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My Quarter-Life Crisis: The Day I Went Berserk

Written By Leslie Koh, Singapore 

I knew something was wrong the moment I started kicking the boxes below my desk.

I’m normally a quiet, self-restrained person (no, really), but that day, something in me just snapped. On the phone, the caller’s tone and instructions rubbed me the wrong way, and I simply lost it. Something in me stopped me from yelling back, but my legs went on their own journey of anger-venting, and I started flailing at the cardboard boxes that I usually stacked beneath my desk to rest my feet.

You can imagine the scene, then. Usually quiet guy, gripping the phone handset with white, shaking knuckles, saying, “Okay, okay, got it, will do”, in the calmest and most deliberate of voices—while below the desk, loud crunching from furious feet driving into said cardboard boxes. Around him, the shocked faces of colleagues, wondering what had just happened.

The next week, I handed in my resignation. Nine years of journalism, check. One career over, check.

It wasn’t the shame or embarrassment; I had apologized soon after to my boss for my “outburst”, and she had accepted it. It was the knowledge that I was burnt out, and the realization that no matter how good the money was or how much potential the job held, I had reached the point where if I were to continue, I would do my mental health some serious harm.

As it was, I had been feeling more and more exhausted for many months, and always wanting to sleep in; it was as if I didn’t want to wake up to reality. The usually long hours in newsroom were taking their toll, and it had been harder for me because some of the tasks—interviewing, for instance—were well out of my comfort zone. I had heard that sleeplessness as well as an inability to wake up were both possible signs of depression, and I wondered if it was happening to me. My work was also going downhill: I was turning in work without caring if it met the minimum standard, and often ignoring instructions from supervisors. Once, assigned to attend an event, I borrowed my parents’ car and drove round aimlessly for two hours instead. (No one found out, as I still managed to get the information required anyway.)

The resignation brought great relief.

Finally, I could stop dragging myself out of bed every morning to face reality. I could stop ending every weekend with great dread over the coming work week. I could stop forcing myself to go through those long hours in office, hating every piece of work that came to me. I could stop those constant fantasies of becoming rich overnight just so that I would no longer need a job. (Or, as was more often the case, fantasies of the office burning down overnight so I wouldn’t have to report for work the next morning.)

It wasn’t always this way, of course. I had gone into the job with the usual enthusiasm of a greenhorn, but somehow, had become jaded over the years as the long hours and constant stress took their toll. Many colleagues thrived on it, but I felt overwhelmed.

Still, it wasn’t an easy decision. At the back of my mind, two main thoughts remained.

One was, “Am I weak? Am I taking the easy way out?” Younger generations have often been called the Strawberry Generation (you know, bruises easily), and it seems I was fulfilling the criticism. “Why, the older generations worked for 40 years without a day off, and they didn’t complain. You’ve not reached even 10 years, and you’re burnt out?”

The other was, “Is this God’s will?” Was I giving up before God could shape and transform me into a better person? Was I running away from His discipline?

To be honest, I still haven’t answered these questions fully today. Perhaps I was not only suffering from a burnout, but was also going through a Quarter-Life Crisis as I tried to figure out my career, my aims in life, and what meaning I ascribed to my work.

Having gone through what I think is a burnout, however, I’d like to say this: It doesn’t matter what others think of you. If you’re miserable and depressed, and your body is falling apart, no job is worth it. Sure, there’s a time to hang on, to persist, to fight back. But all of us have different limits. Don’t compare yourself to others, because each of us has a unique journey. One person may think it takes guts to keep going, while another person may figure it takes wisdom to give up.

Whatever others may have thought of my decision, I can say this with certainty: I could see God’s hand in everything that happened. There was more than a whiff of divine intervention in the securing of my next job. I had applied for one that seemed interesting and more importantly, appeared to promise a peaceful time. When no answer came, I tried applying again. While waiting, a chance encounter with someone—who just happened to be working in that same department—led to a cut-through-the-red-tape interview with her boss. The job offer came soon after.

The very fact that I had no problem adjusting to a new job soon after quitting seemed to suggest that I simply needed a break. Just being able to take a couple of months off work, and being able to move to something else that involved saner work hours and less stress seemed to make all the difference.

My burnout and the “kickboxing” incident are certainly not things I would want to experience again. I’m not proud of my response. But on hindsight, I can see how they formed part of my journey of self-discovery, and of faith. Were they good in themselves? No. Did God allow them to happen? I believe so!

