Learning to give is a significant aspect of being a Christian. It means stepping out of your comfort zone of Self. Seeing other people's needs. Joyfully letting go of something to bless someone with it. And most of all, remembering and loving Christ, the ultimate Gift and the ultimate Giver, the reason why we give and how we should give.
Love surrounds the concept of giving. It's a basic fact, yes, but it gets lost in the complications of relationships and duties as we get older. Paul takes time in the book of Philippians to dwell on this topic, as I found while studying it. Christian giving, as Search the Scriptures helped me define, should be motivated by love. Not out of duty or a sense of necessity. It should bond the giver and the receiver. It should be regular, reflecting the relationship it symbolizes, and the ongoing love that that relationship runs on.
This emphasis on the relationship and effect of giving, rather than just the exhortation to give, made me think twice about how I give. Sometimes, when we've been faithfully giving over a long period of time, we end up just focusing on the act of giving itself. We stop seeing it as an act of love and start seeing it as a practical meeting of a need, as a duty--which is only one aspect, and should be only one aspect, of giving. We give, like we give money to a distant, impersonal charity--we see the need, we acknowledge it needs to be met, and we donate accordingly. We haven't personally connected with anyone but we've 'done our part,' and we can feel satisfied.
We get lost in what we give rather than who we give to, or why we give at all. Meeting the need, whether an ongoing regular one or constantly changing little ones, becomes our focus. Someone needs something. Something needs to be done. We respond to the need while neglecting the person and the relationship. We busy ourselves with getting it done--perhaps grumbling a little--or feeling efficient.
Done. Ticked the box. Settled it.
In contrast, giving should always be a personal experience which bonds us to the person we give to. It should be an opportunity to remember Christ's love for us and our love for Him--and so, a humbling as well as joyful experience.
When was the last time your giving something made you feel humble and joyful?
I'm trying to remember for myself.
I am trying to stop looking only at the gift leaving my hands, or the empty hands I'm putting it into. I'm trying to look up, at the face before me, and beyond it.
Every time I pray with others this inevitably comes up as someone's prayer request.
In busy Singapore this is one thing you can almost infallibly pray for anyone, but students especially--that they'll 'have time for their devotions...to pray...for God...' I think I've went through all the possible ways to phrase this.
It's easy to accept that time is the greatest obstacle in our spiritual growth because it's such an safe, impersonal--because so widespread--admission to make. Yeah. I know my current rhythm of life isn't good for me. But I just don't have the time. I need to reorganize my life--but it takes time... and the vicious cycle continues.
As students; I'm assuming most of you reading this are in the same period of life I'm in, commonly characterized by groaning about assignments, exams, ineffective teachers, and researching the most effective forms of caffeine. Our education looks like Elsa's ice monster except that it's less cute and always there--basically, something we can't resist; we just have to do our best to get on with life while avoiding being pulverized by it. (on an explanatory sidenote, I was rather let down that Kristoff couldn't do much about the ice monster other than run away. Sorry, Frozen fans. Tangled anytime.)
It is so easy to tell ourselves we'll face this after we've passed Current Important Hurdle in Education--because there is a grain of truth in it (but not enough to warrant the amount of complacency we derive from it.) True, understanding your academic schedule/challenges and planning to match is undeniably a useful tip. However it is also a basic common sense tip that is not an all-round solution for our time management problems (sorry to so ruthlessly disillusion you)
Take for example my students. I teach violin to children and over the years as they've been getting older, and their school has become more demanding, they've been telling me every week that they didn't have time to practise. It's true they are in more tuition, special camps, additional classes, and extra programs than I believe is healthy or necessary for children their age (looks like my kids, if I ever have any, will be losers by Singapore definition) but on the other hand...well, I do my best to hide my wry smile and try to help them find a slot of time they can consistently use as practice time.
'But I don't have time!' they chorus like little birds, without even knowing that they're all telling me the same thing and using even the same words.
Ciam lor. (a Cantonese expression of dismay) Poor babies. If seven and eight year olds are saying they have no choice, they have no time, what is their life going to be like as they get older and--ah, how can they imagine it?--busier?
Think about it. We are never going to stop having this struggle of having enough time. Forget about finishing education, or retirement, or emigrating to a less stressful country. Forget about blaming school institutions or the education system or even unreasonable teachers (not that I absolve any from blame, however.) Life by nature requires us to make choices about how we spend it. Perhaps our situations and environments make it harder to choose, or they limit our choices. But we still have the ability to choose.
My sister and I were talking about this once and she made an insightful remark--if you don't take control of your life, your life will take control of you. If we live only to deal with whatever most urgent thing of the moment currently clamouring for our attention, we are basically putting ourselves at the beck and call of a world only too happy to seize control of us and our time.
Being a student may be the stage of life where the struggle of time management is most hyped up. But if you realize that time management continues to be equally a challenge--in different ways and for different reasons--throughout other stages of life, it becomes a much more significant problem we need to deal with even more. In this big-picture perspective, your current time management struggles as a student are no more than prelims for time management struggles as a parent--employee--and the list goes on.
Your spiritual growth and your relationship with God, just as your growth as a person and your relationships with people, are heavily dependent on how well you manage to deal with time management. We have to live with purpose and awareness. To actively work at redeeming the time which our situations otherwise suck so effortlessly from us. For some, it may be as subtle as a few small choices--changing a few lifestyle habits--becoming more conscious of time, the lack of or the excess of, which we give to different things. For others, it's a head-on fight.
But the choice is always ours.
Family relationships can be some of God's best gifts or life's greatest challenges.
Curled up together on mattresses sharing childhood memories and laughing at private jokes, breathing do you remembers?
