image by Logan Fisher from Unsplash
I was halfway typing this post only to realize the red squiggly lines were trying to tell me I had consistently typed "drunkardness" instead of "drunkenness."
Ephesians 5:1-21 is a long passage which gives many weighty guidelines for us as Christians on what our new life should be like, and drunkenness is only one thing mentioned briefly towards the end. We tend to not talk much about this term, at least in my experience, perhaps because we limit our understanding of drunkenness to its literal definition; alcohol.
But drunkenness can be more broadly understood as a state of addiction. And in our time, addictions have only morphed into more and more mutations; it's never been more relatable.
How do we recognize an addiction? It reduces your life to two categories--when you're feeding the addiction, and when you're anticipating/waiting to feed it. That itchy, restless feeling that we've all experienced before.
Being hooked on a drama series, for example. You go to work daydreaming about it and wishing you could just stay home and binge watch the rest of the episodes, pick up where you ended last night. Wishing you could just do that all day.Waiting impatiently to get back to it, getting annoyed when anything gets in the way or delays your gratification.
Addictions could be anything ranging from the obvious ones like drugs and porn, to the where-do-we-draw-the-line ones like social media, handphone or video gaming, entertainment, movies, sports, shopping, etc.
Like an alcoholic, whose life is wholly measured in relation to his/her addiction (when they're sober or drunk,) addictions make us see our every day in light of whether we're doing It, or waiting to do It; living in anticipation of the gratification it gives us. "Drunkenness is the product of repeated involvement."
We may realize our problem, or we may not. In either case, lack of self-control keeps us trapped in it; lack of the motivation, desire, and willpower to break free of the cycle we're living in. It saps our energy, prevents us from using our abilities and resources, from taking an interest in other things, in people.
And it gets harder and harder to envision and experience joy and intimacy with God, when our experience of pleasure and satisfaction is increasingly defined by what our addiction gives us. As C.S. Lewis said, "...We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud-pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased." (The Weight of Glory, and Other Addresses)
And it is this joy--joy which the Spirit gives, joy in God--which is our weapon against drunkenness. This joy needs to be cultivated, to be actively nurtured and exercised by repeated involvement in the means of grace as our God-appointed means of accessing it.
Having said that, joy is so much more than simply mindlessly, if dutifully, going about spiritual disciplines.
Joy can be cultivated in our conscious mindset of thankfulness.
Joy can be cultivated in meditating on God's attributes.
Joy can be cultivated in learning to lay our hearts before God when we pray. Our sins. Our fears. Our desires. Our longings. Even our flawed, often insufficient trust.
Joy can be cultivated in the fellowship of His people, where we strive to model Christ's love.
As a Christian: what comes to your mind when you think of joy? How distant and unrelatable does the concept of joy in God seem to you?
image by Brooke Lark from Unsplash
A few weeks ago, I dug out my journal, dusted off the dog-eared copy of Donald Whitney's 10 Questions, and sat down to give some thought to the year that has gone by.
2018 has been another tough year. Constantly feeling stretched and worn out, struggling with anxieties and fears I was reluctant to admit to myself. Carving out a living as a fresh grad. Learning on the job. Comparing myself, consciously or unconsciously, with peers, with our society's definitions of success and achievement. More and more rejection letters.
But what's new under the sun?
Stress is a given.
What matters is how we cope with it, and how we react to it.
Looking back, I acknowledged that I'd survived 2018 by God's grace, had the strength (more like simply the endurance; I don't remember feeling strong at all in 2018) to push through. It was my first time feeling so needy and crushed, so starkly aware of how inadequate I was, over such an extended period of time. Talk about teenage insecurity. At this point in life, it felt like my whole future--and my whole past, which led up to this!--and my whole identity, or worth, depended on how responsibly I made my decisions, how successfully I managed to prove myself. A good article I saw recently on the Gospel Coalition (I wish I'd seen it sooner) reminded me that the symptoms were pretty much those of the Quarter Life Crisis. Well, apparently I'd gone through it without even knowing. *shrugs*
Humbling. That was the main takeaway from 2018. Realizing that our goals, beautiful and worthy as they may be, don't work out in the way we want them to--and that's ok. It's not--as we're so tempted to feel--the end of the world.
Realizing how fragile and needy I am, on my own, how inadequate just "trying my best" is, for myself and for others. Realizing how much we need God; and paradoxically, how little we tend to rely on Him. That we can get so consumed by our goals and visions they become part of ourselves, become glorified idealized visions of ourselves that we can't bear to relinquish. I was so determined to prove to myself that I was a "real" (read: published and paid) writer, it was devastating to be forced to admit that perhaps...that wasn't going to work out. It was too painful, too terrifying, to examine who you were without this dream/goal. I had forgotten who I was, forgotten that I had any identity other than what was found in my dreams and plans.
So as I look back--reluctantly--I try to avoid regrets, focus on the sobering, humbling lessons I learnt, focus on the grace I experienced when I so needed it, when I was so blind to it. Grace at a time when I was desperately trying to prove myself. Grace at a time when I was plumbing the depths of self-worth and trying to earn success as well as deserve it.
But let's not throw the whole year away like that. There were good things too. I found an old phone note I had made halfway through the year, when I was finally starting to get out of my mental rut, where I made myself note down all the notable achievements and good things which I had been able to do so far. Some of these things were small, some were big--bigger than I realized then. Again, grace; grace, God being gentle with me. Reminding me that He Whose strength is made perfect in weakness, values the seemingly small and foolish things of the world, above the wise. To rethink success and fulfilment from the narrow and shallow definitions I had been clinging to, crying over.
In 2019, I hope:
to be less self-absorbed.
As we build our careers, try to use our educations, reach out to people, fulfil all our roles and responsibilities, serve in our churches, find a life-partner, and still have time to pursue our dreams (who are we kidding, who even manages to do all this??) it's so easy to be mindlessly, unquestioningly, self-absorbed.
I want to let go of that. I want to live with a mind and heart that's purposefully open to others, open to God, and not just ceaselessly--unthinkingly--consumed by my own goals, concerns, and desires.
to live with less fear, and less self-consciousness.
A lot of the stress I went through in 2018 was due to the importance I had attached to certain things. So much fear. So much self-consciousness. Because I unthinkingly accepted that they affected what I was. Not daring to risk failure or rejection, because my crushed ego and self-sufficiency were already floundering.
To live with less fear and less self-consciousness is also to live with less pride. I think, in my determination to do well, I forgot that there's a fine line between confidence and pride.
to cope with stress in healthier, more God-glorifying ways
We all get stressed. Heaven forbid I try to sound like I had it worse than others. I know so many coping with even more insane amounts of stress, from family issues, financial and job situations, mental health conditions, everything else you can imagine. What little I experienced this past year only opens my eyes to the crippling and devastating effects it can have. Regardless of stress levels--this is not a competition on who can claim to be most stressed, though that's sometimes how it feels like chatting with your friends in Singapore haha--each of us needs to find ways of coping with stress which actually help us.
One of the humbling things I learnt in 2018 was how stress brought out several negative aspects of myself. I developed unhealthy coping mechanisms which I at first excused on the grounds of stress. I'm so exhausted and sick of worrying, I just need a little distraction. I've got no energy or time to listen; there's too much on my mind. And the list goes on.
As Christians, do we cope with stress by giving ourselves license to do things we wouldn't otherwise consider? Do we resort to consumerism, self-indulgence, mindless entertainment, addictions, relinquishing self-control? Do we redeem the time? Do we fill our minds and hearts with what is "good, noble, pure..." (Philippians 4:8), do we rest in ways that truly refresh us? Most importantly--does our stress teach us to draw closer to God? To trust in Him more. To know Him better. To rely less on ourselves.
to live with perspective and priorities
Hustle, hustle. I recently observed to a friend that for this generation of millennials, it feels like you need a new game plan every single year. Every year, a sense of instability and flux haunts you; you're driven to try and pin down more of that intangible dream of success, whether by moving house, changing your friends group, finding another job, getting promoted, improving yourself, and the list goes on. Have I made it? you wonder. What else do I need to do to make it? (cue Quarter Life Crisis theme song)
Work towards your own goals. But seek first God's work in your life, and through you.
Don't form your identity--self-worth--definition of success and happiness--on the wrong priorities. Keep your perspective, actively protect it, because it comes under threat so easily.
Treasure it as something which empowers you to live freely and fully.
image by Hunter Haley from Unsplash
It's common to long to be great. Not just to win the Nobel Peace Prize or make lots of money or be famous; to do great things for God, too. I remember the intensity with which I sustained and cherished this passion since I was young, and then as a young believer--to be someone great, someone famous, someone who makes change in the world, who is one of God's outstanding servants! (this was mainly the reason why the Rebelution had such a powerful appeal to me)
It was only inevitable, then, to find myself struggling with restlessness and discontent, when reality didn't align with that vision. What was I doing here, trapped in the ordinary mundane tasks and challenges of not being rude to my parents, putting up with annoying siblings, feeling lonely and insecure as a teenager, and failing at maths? I felt as if God wasn't utilizing me--a tool in the toolbox, getting dusty while I waited to be needed.
There's a reason why we use the analogy of ourselves being God's tools/instruments, but there are limitations to that analogy as well.
Thinking of ourselves as tools/instruments implies a passive, stagnant role (without undermining the importance of God's sovereignty, however) which may lead us to see our lives--especially since we already struggle to see God's hand working in the ordinary unglamness of our everyday!--as just incubation periods until the fit time arises for us to be useful!
God is working through each small event and trial we face, each circumstance, to shape us into what we should be. We are in the process of being shaped for use, right now; in that coffee you spilt over your laptop; in that stupid insensitive thing you said; in that compliment you thought about all day; in that sigh. In things that we tend to dismiss simply because they're repetitive, or small.
Instead, looking at David's life; those small, boring, repetitive things are not to be dismissed.
God was preparing him, through his ordinary life, his duties, roles, challenges, and strengths, to shape him into who he was. From killing lions to killing Goliath. Dealing diplomatically, humbly, and graciously with an overbearing older brother taught him how to act and behave in court, before the king, with politics (I can never get over how Eliab's older sibling vibes remain so tangily relevant centuries later; I don't know whether to laugh or cry. Younger siblings out there, there is nothing new under the sun.) Caring selflessly for the sheep, protecting them, reflected his future kingship duties and the mindset of a true leader--willing to risk his life to fulfill his duty in times of crisis, instead of running off and leaving the sheep to fend for themselves.
How many times did David take the sheep out? Probably every day. How many times did he get chivvied by Eliab? (not to mention all the rest of the older brothers--can you imagine being the youngest--read: lowest in the pecking order--of seven sons?) Probably all the time. How many times did he get swept out of the way, got thrown the boring tasks which no one wanted to do, told to go off and make himself useful, not disturb his older brothers with their "important" work? The fact that he wasn't even called before Samuel until the very last minute, when they suddenly remembered that "oh, actually David counts too," speaks volumes.
This sort of background formed the foundations of hard work, humility, selflessness, intimacy and reliance on God which made David the great man he was. He didn't become kingly in a day. Even before Samuel anointed him, and the Spirit came to him, God had been working in David's life, preparing him.
Don't dismiss today, tomorrow, the everyday. We are being shaped. Whether or not for greatness as you define it, God's purpose for us is being actively carried out each moment in what we experience. Live through the small things (the small thorns; the small issues; or the small joys, even) purposefully and mindfully, without dismissing them as insignificant, without acknowledging that they are not too small for God's plan.
a small voice
Ci thinks some of God's greatest blessings to mankind are
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