Going through the burnout, I learned to recognize my own limits. Yes, you could accuse me of having pathetic limits and lacking resilience. But hey, these are my limits. Having been pushed past my limits once, I now have a better idea of how much I can take, and how much I can’t. This knowledge has enabled to make better decisions in life since. In subsequent job moves, I found I had a better handle on what I was prepared to do, and what I couldn’t stand doing. The experience has been invaluable.

I also learned to trust in God’s will and hand in my life. Years later, I would see Him use the incident to shape future decisions about my career. But more importantly, I learned to see that He is not an uncaring, inflexible God who has a fixed, non-negotiable plan that we can fall out of if we don’t make the right decisions. Yes, we need to seek His will and understand how He might want us to act or decide in a given situation. But He is a creative God who gives us the freedom to choose while engaging His will with our lives. If we put His law, interests, and ways before our own, He will give us the desires of our heart (Psalm 37:4).

Psalm 37 also reminds us to commit our way to the Lord and trust Him (v. 5), and to be still before Him and wait patiently for Him to unfold His will (v. 7). We have the assurance that our good and loving God will do what is best for us—even if we might not see it as such at the time.

The Lord makes firm the steps
of the one who delights in him;
though he may stumble, he will not fall,
for the Lord upholds him with his hand.

(Psalm 37:23-24)

Who’s Really in Control?

Photo taken by Blake Wisz

Day 25 | Today’s passage: James 4:13-17 | Historical context of James

13 Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” 14 Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. 15 Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” 16 As it is, you boast in your arrogant schemes. All such boasting is evil. 17 If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them.

A couple of years back, I was planning a big trip to North America that was centered on hitting some of the continent’s famed hiking trails. I’d bought all the equipment for it—a sturdy backpack, a state-of-the-art tent, and guide books for each hiking trail I was planning on tackling. In the months preceding the trip, I was consumed by the fantasy of experiencing the wild. During university lectures I would be on my laptop, either trawling Amazon for the latest camping gear or reading up on other hikers’ experiences on the trail.

However, about two months before I was set to fly off, a sporting accident disrupted my plans. I ruptured a ligament in my knee, effectively ending all hopes I had of tackling the rugged North American wilderness. All the obsessive fantasizing and planning I had done over the last six months were laid to waste. To say I was disappointed would be an understatement. My time in North America was tainted with a bitterness of what could have been.

James leaves us with no illusions about the fragility of our human plans and life on this earth. This flies in the face of our natural instincts. Like the example in James, we often busy ourselves making plans for our lives so much that we can forget to do the “good [we] ought to do” (v. 17). Furthermore, we can be tempted to feel invincible, as if we are the masters of our own destiny. In contrast, James describes life as a mist—fleeting and delicate (v. 14).

This serves as a warning that we really don’t have as much control over our lives as we would like to think. We might make plans and arrange our lives around our ambitions and assumptions of success, but the truth is, none of us can offer any guarantees. Even the surest of plans are vulnerable to the fragility of life. More than that, James reminds us that it is the Lord who holds the ultimate control over our lives. It is His will over our lives that carries the most weight, overruling whatever plans we may conceive.

In fact, the pretence of control puffs us up. It gives us a false sense of self-sufficiency that James calls arrogance. It’s an arrogance that pays no attention to God’s sovereign will, instead living as one pleases.

Needless to say, according to James, all this flies in the face of how a Christian should be living. Real faith involves deference to God’s sovereign will. Firstly, this means acknowledging our dependence on God, and how it is His will that ultimately decides our future. Additionally, verse 17 also points out that it means having our own plans take the backseat. In its place, we are to let our lives be driven by what God wants us to do.

This doesn’t mean that we should avoid planning ahead. Rather, James calls us to take reference from God’s word. In retrospect, I gave little acknowledgement to God in the planning of my big trip. Rather than live in submission to His word, my response betrayed an attitude that placed my will before His. The experience showed me that as much as we make our plans, they’re fallible. As such, we should focus our efforts on keeping God at the center of our plans instead.

—Andrew Koay, Australia

Questions for reflection

1. How much do you involve God in your plans? Are they made with His will in mind?

2. What do we know of God’s calling for Christians in the Word?
Would you respond and say: Lord, I am willing?
If not, what could be holding you back from doing so?

