image by Abbie Bernet from Unsplash
Recently, I facilitated a study on a small booklet titled Burned Out? by Winston T. Smith. The topic immediately caught my attention because burn-out seems to be one of the increasingly relevant challenges we face in this period of our lives. At a time when we're struggling to juggle new responsibilities and commitments in multiple different areas in life, when our energy and time is always in short supply, burn-out is never too far away. When was the last time you felt overwhelmed, exhausted, stressed out to the brink of tears? When was the last time you wanted to just throw everything aside and sleep for days?
This booklet was short, refreshingly simple, and probingly insightful with some of its questions. I felt it helped me examine myself and discover some realizations, convictions, and applications.
The 4th Commandment to keep the Sabbath is also understood as God's command to us on the importance of rest, a concept most Christians are already familiar with. However, Smith probes further into the greater consequences of this commandment. Realizing that God's creation of the world was not a exertion that He needed the Sabbath to physically recover from, but rather an effortless display of His power, meant that the first Sabbath functioned more as a dedicated day of appreciating and declaring the sovereignty and power of God. "And God saw that it was good." As such, when we keep the Sabbath--or when we rest as God intended us to--we are living out an active trust in God, demonstrating our belief that He is in control of our lives and our world. Rest is not just a necessary but regrettable concession to our human frailty. When we rest, we are not just taking care of our bodies; we are proclaiming His sovereignty.
Secondly, rest also works (pun unintended) as a means for us to experience God's providence, abundant blessings, and the freedom He gives to us. Smith quotes the sabbatical year in Leviticus, where the Israelites were commanded not to plant anything every seventh year, letting the ground rest. God promised to provide for His people through this year by blessing their fields abundantly in the sixth year, so that they would harvest enough food to last them through three years: the sixth year, the seventh of rest, and the eighth year when they resumed planting, before the harvest was ready. Without the seventh year of rest, the Israelites would not have the chance to experience how abundantly--even miraculously--God could provide for them; to witness His power. It also helped to disrupt an increasingly blind devotion to their work or materialism, creating a sense of balance and perspective.
Here, Smith again draws from the laws in Leviticus. The Jubilee year, every 50th year, was another example of rest imposed by God in which slaves were freed, property was restored, and debts were cancelled. Smith foregrounds the correlation between rest and freedom in the Jubilee year. God's command for us to rest has also to do with the freedom we are given to enjoy in Him: "the focus and purpose of all of our labour, ultimately, is to serve Him. No other person or institution may own our allegiance; any other allegiance is ultimately slavery."
And though this may sound strong, think about it. If we're giving almost 24/7 of our time to our job, making decisions based on fear, insecurity, guilt, and pressure, feeling helpless about our inability to have more time for church, for others, for ourselves--it is a kind of slavery, isn't it? Feeling like we don't have much say in how we spend our time, or how we live our life, because work? (or exams etc)
According to Smith, how we observe God's command to rest--or whether we keep it at all--reflects our allegiance: what controls our world, who we serve, and whether we live as a slave or in God's freedom.
part 1; to be continued
image by rob bye from Unsplash
continued from part 2
This is going to sound like a long rant on the woes of being grown-up, but I promise this is the last installment (was that just a confession? No, it's not a rant. There's a lot to be thankful for and a lot to enjoy and appreciate as well...but to be honest, what we're most conscious of are always the challenges. So here are a few of the things that were/are significant to me, in the hopes that you might find some encouragement if you're struggling with the same.)
As your time and mental energy are increasingly all taken up by work, what little that remains to yourself (after you add in family, church, friends, etc etc) seems incredibly precious. Whether it's a ten-minute pocket of procrastination, the evening after you get home, or the weekend, you feel entitled to spend it however you want, uninterrupted and undisturbed. I don't know if this is more of an introvert thing but I'm sure extroverts experience it as well, just manifested differently. This sense of entitlement has an understandable basis--you're tired! you were stressed out the whole day and finally you can relax!--but it's also self-centredness finding more reasons to justify itself.
This is life. It's not going to be any easier for you to be more patient and selfless. There's not going to be a "more convenient" time and context for you to be loving, when you feel more like it. Dying to self, living out Christ, and ultimately living without regrets, starts in the small moments, the small choices. Put the phone down. Give your full attention to the conversation. Your show can be paused. Listen. Live each moment, don't just recover from work.
As your time and mental energy are sapped, you tend to go for what's easiest, what calls for the least amount of energy. We're contented to settle for superficial conversations, for low-commitment relationships, to avoid anything that threatens to step inside our comfort zone or take more than its allotted amount of energy and time. I'm talking to myself here; this is a very valid temptation, and an understandable one, which I've found myself increasingly experiencing.
Whether that means avoiding
opportunities for deep (and maybe difficult) conversations,
addressing and dealing with needy moments (of our own or others,)
going the extra mile for a friend in times of crisis,
dealing with social issues and needs that lie outside our immediate circle or community (or even within!)
or challenging ourselves in growing spiritually and addressing weaknesses in our spiritual life,
superficiality is a very real temptation. I guess you could call it a form of laziness. There are times when you legitimately need distance/down time; but more often not dealing with it, procrastinating, or avoiding actually becomes more unhealthy.
And we've probably heard this before! We get disillusioned. People. Expectations. Dreams. Reality. Your past achievements which seemed so promising yet don't seem to matter much now, what you thought was your dream job, your ambitions which seem increasingly impossible no matter how much you sacrifice for it. Inhumane bosses. Unfairness or corrupted values in biased systems/institutions. Underhand behaviour. Unreliable, unreasonable people who have no qualms being selfish and inconsiderate, or simply take advantage wherever they can. Snakes, to sum it up in one heavily used millenial term.
It's so easy to respond by wallowing in the bog of cynicism (which promises that pulling others in will help manage your own disappointment.) Ah, wait till you're my age. Wait till you get your first REAL job. Don't have any expectations at all for other people or anything, that's the only way to avoid disappointment.
This is at stark contrast with a God Who has "given us richly all things to enjoy," isn't it?
Doesn't it contradict our professed trust in an Almighty God Who is working out His sovereign plan right now on imperfect earth, with all its flaws...just as He is bringing us all day by day closer to the perfected new heavens and new earth.
I've said this before but one thing I love so much about Christianity is its paradoxical ability to sustain the tension between two simultaneous but absolute extremes. God's mercy and God's justice. Man's depravity and our born-again identity as God's children. The helplessness/weakness of man and God's power in using us as His instruments. Even the flawed state of the world, and how God nevertheless hasn't abandoned us to suffer until it comes to an end--to an end preceding a glorious start.
Yes, there's a lot to get depressed about where we are. You don't have to look far, at all.
But because we can look Up, we have hope, to sustain us; to give us courage for the future, because we know what the end is. To give us courage for today, because He is with us; because each day is a gift, is an opportunity chosen for us--even, and especially, the tough parts. Maybe this is how we live out faith, by remaining hopeful and joyful...
image by Hernan Sanchez from Unsplash
I started by typing a disclaimer and then changed my mind. Experiences differ from culture and context, but at the root of it are the same challenges, the same temptations, the same pitfalls. It's tough navigating so many things simultaneously; in the wake of feeling overwhelmed, stressed, inadequate, and anxious, the same temptations tend to attack us.
The first few months I started working full-time I remember adding up my total income and feeling very insecure. I found myself googling "average monthly salary of full-time retail/F&B worker" after passing by some job advertisements at the mall, and suddenly wondering if I was even making as much as the students I saw working during their holidays. It was the first time I so unabashedly evaluated myself by money, and unsurprisingly it was a rather depressed point in life.
As you start work, as you start accumulating the most money you've ever earned in your life--as you compare salaries with your peers, calculate bonuses, try to pay your living expenses and bills like a proper responsible adult, or weigh the pros and cons of different jobs--money increasingly becomes a measurement or indicator of success. Whether that means being financially stable, having a certain kind of lifestyle, being able to afford bubble tea every day (I'm convinced Singaporean millenials spend a quarter of their living allowance on bubble tea and I can see why) or being respected and admired by others. How much you make every month and how much you can afford to spend become the rubric by which we are--consciously or unconsciously--learning to evaluate our lives, the time and effort we invest in our work, and ultimately ourselves.
