with our peers? Do we just give up on making friends who are in the same stage of life?

I think we can be reluctant to reach out to our peers, because we worry we are falling short of a certain set of expectations. But where do these expectations come from? My ideas of what it means to be a good wife, a good mother, a good teacher—are these expectations something I created and imposed on myself?

There is no doubt that social media has exacerbated this issue of competition and comparison. We see the best and the brightest on Instagram, and we aim to align ourselves with that image. If we fall short, we feel as if we’ve failed. When I can’t meal plan as efficiently or cook meals as delicious as all those other Pinterest users, I feel like I’m not as good a wife as they are. No wonder I’m worried what other young moms think!

But here’s the problem—though social media intensifies this type of competition and comparison, ultimately it isn’t social media’s fault, but mine. I am the one allowing these voices to shape my thinking about who I am. I let these voices get louder than the One Voice that matters, and as a result, I am insecure and self-centered.

But when I allow God’s voice to shape my thinking, I am no longer captive to thinking about myself when I stand in front of another person. I already know who I am. I know to whom I belong. I am free to be selfless, to love, and to encourage the person in front of me, because I am no longer preoccupied with getting myself affirmed or patted on the back. I am free to be a friend.

So, I need to steep myself in the Truth of God more than the “reality” of social media. This means asking some hard questions of myself: What do I turn to when I first wake up? What do I prioritize in my day? What gets my attention?

We have the ability to choose whose voice we listen to. Will we step forward confidently in our friendships because we already know who we are? Or will we meander, anxious and ineffective, constantly looking for affirmation and trying to be good enough, but never quite getting there?

 

3. Welcome others

Jesus told us to come to Him like little children. He does not set flawed expectations. He does not want pretense. He does not mind doubts. There are no restrictions on who I have to be, no meaningless standards I have to live up to. I am welcomed because I’m loved. If I can just stop thinking about myself, then I can look closely at those in front of me. Who are they? What do they love? What do they need? How can I be a friend to them?

C. S. Lewis, in his book The Four Loves, says that if what you want out of friendship is a friend, then your purpose is misaligned. I’m beginning to see how selflessness is key to being a friend. Instead of friendship being about us getting something (a friend), it is more about enjoying and delighting in a common bond or shared experience together. What do you enjoy? Who do you have something in common with? Begin there. Begin by sharing and enjoying each other’s company, not in trying to get something out of it.

A few years ago, at the first meeting of a small group with our church, we played an icebreaker where everyone talked about the toys they loved and played with as a kid. It was amazing to see walls and barriers come down and people being able to bond over their love of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles or Polly Pocket. A common experience to enjoy or reminisce on can do wonders for friendship-making.

 

4. View friendship as a process

In friendship, we will never be able to say “I’ve arrived.” Friendship is not an end result, but a process—the winding road of ups and downs, of grieving at a friend’s dad’s cancer diagnosis, of rejoicing in a positive on a pregnancy test, bringing meals during a sickness, or having a dance party when you need to let off some steam. True fellowship is about living life with people all along the way, enjoying them as God’s blessing to us, not about “getting a friend.”

So, I went to the splashpad that morning. It wasn’t life-changing or altering. I tried to be kind and smile. I spoke to a few girls I recognized from small group. One lady I didn’t know introduced herself to me, which was kind and gracious.

It was nothing huge or momentous, but it was a small step toward vulnerability, toward selflessness, toward making friends and building relationships with the other young moms at church. I’m taking it one step at a time, trusting His voice about me, thinking of others before myself, trying to enjoy life and each other as gracious gifts from our good God.