I’m continuing with this yearly personal look-back partly out of tradition, but also because I want to give thanks to God for His work in my life. I have realised that when I don’t have a heart of thanksgiving, it’s really easy to become dissatisfied with my lacks and wants. That’s when the self takes over and I lose sight of God. But I don’t want to.
I started off the year with the prayer that I will love God more, grow in wisdom, and be more real. To tell the truth, I don’t think I’ve loved God more, but I’ve grown in understanding how much God has loved me. His love remained faithful and long-suffering when I was rebellious, apathetic and unwilling. From time to time throughout the year, I would ask myself, do I love God, and my answer would be ‘yes’ — otherwise I won’t be attending church service / serving / saying ‘no’ to myself. Yet, my love was incomplete, conditional and a ‘left-over’. During a recent solitude in December, as I read an article on Luke 9:23-24 with a few sisters, I was reminded that the kind of love God demands is of primacy, supremacy and priority — Primacy because our first love ought to be Jesus (see Rev 2:2-5 NIV1984); Supremacy, as Jesus said the greatest commandment is to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matt 22:37 NIV1984); and Priority, “If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate [i.e. by comparison of his love for Me] his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple.” (Luke 14:26 NAS). Unfortunately, I think in the end, my first love is still myself, that I love God with so little heart, soul and mind, and I love myself more than Him. That’s how pathetic my love for God is. Yet, in His mercy, He reminded me that His righteousness is for me by faith. He stirs up within me the desire for His righteousness and presence in my life.
68 “Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel,
because he has come and has redeemed his people.
69 He has raised up a horn of salvation for us
in the house of his servant David
70 (as he said through his holy prophets of long ago),
71 salvation from our enemies
and from the hand of all who hate us—
72 to show mercy to our fathers
and to remember his holy covenant,
73 the oath he swore to our father Abraham:
74 to rescue us from the hand of our enemies,
and to enable us to serve him without fear
75 in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.
I never thought that I would write this, but I’m so glad that God broke and healed me this year. He broke me when I finally realised that a hope that I had been hanging onto was dashed, and I felt my life fall apart. There was one morning earlier on in the year when I woke up with an utter emptiness inside, not knowing what I was living for. I didn’t know how I was going to get to work, or for that matter, go through life that day. All I could do was to kneel beside my bed and ask God to give me a reason to live. When I opened my eyes after I said ‘Amen’, the emptiness remained and I just went to work. But I knew that God was there during that period, sustaining me and giving me strength. One of the turning points soon after that episode happened during a trip, when God challenged me to ‘trust His heart’, to trust His good plans and His love for me even when I can’t see what’s ahead. Another breakthrough was when somehow I saw that I was so affected by my disappointments because I was trying to live for someone else, to be this certain standard or type that one would love, yet that person is totally not who I am. That was when I realised that I must live for myself. I know that some may be concerned at the egocentricity of this statement, and would correct me, that I should be living for God. I don’t want to make this epiphany sound more religious by using spiritual lingo. When I said I must live for myself, it means taking responsibility for my own life, knowing God’s boundaries for me, and living with freedom and accountability within these boundaries. I don’t want to live to please others or to meet their expectations; I want to live to be the best that God has made me to be. This sense of liberty has given me sustained joy and a healthy love for myself. I embrace my ‘strangeness’, no longer feeling awkward that I should be fitting into others’ expectation of who they think I am. But there were times that I hated myself, when I found myself narrow-minded, insecure, and shallow. Still, I’m a work-in-progress, and I know that there’s so much that God wants to teach, show and transform me.
Because I want to live to be the best that God has intended me to be, I found an unfamiliar zest for excellence as I embarked on a part-time course in 2012. As I was stretched mentally and physically during the first semester, managing full-time work, part-time studies and my mum’s ailment, I realised that these testing was to develop my grit and align my focus. Through the studies, God granted me joy: I love the intellectual stimulation and academic rigour and was intrigued by the new knowledge gained. As I learnt new theories and ideas, I was able to connect some dots in my head, giving me a better understanding of the world. Yet, it soon dawned upon me that there’s so much more that I don’t know, and that’s another humbling experience altogether. The whole going-back-to-school experience taught me other things as well. To tell the truth, there were commitments and responsibilities that I had to give up or neglect because my time and energy was just so limited. Admittedly, my devotional time with God suffered, the attention that I could give to people dropped, and at times I wondered when I said ‘I’m stronger than this,’ was I tapping on my own willpower or God’s strength? I had to ask myself, what does it mean to love God with all my heart and with all my soul and with all my mind in this season of life then? Biblical convictions that I knew as an undergraduate, e.g. Matt 6:33 ‘But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well’, were challenged, producing renewed tensions between faith and reality. I didn’t have answers to these questions and doubts readily (and still don’t for some), but I just concluded that life is a journey where there are more questions than answers, and even if there are answers, they don’t come easy nor are they easy. And even when I don’t have answers, I want to learn to trust God in spite of, or perhaps, because of, the uncertainties in life.
Despite the fact that the new year means being a year older, I look forward to 2013, because I will enter the new year with God, with hope, and with prospects of new challenges and discoveries. There will be changes in my local church where I worship, meaning new and stronger relationships forged. I pray that I’ll have a greater desire for His righteousness, more wisdom according to His word (and not merely in knowledge), and increased love for my Saviour and Lord.