Hand-lettering by Rachel Tu


Andrew’s guilty pleasure involves rocking out to hits of the 80’s such as A-ha’s seminal art piece, Take On Me. He can usually be found laughing among friends or shushing them in a cinema. Currently spending 4 years of his life studying political science and sociology, Andrew looks forward to graduating and working at McDonald’s. However, he knows that the true work is advancing the Gospel. He is partial to great Mexican food and rejoices in its scarcity in his part of the world, knowing that it’s a reminder not to get too attached to this life but to look forward to the new creation.

Read 30-day James Devotional

Burned Out And Guilty At Work

Written By Katarina Tathya Ratri, Indonesia, originally in Bahasa Indonesia

In March 2017, I had a burnout.

It came five months after I moved from my hometown in Central Java to the capital city of Jakarta to work as an area manager in a food and beverage company. As a manager, I’m in charge of overseeing some outlets and ensuring that their quality, service, cleanliness, and sales meet the company’s standards. This also includes telling staff who don’t do their job well enough to pull up their socks.

Initially, I didn’t think it would be so difficult to adapt to my new surroundings. Reality, however, couldn’t have been more different. Many situations at work made me cry, and I found myself finishing work late every night and even having to work on vacations. Pointing out my subordinates’ mistakes was also extremely difficult, as most of them had been working in the company for a lot longer than I had. Many were also older than me, and spoke to me rudely.

When I told my best friends and my boyfriend about my problems, they tried to cheer me up—but it didn’t really help. I ended up trying my best to “ignore” work and not finish my tasks, even though this made me feel guilty.

One Sunday at church, I listened to a sermon on God’s appointment of Joshua to succeed Moses. He said, “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the LORD your God goes with you; He will never leave you nor forsake you” (Deuteronomy 31:6). When I read this verse, I was reminded of my own struggles at work and encouraged to face my problems bravely.

However, when Monday rolled around the corner and reminded me about the reality of work, I felt afraid again, and began to come up with ideas about how to avoid my responsibilities. I asked God for His forgiveness for doubting Him, but the process just kept repeating itself every day.

One night, I came down with a high fever and didn’t even have strength to go to the doctor on my own. I called my boyfriend, and he flew from Bandung to Jakarta to take me to a clinic. When the doctor told me that my illness was due to the stress I faced at work, I nodded in agreement.

That was when my boyfriend and I decided that we should take a break from work and go on a trip around Jakarta. During the trip however, my boyfriend’s wallet got stolen while we were taking a bus. The guilt of having caused this indirectly, mixed with sadness and anger, made me cry.

To my amazement, I saw that my boyfriend was still smiling. He told me that he believed everything would work together for good, even though the situation seemed bad. Upon hearing this, I felt ashamed. Over the rest of the trip, I reflected and realized that I had never really surrendered myself fully to God’s plan.

Since that time, I have changed the way I respond to my situation. Whenever I am troubled by work, I try to remember what made me initially decide to take up this job—to hone my skills as a leader. At the time, I knew that this job wouldn’t be easy, and that it entailed leading people who were older and more experienced than me. I found 1 Timothy 4:12 inspiring: “Do not let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity.”

This verse has strengthened me and given me the courage to do this job. I know that through this job, God is shaping me according to His will. He has helped me to learn how to remain humble amid challenges and to learn from the difficulties that I face, such as trying to meet my supervisor’s tough demands.

God has also given me many second chances. As I recall how I used to respond to my problems—simply ignoring my tasks—I realize that I deserved to be punished or even fired. Yet God never left me when I was down, nor when I made mistakes. Instead, He helped me and gave me the strength to carry on. All I need to do is to keep learning to lean on and surrender to Him fully.

Now, whenever I start work, I always make time to pray first. I used to ask God to spare me and take away all my struggles and challenges, but now, I have learned to ask God for the mental and spiritual strength to go through each day. I want to be able to smile and experience the joy of the Lord even when others treat me badly.

I have also learned to be patient when I face problems or difficult people. With people at work, I try to stay joyful and have a deeper conversation with them. Even though I know that there will always be people who will not fully accept me as a leader, I am encouraged by those who are slowly starting to open up to me. God has changed me—from a person who used to give up easily and run away from others’ negative responses, to someone who would approach those who are hostile to me and even talk to them about things relating to their personal lives.

What is God Calling Me To Do?

Written By Daniel Ryan Day, USA

Daniel is the author of two books: Ten Days Without and Intentional Christian. He is also the operations manager of a company that operates a family entertainment center, hotel and restaurant, as well as a blogger at intentionalchristianity.com. Daniel attempts to live out intentional Christianity in North Carolina, as a husband, father, and businessman.