Money is great. Financial independence is awesome. Being able to treat people, to pay for the cab, to take care of household bills, to give someone something you know they'd really like, and make decisions on "nice but not necessary" things--is very satisfying.
It's a satisfying feeling because not only is it a form of power, you earned this power, there's this sense of affirmation in your ability and worth. Which is why retail therapy is such a real coping mechanism for so many of the people you see in malls (and in Singapore, malls are just part of your everyday; it's just a matter of which one, and how big.) After a tiring day at work, spending money becomes a way to distract yourself, but also to validate to yourself all that time, all that energy, all that stress.
Spending money feels great because it's instant gratification; we can immediately taste the results. We can dig into that photogenic shibuya toast, we can wear that shirt right now, we can go for that holiday or watch that movie. And when gratification is in short supply in other areas of our lives, that's what we go for.
What are the standards we evaluate ourselves by, what is the definition of success that we are living by--constantly trying to reshape ourselves into--comparing ourselves to?
What do we find our satisfaction in--in the long-term scope of life, in what motivates and refreshes us every day?
As Christians, we may not realize that we profess to have certain goals and certain principles, yet fail to apply what that means when it comes to our everyday life. There is a hazy disjunct between "lay up for yourselves treasure in heaven," and what makes you look forward to each day, what you prioritize, what you consider when drawing up your five-year plan.
Escapism. If you've started working fulltime for the first time in your life, navigating new skills and new people and new expectations/challenges, (not to mention all your pre-existing commitments and cares) you've likely entered a whole new ballgame of stress. Not just the kind of stress when you're actively working on the job, the kind which continues to haunt your mind and wear you out with anxiety even when you're in your pajamas and bunny slippers, supposedly all relaxed and recuperating in bed. We don't address and deal with mental/emotional stress as much as we should. We may not even be aware of it, focusing only on the obvious physical stress because at least we all know the remedy for being sleep-deprived, it may not be available but at least it's concrete and straightforward!
And we develop a lot of (often unhealthy) coping mechanisms to deal with this stress. Retail therapy and etc as mentioned above, but escapism is another very prevalent response for our generation. Come home from work and deflate in front of your current favourite series, whether it's the latest Korean drama or the next big thing on Netflix; living the whole week in anticipation of the next episode, or for that movie to be released in cinemas. Tunnel into whatever video or handphone games you're into now, because virtual reality offers you a more tangible, structured system for achievement and success, for excitement. Browse social media endlessly, craft your own page/feed/wall/list of followers, find which parts of your life can be documented as aesthetically and appealingly as possible...
We do this because we crave a mental break from anxieties and insecurities. We crave a straightforward, uncomplicated, attractive, simple life like we see on screen, like our game ranking, like our favourite influencer's feed.
But this is only a (very) short-term solution, one that only lasts until the episode ends or we have to put down our phones. It's naive and unhealthy--and unrealistic--to rely solely on these breaks in order to cope with larger problems or issues in our lives. Instead of escaping from what we dread, sticking our heads like ostriches in the sand until we're forced to come back out, we should acknowledge our need for courage, wisdom, peace, comfort. We neglect to pray.
Yes, ’tis sweet to trust in Jesus,
Just from sin and self to cease;
Just from Jesus simply taking
Life, and rest, and joy, and peace.
(Tis So Sweet to Trust in Jesus
by Louisa M. R. Stead and William Kirkpatrick)
These lyrics sound almost naively child-like in their simplicity, but reflect a deep spiritual maturity and intimacy with God which we are so far from, which we are not even seeking. Our need of Christ should be mostly clearly felt in our stress, just as how those are the times in which we learn to know Him best.
We have a great God, who can supply our greatest needs; yet we are content to relegate Him to Sundays and devotions time, since we're too busy struggling to manage on our own the rest of the week.
Expect more fulfilment, more comfort, more peace, more joy in God than you're currently settling for.
image by Stanley Dai from Unsplash
Once you hit 21, everyone celebrates riotously that you're "officially an adult!" After the confetti has been swept up and the thought has properly settled down in your mind, you're left feeling disoriented and insecure. So now I'm magically an adult--yikes--and somehow I don't feel any different. I don't have any idea how to be an adult or feel any more equipped to take on this challenge than I did the day before.
