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The #AgeChallenge: Will You Still Look Like You in 50 Years?

In the past few days, my social media feeds have been filled with pictures of my friends—except 40-50 years’ older—with the hashtag #AgeChallenge or #FaceAppChallenge.

The #AgeChallenge involves uploading a photo of yourself—or someone else, if you’d prefer—on the FaceApp, and using one of its filters to show you how you might look like in a few decades. (If that image is too daunting, there is also a filter that allows you to travel back in time and revel in how you used to look like decades ago.) Since the trend has caught on, the Internet has been filled with not just “aged” photos of ordinary people, but memes of celebrities reminding us all that beauty is fleeting—even for the rich and famous.

 

Photo of the Jonas Brothers without the FaceApp filter, taken from @jonasbrothers

Photo of the Jonas Brothers with the FaceApp filter, taken from @jonasbrothers

 

After casting a few bemused glances at my friends’ photos, I decided to take the plunge and see how I myself might look like in 50 years’ time.

To my horror, the FaceApp predicted that the ageing process would not go down very gracefully for me. In fact, if that projected image was anything to go by, not only would I have to contend with physical problems that I’m already dealing with—a back that’s aching even after a good eight hours of sleep, failing eyesight, and wobbly knees on the verge of crumbling if I overexert myself—but every crease and line on my face would be lengthened and magnified, and the evidence of all that fried chicken and ice cream I’ve been consuming would remain permanently lodged in my cheeks.

That made me wonder how any of my friends found the courage to share those photos of themselves—mine went straight into the trash bin but remained engraved in my mind’s eye.

A few other colleagues who also took on the challenge reeled at the sight of how they might look like in 50 years’, and we found ourselves sighing in relief, “Thank goodness we won’t look like this immediately!”

Our comments made me wonder: Why is it that when we think about ageing or growing older, all that fills our minds is negativity? We imagine how our bodies will sag, our energy levels will peter out, our heads filled with a white crown of hair (which we’re now diligently attempting to color out), and our faces marked with deepened lines and wrinkles—and fear and dread begin to creep into our hearts.

More importantly, why do we mostly associate ageing with our physical appearance? In fact, even without the aid of the #AgeChallenge, I’ve noticed that most of my conversations with my friends often revolve around how we can slow down the ageing process through facial masks, supplements, detox programs, laser treatments, the nine-step Korean skincare regime . . . and the list goes on.

We know that ageing is inevitable, and no amount of money we pour into beauty products will stop those dreaded lines and wrinkles from appearing on our faces eventually—so why not turn the #AgeChallenge into a challenge to age well?

When I think about the people in my life who have aged gracefully, I realize that what draws me to them has nothing to do with the way they look, but the wisdom that I can glean from their stories, the excitement in their voices as they recall God’s faithfulness in their lives, their undying passion and enthusiasm to serve God, and the grace with which they carry themselves. These are the people who make me think, “I hope I’ll still be as passionate for God as they are when I’m their age.”

That prompted me to think about ageing in a different way: instead of fretting about how I might look in the future, would I live a life that others could look up to, and which would point others to Christ?

What if someone invented an app that showed us what would be inside our hearts in 50 years’ time instead? What would we see? Traces of regrets, unforgiveness, bitterness, hardness of heart—or a heart at rest in Christ and joyously looking forward to an eternity with Him (where, thankfully, we are promised in Philippians 3:20-21 that our lowly bodies will one day become transformed so that they will be like His glorious body)?

This question has been weighing on my mind since a few days ago, when we were asked at cell group to draw a picture of where we see ourselves in 5-10 years’ time. That night, I was stumped and just stared blankly at my paper.

Perhaps it was due to the fact that over the course of the past five years, I’ve seen God derail my plans one by one . . . sometimes using the most humbling methods to set me on a detour so I would be on the right track with Him.

I have seen years of hard work crumble into dust in a day, lost my first job within nine months, gone through long periods of unemployment and closed doors right after months of serving God in the mission field, spent years being trapped in toxic environments and caught in the middle of conflicts I had no power to change.

In the midst of these crushing and confusing seasons in my life, I’ve often been tempted to turn away from God or blame Him for my circumstances, but one fact remained clear: even when God was leading me through what seemed like my absolute last choice or plans that I begrudgingly obeyed only because I had no other choice, He always led me to a better place.

That made me wonder if it was all that important how I looked like or what I achieved or did in not just 10, but 50 years’ time. The more I reflected on how God had brought me to where I am at this moment, I thought: If the next 5-10 years of my life looks anything like what the past 5-10 years has been, then perhaps the question to ask myself is, what would the posture of my heart be towards God?

Would I be quicker to obey God and trust His plans for my life? Would I still be faithfully pursuing His purposes instead of my own agenda? Would I become better at considering it “pure joy” when trials come my way (James 1:2-4)?

These are questions that require deep thinking which may age us, but our responses to them will determine whether or not we age gracefully—and with God’s grace.

Having been brought to the lowest point of my life, I now know that the only vision for my life that I can rely on is that of a heart anchored in Christ and walking in step with Him. And perhaps that’s the only grand plan that matters. If my vision for my life is to live in pursuit of righteousness—a life of living rightly by God—then it doesn’t matter where He leads me to or even how I look like, I can be assured that He will order all my steps, and that I will “still bear fruit in old age” and “stay fresh and green” (Psalm 92:12-14).

In fact, when I approach my life this way, I can look forward to what’s to come in 10, 20, 50 years’ time because I know while I may be wasting away on the outside, I am still being renewed on the inside from day to day (2 Corinthians 4:16-18), and there will be plenty of opportunities for me to grow in wisdom and to continue to experience His goodness in my life.

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

It Doesn’t Stop At Our Votes

On May 10, 2018, Malaysians woke up to a new reality. For the first time in the nation’s 61 years of history, a new coalition—Pakatan Harapan—has assumed the role of the government.

This reality has been years in the making, and for many Malaysians, it probably still feels too good to be true. As one of many Malaysians living in Singapore, the lead up to the elections was a whirlwind of an experience. As soon as the date of the General Election was announced, me and my friends scrambled to book flight and bus tickets home, or help each other find carpool arrangements, so we could all go home and vote.

I myself had planned to leave Singapore right after work, vote early the next morning, and then fly back to Singapore in the evening. It was an insane plan, and I had underestimated how exhausted I would be from all the waiting and traveling, but seeing the proliferation of “purple fingers” and pictures of the voting queues on my social media feeds made my heart swell with pride. It was the greatest display of unity that our country had seen in a long time, and I was glad that I got to be a part of it.

My family and friends kept each other updated as we queued to vote and anxiously waited for the election results to stream in. For the first time, it was unclear which way the votes would swing—and while we were all hopeful that our votes would make a difference, our hopes were also tempered with caution.

As soon as I landed in Singapore, I rushed home so I could follow the results. That night, me and my friends were glued to our television, hand-phone or laptop screens, hearts in our throats, afraid to move, bathe or even eat—just in case we might miss an important moment or result. It wasn’t until 3:00 a.m. that I reluctantly forced myself to go to bed so I would not appear as a zombie at work the next day.

A few hours later, I woke up to a torrent of jubilant messages on WhatsApp and social media about the new era that Malaysia had just entered into. There was much excitement in the air as everyone around me began anticipating the changes that they hoped the new government would put into effect.

It has been a few days now since the government has been installed, and the euphoria of the victory is wearing off. As the government begins focusing its efforts on reforming the country, the question on my mind, and probably on many others’, is: Will it be able to fulfill all its promises?

While I believe and hope that the government will set many new laws and policies in place that will improve the well-being of Malaysians, as a Christian, I am also cautious of placing all my hope in the hands of men. As with any transition in power, the government will take time to put its plans into place, and nobody knows how long this process will take or how extensive these changes will be—but we can be encouraged by the fact that our voices have been heard, and our voices matter.

So, what can we do next as citizens of Malaysia?

If there’s one thing that I’ve realized from this election, it’s that we have the power to change things around us. What filled my heart with hope this election was not the speeches of the candidates or the manifestos of the different coalitions, but witnessing ordinary Malaysians rise up to take charge of their nation’s destiny.

I saw hope in witnessing throngs of both the young and the elderly queuing up to vote so that future generations will have a better Malaysia. I saw hope in the decisions of young people who refused to give in to the voices of defeat around them, but who gave up comfortable and promising careers to dedicate themselves to nation-building by actively participating in politics. I saw hope in the way Malaysians—whether overseas or at home—came together, contributed their time and energy, and used the resources that they have to volunteer as Polling or Counting Agents, book flights to help bring postal votes home, and even organize car pools and donate their own funds to ensure everyone had a chance to decide on the future of the nation. These were the actions that made the world stand up and view Malaysians in a different light. These are the actions that make it clear to me that change has already taken place in Malaysia.

While I may not be in Malaysia at this juncture of my life, I hope to carry that same spirit wherever I go. I’ve learned that we should not solely rely on our elected representatives to do the work of reforming our nations, but there are many opportunities for us to bring hope to those around us as well. I hope that as believers and co-heirs of God’s grace, we will open our eyes to the plight of the fatherless, the poor, the oppressed and the marginalized around us (James 1:27). I hope that we will treat our foreign workers with dignity and care, and help them feel welcomed and at home as they help build our nations (Leviticus 19:34). I hope that we will make our hearts and home a refuge for the lonely and brokenhearted (2 Cor 1:4). I hope that we will have compassion on those who are struggling and lend a listening ear or a helping hand to them if needed.

Whether we’re overseas or at home, let’s pray for a smooth and peaceful transition, and submit ourselves to the governing authorities and their decisions, for as Paul wrote in Romans 13:1, “there is no authority except that which God has established”.  In view of that, let’s also focus our efforts on praying for our government (1 Timothy 2:1-2). Let’s pray that as our newly appointed leaders put together their plans in this crucial period, they will do so with the people’s interests at heart. Let’s pray that they will be a government that leads with righteousness and the fear of the Lord. Let’s pray that they will be a government that understands the weight of the mandate that has been given to them, and work faithfully and diligently to carry it out.

Most importantly, even as we pray for our leaders, let us look towards the Hope that “will not lead us to disappointment” (Romans 5:5, NLT) and pray and long for the day when He will return to bring forth justice to all nations and restore all things.