 

There have been so many times in my life when I didn’t know what to do. Sometimes, those moments were silly, and getting the answer wrong didn’t have significant consequences. Like this past Christmas, when I got way too stressed out trying to figure out the perfect Christmas present for every person on my gift list. I mean, really. What’s the worst that could happen?

But there have been other moments when I felt like the decision I faced was life-changing, and if I chose the wrong road, it could mean missing out on what I was supposed to do with my life.

I think my culture places a lot of pressure on young adults to figure out the rest of their lives when they are between the ages of 18 and 24—especially when it relates to choosing an occupation. As a result, we are left with over-stressed teenagers, degree-less college students, and young adults (some in their 30s and 40s even) who bounce from job to job trying to figure out the answer to the question: What am I supposed to do with my life?

For Christians, there’s a deeper longing within us than just the desire for a purposeful and fulfilling occupation: Christians are also searching for God’s will for their lives, because we believe that God should have something to say about our future. We think the choice of a job is not fully up to us.

But what if God never tells us what He wants us to do? What are we supposed to do if God seems eerily silent whenever we ask Him to tell us what He wants for our lives?

That’s how it was for me. I begged God to tell me His will for my life. I was willing to do whatever He wanted me to do; I was willing to move wherever He wanted me to move. But He was quiet—too quiet. Just like the foreboding scene in a thriller movie that comes right before someone dies. Maybe I’m going to die. I hope not.

 

This is God’s Will For Your Life

Because I couldn’t find the answers to these questions, I became frustrated with God. Have you ever been frustrated with God before? Well, I was. In fact, I got so frustrated that I Googled it—yes, I actually Googled, “What is God’s will for my life?”

I landed on a webpage with a list of Scripture passages. After reading the first verse on the list, I nearly threw my computer out of the window. It was Jeremiah 29:11, which said that God had a plan for my life.

“I know God has a plan!” I yelled out loud. “The problem is that He won’t tell me what it is!”

I read the next verse listed, 1 Thessalonians 4:3. “For this is the will of God, your sanctification.” What?! I had been searching for the will of God for I-don’t-know-how-long, and it was right here in the Bible the entire time! It made me wonder what else I’d missed, and what other callings might exist. I started searching.

Later in that same book, 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, I found this verse: “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” And then I noticed 1 Peter 2:15: “For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people.”

The more I searched, the more I found, and I soon discovered that the description of God’s will for our lives was quite long—super long. So long, in fact, that I started to feel overwhelmed by the call of God. How could I remember, much less do all of these things?

But then the Holy Spirit reminded me of a promise that Jesus made to all who would follow Him: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30).

During Jesus’ time, a yoke was a wooden bar that was placed on the neck of an ox, allowing it to pull a heavy load. Often, two oxen were yoked together so they could pull twice as much.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t know anyone who still uses a yoke and oxen to pull heavy loads. So I like to think of this verse in light of the baggage tractors I see at airports. Have you ever looked out of a plane window—or watched a movie that takes place at an airport—and noticed the baggage trains? Usually there’s a tractor followed by four or five baggage cars full of suitcases. Think of a yoke as one of those tractors. It’s got to be a pretty heavy load, right?

As I was reading through Scripture and taking note of the many commandments, expectations, and callings that God had for me, it was like adding a new suitcase to the baggage train. By the time I was finished, I had a lot of baggage cars on my train, and they were all full of the specifics of God’s will for my life. It was a heavy load.

But Jesus said that His yoke—all the responsibilities and expectations of what it means to follow Him—was supposed to be easy and light. So if I am burdened by what it means to follow God, something’s wrong.

 

The Greatest Calling and the One Like It

The truth is that Jesus simplified our calling for us. He said, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22:37-40)

I think that Jesus not only gave us the greatest commandment, but in this passage, He also outlined what I call the greatest calling. First and foremost, you and I are called to walk in relationship with God. Instead of having to remember a long list of do’s and don’ts—like a long train of baggage cars—Jesus removed the heavy burden of the law of Moses from our shoulders and gave us a simple summary of the purpose of our lives.

What is this purpose? It is simply this: Love God and love others. That is the greatest calling, and if you remember nothing else, I hope you remember this truth: God has called you—and that’s His will for your life—to love Him with all of your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself.