What would it be like if our world was always day, with no night?
I asked myself this question while on a plane from San Francisco to Singapore – a 16-hour flight, with nearly all of it in daylight because of the time zone differences.
Because I love sunlight so much, I figured I wouldn’t mind having it 24/7. It would filter cheerfully into my office through the glass windows, even at 7pm; and if Singapore’s weather were cooler, after work I could lie on the grass, under a tree, and read a book in the sun. Without darkness, I might just feel more alive, more cheerful, more hopeful.
But in such a world, I know I would miss having sunrises and sunsets – those precious hours where clouds turn impossibly pink and everything becomes gold. For such glory to exist, day needs to graciously make way to night, and night to day. If either ‘season’ remained forever, we would be robbed of the beautiful transitions between them.
‘Transitions’ is a word which brings up mixed feelings. As a youth, each future transition always seemed exciting. In junior college, I looked forward to entering university to pursue a course I liked (where I finally did not have to study Math!). In university, I spent hours and hours dreaming of what I would do once I graduated. Too often, I simply could not wait for the next change to come.
Ironically, now that I’ve actually started working, I find myself yearning to be back in student life again. This new season of work has, at times, felt like overwhelming darkness. There are days I wish the ‘sunlight’ of studenthood didn’t have to end, so I wouldn’t need to move out of that carefree season into this period of heavier responsibility.
Then there’s the transition into married life, which I will be making in a year’s time. I’m looking forward to it, yet am sometimes gripped by bouts of anxiety that can completely overtake the anticipation. I know I will miss living with my siblings and parents – what if we drift apart? What if I’m too incapable or too emotional to support my husband well? Too irresponsible to manage my own home? The looming transition brings spurts of excitement met by other moments of despair, where I’m sometimes tempted to maintain status quo and not get married!
What’s tough in transition is that we bid farewell to a previous season which can never come back, while ushering in a new season of life. This quote from Elisabeth Elliot aptly captures the mixed feelings of letting go and moving on:
“The growth of all living green things wonderfully represents the process of receiving and relinquishing, gaining and losing, living and dying. The seed falls into the ground, dies as the new shoot springs up. There must be a splitting and a breaking in order for a bud to form. The bud “lets go” when the flower forms. The calyx lets go of the flower. The petals must curl up and die in order for the fruit to form. The fruit falls, splits, relinquishes the seed. The seed falls into the ground…
There is no ongoing spiritual life without this process of letting go. At the precise point where we refuse, growth stops.”
One heavenly day, we might experience a place where there is no more letting go and moving on; a period of unending daylight. But on this side of eternity, we are blessed with more sunrises and sunsets – transitions big and small – to walk through. May our eyes be opened to the glory and beauty in each one.
There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens:
a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot,
a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build,
a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance,
a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them, a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
a time to search and a time to give up, a time to keep and a time to throw away,
a time to tear and a time to mend, a time to be silent and a time to speak,
a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace.
… He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.
– Ecclesiastes 3:1-11
Hannah has a big heart for the youth, she loves to read and is a regular contributor to reflections on life@COOS.
I spent a week this December in Dili with a team of COOS youth, serving Timor’s young people together with our long-term missionaries. One of the most memorable programmes we helped them with was a Christmas service for youths.
‘Christmas service’. For me, this term calls to mind a stage decorated with trees, stars, and fairy lights; the nativity scene; singing familiar carols – and perhaps even watching a full-blown musical. Could we call our meeting a ‘Christmas service’ if we weren’t planning to include any of those elements?
At 9:30am on a Sunday, our service kicked off with fifty barefooted youths – Singaporeans and Timorese – perched eagerly on plastic stools in a simple room. We went crazy playing an icebreaker, shed tears as we sang in unison about the Father’s love (no carols), listened intently to the Word (which was not about the nativity), then huddled in small circles to share about our lives and pray for one another.
One moment in the gathering stood out for me. After the last worship song about the Father’s love, many Timorese youth were in tears, perhaps missing their own earthly fathers, or being deeply moved by their heavenly one. Instead of closing off the worship time and moving straight into the Word, our preacher, Siew Lee paused and asked us all to give a hug to someone of the same gender. Singaporeans and Timorese youth offered each other long, heartfelt embraces. I pulled a Timorese friend into my arms and she began to cry. Each hug ministered the Father’s love tangibly, through the language of touch. It was as if the arms of God encircled every person we embraced.
This mission trip taught me that it is ‘love made real’ which people need. In the same way that getting a hungry man to think about food will not satisfy his hunger, merely explaining the idea or concept of God’s love to a starving heart will not satisfy it. We humans need to feel God’s love experientially, not just ponder it conceptually, for it to sink into our beings that we are loved. Someone needs to be there with us, to help make God’s love real.
I think parents already understand this concept of needing to be physically present in order to communicate love to their children. When we reached out to the Timorese kids, we intuitively knew that it would not suffice to simply say, “God loves you”. Instead, we spent hours sitting beside them on tiny stools, performing every action of their kindergarten songs with them, playing kiddy games with them, and getting our hands sticky making crafts with them at the same tiny table. In many ways, we became one of them.