Seeing the ugliest sides of yourself and each other in petty quarrels, in everyday, significantly small selfishness.
That's a dumb idea.
Love you. A lot.
Grow up and stop being so childish.
You're not really like that. I know that.
I hate it when you...
In any family who has lived together for a considerable amount of time, the most honest, raw words and emotions take place. There is no temptation to moderate our behaviour, like we inevitably do in front of others--don't we all? You have seen each other's most unglamorous, embarrassing, dumb moments; you know each other's weaknesses and blind spots. And either you despise each other for it or you accept it; because you also know that unpleasant as those sides are, they are not the only sides of each other. Those honest words or emotions can become the foundation for a honest, genuine relationship, all the stronger for having no pretentious nonsense of 'niceness', which dooms so many friendships to superficiality, disillusionment, disappointment.
A complicated case of: I know you can be awful. But you know I can be so too. And similarly, I know that just as I can see beyond that awfulness to your strong points, you can see through mine to my own.
This is the best, the strongest kind of relationship--the kind that has gone through fierce heat and come through, burnt but more beautiful and more hardy for the flames.
Blood-duty, the obligations you have to each other within a family (I know the term sounds strangely videogame-esque)
--can make it easier to relate to each other, comforting in knowing you'll always have these bonds to rely on, as it is to me.
On the other hand, perhaps that very blood-duty makes it even more awkward and difficult to relate to each other when you're not close--or flatly against each other; makes your relationship an unavoidable part of your future whether you like it or not.
Which is it for you, as spouse, parent, child, sibling? Or, more accurately, a mix of both perhaps?
Colossians 3:18-25 is all about how Christians should face blood-duty: how does living in the image of Christ apply to different relationships within the family? As a Christian who is a spouse, parent, a child, a sibling?
I tried to discern what was the common point between the instructions for the different roles mentioned in this passage, and I realized it was something as simple as Christ.
Basically, Christ-likeness in the form of gentleness and humility are applicable to any role within the family, as long as the individual loves Christ and truly desires to please and be like Him. As a parent? Be gentle; resist the temptation to take your authority over your children for granted. Do not embitter your children, or they will become discouraged. As a spouse? Submit...love...do not be harsh. As a child? Obey humbly.
Christ-likeness: gentleness and humility. Regardless of what our roles within our family are, we need Him. We need to be motivated by Him. We need to emulate Him. And we need to be empowered by Him.
If we love Him, our strength to change will be from Him, to be like Him.
Relationships are important to our formation and growth as individuals.
I'm not about to write an essay--I hope--but I've been seeing this play out in different aspects of life. Firstly as a homeschooler. And secondly, as a Christian.
As a little guinea pig of education, I remember hearing adults talk over my head (literally) about how I wouldn't know how to interact with peers and would be socially handicapped. As an older guinea pig, I remember being told this to my face--of course, there were also more polite people who actually asked my opinion on that.
That, for the record, is more in a tongue-in-cheek spirit than a sarcastic one. I don't have hard feelings against those people who once annoyed me--I like to think I've outgrown teenage angst (which yes, I finally developed despite being a sheltered homeschooler.)
Bantering aside, this is a topic I believe strongly and care deeply about, after having thought through it and come to my own conclusion. I won't go into depth here because I'm not writing a blog about homeschooling, though I bring it in here as an analogy as well as part of me. But I thought my thoughts on this were well expressed by this homeschooling mom whose blog I stumbled across:
Then what about socialization? Instead of just seeing it as being able to play with children of the same age group, I prefer this definition (click here to read further about socialization and the case for starting school later):
"Socialization in childrearing means rendering children fit for society so that children can grow and mature into becoming contributing adults, who can respectfully interact with others in community, be it at work or home, with colleagues, family and friends."
Basically, it's about balance. Relationships are important, yes. But you need relationships with different sorts of people, not merely people who are your age--or your sort--or a certain sort--in order to truly develop in a balanced way. In order to truly be equipped for life, which--unless you're in one of those dystopian societies so popular in modern YA novels, where everyone who isn't a teenager is somehow either killed off or irrelevant--is composed of relationships with different people, of different ages.
And the most recent lesson I've learnt is that this applies to spiritual life too.
It may be very tempting--or simply, by circumstance, easy--to be with people of the same level of spirituality, so to speak. Perhaps in your case it's people who are more spiritually mature than you. Or less. Or roughly equal. Whatever it is, you happily stay where you've gravitated--change is painful.
The fact is, it's not beneficial for ourselves when we only interact with one group of people, any group. Each has its blessings and benefits. But each also has its weaknesses and blindspots.
If we stay only in the safe shadow of mature Christians, we'll never experience helping others or taking the lead.
If we stay--or hang out would be a better word--only with our spiritual peers, we may be able to relate on common issues but on the other hand we may all easily be blind to the same pitfalls, and be more of a hindrance than a help.
If we are always a mentor, we will burn out fast, and frequently; or fail to see our own failures and foolishness when others are constantly looking up to us.
I need the encouragement of my spiritual peers; the guidance of my spiritual elders; and the opportunity to serve which my spiritual juniors provide, instead of investing myself wholly in one specific group, which gives me an inevitably imbalanced perspective of myself as well as others.
As I see it, we need to have relationships which aren't limited to only one group of people, in order to grow spiritually. Just as life and growth requires relationships with different sorts of people, of different ages.
Providentially, even if we don't have a good variety of these relationships already in our lives, a church family usually affords the opportunity for us to interact with all these different groups in one setting. Thank God for that. The question, perhaps, is whether we take this chance.
a small voice
Ci thinks some of God's greatest blessings to mankind are