But you make resolutions, and find motivation (for me, it was watching Hiccup take on his father's role in How to Train Your Dragon 2, and reading about young Queen Victoria in Lytton Strachey's biography!) and realize also that it's not really that momentous; it's more of a psychological barrier, really. And life goes on, per normal.
And you get used to it. And you get busy trying to manage everything, trying to get your life together...
...until somewhere along the way you get burnt-out. And you think, this is adulting, right? Why am I doing such a bad job of it?
I wish 21st birthdays were traditionally celebrated with a list of helpful guidelines and pointers, so you don't have to learn everything the hard way. And maybe a crash course in important life skills like how to pay bills, calculate income tax, unclog choked sinks, and ask all the right questions when you go to the doctor's. I still haven't managed to see the doctor on my own because each time I keep forgetting to ask the intelligent questions my mom would--like what are the possible side-effects, or this a steroid, and what should I do if there's no improvement in x number of days. I just take the medicine while nodding with glazed eyes.
I'm no longer at the dewy-eyed novelty of fresh 21 but several years down the road, I look around at my peers, all struggling valiantly to ace this slippery, abstract concept of adulting. Often feeling like they're failing at it. Too busy to think back, reflect. Struggling with a vague sense of discouragement and insufficiency, of not being "there" and yet not exactly sure what "there" is either.
Well, here are a few thoughts on adulting, from someone who's still navigating what that means.
1. Cherish and actively nurture old friendships and relationships. Remember the people who loved and supported you so that you could be where you are today. It's all too easy to leave them behind in the busyness and distractions.
And likewise, aspire to be to someone else what they were to you. "Be who you needed when you were younger."
2. Make new friends; they're not going to fall into your lap the way they did when you were a teenager, being pushed from one group to another and having to make friends almost out of necessity as part of the education system. Take that bit of energy to smile at your neighbour in the lift, to start a conversation with a colleague. Antisocial teenagers are one level, antisocial adults too absorbed and jaded to care or notice anyone else is the next level. Take an interest in people; the temptation to be self-absorbed is present at every stage of life.
From a more pragmatic perspective: life-long friends, the kind you'll be talking to when you're both octogenarians, can originate from your teens--but rarely. Otherwise, your future close friends will be the ones you make now.
3. Appreciate people for who they are, without necessarily having to admire or approve of them. Everyone has their strengths and weaknesses; instead of blindly accepting, judging, feeling uncomfortable, or insecure, accept that you're going to learn from everyone--whether positive things to emulate, or negative things to avoid. More often than not, it's a mix of both. This was a realization that really helped me cope in uni, when I met different sorts of people (the nice and the...not-so-nice.) Especially people who were very different from me. How do you respond in those cases, with maturity and graciousness?
4. Take care of yourself. Have a healthy respect and appreciation for your body. Know your limits and learn to have the discipline to make decisions that you know you won't regret. See the connection between short-term goals/actions and long-term ones; each choice reinforces a lifestyle, a habit, a mentality. Which and what kind depends on you.
Maybe you want to have a fit lifestyle where you exercise regularly. Well, that happens when your small, everyday, isolated decisions to have that workout or go for that jog accumulate. See each decision for what it is--a small part contributing to a greater whole. Whether that means not beating yourself up for missing one day, or having the discipline to start TODAY and not next Monday.
5. Compassion. Strive to maintain a compassionate and tender heart towards people, even as you might be experiencing more and more reasons not to. Whenever you're tempted to lapse into cynicism (and with all my heart, I agree that that is a very real struggle) remember that compassion is not the same as naivete. Jesus, after all, looked on us with compassion--not because we were dumb, sweet, helpless. Not because we were nobly suffering victims. He looked on us with love and compassion, clearly seeing how we were malicious, scheming, selfish, dishonest, sneaky, cowardly, living in entitlement and denial.
And He loved us in a way to help us get out of that--not get away with that.
a small voice
Ci thinks some of God's greatest blessings to mankind are
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