At Christmas, we celebrate the heavenly Father doing just that. He became one of us, His children. He probably grew up running with other kids down dusty streets, perhaps scraping a knee or two, inevitably perspiring under the Middle Eastern sun. He didn’t feed the five thousand in a I’m-a-superior-being-so-let-me-help way, for He himself knew how human hunger felt (Matthew 4:2). He did not emotionlessly wipe away sadness, but felt troubled and wept with the weeping (John 11:33, 35).
At Christmas, the Father didn’t just send a message or a miracle to say, “I love you”. Instead, He –LOVE – became flesh and dwelt among us. He became God-with-us, and communicated His tender love in a tangible, ‘humanly-experiential’ way. At Christmas, LOVE is ‘made real’ to us.
Unlike our Christmas youth service in Dili, at this year’s Christmas service at COOS we will have our decorated stage, our lights, our carols, and our Scripture readings about the nativity. These function as signs, pointing us toward what we’re celebrating: God coming to live among His children; God making His love ‘real’ for each of us.
As we walk in Christ’s steps, why not seek to make the Father’s love real – a tangible experience – for someone near you this Christmas? Perhaps a simple hug is all it will take.
Hannah has a big heart for the youth, she loves to read and is a regular contributor to reflections on life@COOS.
I finally read The Screwtape Letters at the end of 2015. At one of the letters (Letter XV), I had to pause because C.S. Lewis raised an intriguing idea: that God desires for us to live in the Present and not the Future.
Lewis qualifies that God does want people to think about the future, but “just so much as is necessary for now planning the acts of justice or charity which will probably be their duty tomorrow”. What his caution is directed at, then, is our tendency to be so fixated on attaining some hoped-for future – or averting some future we fear – that we neglect to live today the way God intended. Rather, God would have us “obeying the present voice of conscience, bearing the present cross, receiving the present grace, giving thanks for the present pleasure.”
Lewis goes on to say,
“[God] does not want men to give the Future their hearts, to place their treasure in it… His ideal is a man who,having worked all day for the good of posterity (if that is his vocation), washes his mind of the whole subject, commits the issue to Heaven, and returns at once to the patience or gratitude demanded by the moment that is passing over him.”
In other words, it is our present moment-by-moment obedience to God, not even our imagination or hope about a future moment of obedience, which will have any real effect, and which should have our attention. It is for this present moment only that God can give us actual power to decide what will take take place and thus it is this present moment of free choice that we are held accountable for.
Having wrestled with these thoughts, I enter 2016 with a new consciousness that how I spend this present day, this present moment, matters more than any other.
Hannah has a big heart for the youth, she loves to read and is a regular contributor to reflections on life@COOS.
What young people in COOS are thinking about
With the Jubilee weekend celebrations now behind us, Singaporeans are looking ahead to the General Elections – and even further ahead, to SG100. What do we see?
I was curious to hear from my generation. So, I wrote to eight friends in church, all born between 1991-1993, to find out what they thought about Singapore. All of us will be first-time voters this year. We are the generation “old enough” to remember SG50 well, yet “young enough” that we might witness SG100 when it comes. What do we see?
Here are 5 questions I posed to my peers about the past, the present, and the future of Singapore.
1. What’s your favourite thing about growing up in Singapore?
Huldah: It would have to be playing at sand playgrounds located in my neighbourhood. Playing at these playgrounds allowed me to make new friends with those living in same neighbourhood. Block-catching is also the best! As different HDB blocks are built differently, every game of block-catching is always a thrilling experience.
Stephanie: That we have the opportunity to grow up in a country with different cultures. We get to learn more about, and live with, cultures apart from our own. I do find this quite a unique thing about our country, and I appreciate it a lot.
Ryan: The sense of peace and security. I know that I’m living in a safe country and I don’t have to be afraid when I go out at night.
Anna: Well I haven’t grown up anywhere else so it’s hard to say, but I had a rather happy childhood. I think it’s really the things we take for granted, like being able to go to a neighbourhood school and still get a good education, or staying in a HDB flat and being near so many amenities, or having kopitiams and heartland shopping malls where we could eat and shop affordably.
2. What’s one thing that your grandparents’/parents’ generation did for your generation / for future generations that you are grateful for?
Chermaine: Taking care of their grandchildren when they are young. Though it doesn’t seem to directly contribute to Singapore in a tangible way, I feel that having grandparents care for their grandchildren is important because the transference of moral values and culture occurs under their care. I got to taste my grandmother’s traditional cooking and hear my grandfather’s stories about the past which I helped me to understand my heritage better. It’s a kind of national education, haha.
Joseph: Before I left on exchange last August, I visited my grandpa to spend some time with him. In an attempt to make conversation, I said “Grandpa, i’m going to london for exchange! Where did you travel to when you were a student?”
And he told me flat out: “when I was studying, there was no money for travelling. I just studied and worked to feed my family. But I’m very happy that you can go overseas – please tell me if you need any money for expenses!”
