Posts

Should I Stay Single?

It was my first real relationship. After it became clear that we weren’t compatible, I decided to end it. The only problem was I had never been in a serious relationship before, and the thought of breaking up with someone terrified me. So I did what any immature and scared guy would do—I broke up with her on the phone. I know; not cool. But don’t worry, it gets worse.

With the guilt of hurting her weighing on my heart like a ton of bricks, I felt as though I had to do something to show her how much it was tearing me up inside. So about halfway through the conversation I did something I am still ashamed to admit . . . I fake cried. Yes, I was an adult (supposedly), and I fake cried while breaking up with someone. At that moment, I realized I was pretty much the picture of pathetic. I also realized relationships aren’t easy. (Note: we’ve long since made amends and I have never again fake cried).

The anguish of hurting someone I cared about and the shame of my own actions in dealing with it, made me swear off any semblance of a potentially romantic relationship for a number of years after that. I decided I would much rather not deal with the potential risks than have to go through something like a breakup again. I realized relationships take work—a lot of work. And there is always risk involved; risk of hurting someone and risk of being hurt. Sometimes it’s not even about the risk or the work, it’s simply about lifestyle. Simply put, being single is often much less complicated.

But even if we decide that relationships are worth the work and sacrifice . . . for Christians, there’s another important consideration. In 1 Corinthians 7:7, Paul said concerning his singleness, “Yet I wish that all men were even as I myself am. However, each man has his own gift from God, one in this manner, and another in that”. In the same chapter, Paul talks about how singleness frees people to only be concerned with the Lord’s affairs (1 Corinthians 7:32-34). That can leave Christian singles wondering, “Am I more useful to God if I stay single?” After all, wouldn’t that mean we’d have more time for Kingdom work?

Our answer to the question of whether or not we should stay single depends on us, and more importantly, on our relationship with the One who created us. One of the greatest aspects of the gospel we often forget is its personal nature. God has an original and unique purpose for each of us. This truth has transformed my way of looking at marriage and relationships.

I know of a single, accomplished, young woman who left a well-paying nursing position in a beach-side community to move to Uganda in order to adopt an orphaned boy. She had visited him on previous short-term mission teams, but over the course of time, felt the Lord burden her to return in order to adopt him. Her relationship status didn’t affect her obedience to the Lord. In this instance, being single made her decision much less complicated—she just obeyed the Lord’s direction.

In looking at what Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 7:7, it is important to note that he references his own singleness as a gift that was given to him, and concludes that we have all been given gifts individually. His specific gift of singleness isn’t given to everyone.

So the question we, as Christian singles, need to answer isn’t, “Am I more useful to God if I stay single?” But rather, “What is God’s purpose for my life?” I can assure you that staying single won’t make you more useful to God if that is not His purpose for your life. In fact, I would argue that you would be hindering Him.

Growing up, our home was often visited by a missionary couple my parents knew. They were photojournalists who traveled extensively to tell the stories of other missionaries and the work their organization was doing abroad. The husband was a photographer and the wife was a writer. They have crafted beautiful stories in words and photos of the gospel at work around the world. Separately, they only formed half the puzzle, but together, their skills complemented each other perfectly. It was obvious the Lord had brought them together.

The personal nature of the gospel and God’s unique plans for each individual life make it impossible to have a universal answer to the question of whether or not it is better to marry or stay single. The only way to answer this question is the same way Peter figured out that catching fish was not his life’s purpose—by getting closer to Jesus.

For me, it is no longer about whether one option is better than the other, but rather, whether I am where God wants me. I no longer fear relationships, or the inherent risk of them. And I’m not sure if I will get married or not. Regardless, I’ll do my best to be faithful in whatever season I’m in.

Right now, that means taking advantage of the opportunity to serve God as a single, to invest more time into friendships, and to seek His guidance in the purpose He has for my life. I’ve been able to volunteer more at church and also serve with a group that outreaches to my local surfing community. But more than anything, I want to spend the time singleness affords me, with Jesus—just the two of us.

And just to be clear, I have learned that His purpose for my life in this season or the next . . . certainly does not involve any more fake crying.

 

Editor’s Note: This article is the second in a 3-part series on relationships. Read the first, “What Should I Be Looking for in Dating?” here, and the next article in the series, “Have We Missed the Point of Marriage?” here.

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.