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.
a small voice
Ci thinks some of God's greatest blessings to mankind are
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