I am grateful that the previous generation worked hard and persisted in their various (multiple!!) jobs – today, our generation is all about “not working too hard” and “work-life balance” and “having my dream job!!!”. Most of our grandparents had none of that, but they kept at their jobs anyway, and willingly spoil us rotten today without begrudging us our luxuries. May we be as persevering and selfless…!
Anna: I think I’m most blessed that my parents and grandparents have stayed in happy marriages and built safe, stable homes for our families to return to. More than any material comforts, they have left me a legacy of what love looks like.
3. Do you feel like the SG50 celebrations are just a lot of hype, or does it mean something deeper to you personally?
Anna participating in a SG50 activity.
Anna: Well to a certain extent it IS hype – there’s a lot of political goodwill the government is trying to build up, and other organisations know that jumping on the bandwagon is the easiest way to get funding or public buy-in. But no matter the hype, to me it does have spiritual significance to see our nation celebrate our Jubilee. Not all Singaporeans would understand the Jubilee in the biblical sense, but at least it serves as a reminder for us to be thankful, to come together in unity and to look forward to the future.
Samuel: When I see the whole nation in a mode of celebration I feel happy! I do think that the spirit of celebration is so important to cultivate. In fact I feel it’s the opposite spirit of complaining! You need to be content to celebrate.
Eusebio: I love how there’s a biblical significance behind this milestone 50th year and how the celebration efforts permeate every sector of society. It’s a sacred point in our nation’s timeline. At this junction, we remember the past, celebrate the present and dream for the future. It’s a time for restoration of the land, a time for rededication of families, a time for deciding what kind of Singapore my children will grow up in, a time to remember the alien living in our land…
Chermaine: SG50 to me is 50 years of God’s providence and faithfulness to our nation. And it makes me wonder why. Why did God bless us so much? Why not our neighbouring countries? Why us? I can only conclude that it is because small as we may be, He has blessed us so much that we may reach out to our neighbours to bless them.
4. How do you feel about being able to vote this year? Why? 🙂
Stephanie: I’m honestly very excited! I’ve been pretty apathetic about politics generally but I’ve been trying to pay more attention to the news regarding Singapore’s political scene the past few years. I’m glad I get to have a say in who makes up the new government. Even though I have only one vote, out of so many others, I believe it counts. And it’s great that we can fully trust the whole voting process to be transparent and honest here in our little red dot.
Eusebio: There’s also the realisation of the responsibility that comes with such voting power- being informed about the various parties’ manifestos and proposed plans, knowing the candidates and the work they have done thus far, and evaluating these things in a Christian perspective; seeing alignment with God’s will for the nation. All these means additional work (having to scrutinise the newspapers more often than I actually do) but it’s about being vested in the future of my country.
Samuel: I feel like it’s my right to!! Hahaha I like the fact that we live in a democracy and everyone’s vote counts. I’m the sort of person that believes every vote and person makes a difference. So I definitely feel excited.
5. What vision has God placed on your heart for Singapore?
Eusebio: My vision is for a generation who will parent the next generation with godly wisdom. That they will become fathers and mothers who will train their children in the way of the Lord and surrender their most precious asset, their children, to the Lord and His purposes. That they will not subject their children to the rat race of society but
dedicate them and train them in character. Instead of sending them for tuition and enrichment classes, they will bring them to people who are on the Lord’s heart- the poor, the orphan, the alien, the nations. That they will challenge their children to be light in their schools and lift them up in prayer every day. That they will build strong families that will make a strong nation. That we will tackle the challenges of the times with such assuredness that families will stand united. That is my vision for Singapore.
Ryan: I think it would be for our generation to take ownership of our country. We need to understand that what Singapore ultimately becomes is dependent on the choices and principles our generations hold on to.
Chermaine: I want to see a kinder Singapore, especially to foreigners. I hate that people are so indifferent to them when on many occasions, the first to release their seats on the train for someone else are usually the foreign workers. They are not bad people. So I hope that Singaporeans will be kinder.
Ryan’s and Joseph’s choices for “most patriotic photo of yourself”.
Joseph: For Singapore to be the sort of nation with people that care deeply for their
neighbours, who can choose to set aside selfishness and pride to bridge divisions, the kind of folk that answer ‘who is my neighbour?’ with generosity and kindness and costly love.
Samuel: I actually see darkness ahead in the future. But I see hope too. I feel it’s time that the church in Singapore unites as one body finally; JDOP was merely a lttle glimpse. Jesus called for his followers to be one and I truly believe that when we stand as one and unite under the banner of God, we will know what it means to stand firm on the issues we need to, to cultivate values in the 7 gates. The church needs to equip and send forth. I do hope that the youth I disciple will one day be kings and advisors in the marketplace making Kingdom choices because Christ is king in our hearts.
A love-letter by our contributing writer and her siblings to their mom. a Heartfelt, honest and honouring tribute to be shared with all mothers and their children.
A few days ago, our parents celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary. We have only lived for 23 (Hannah), 19 (Tabitha), and 17 (Jeshaiah) years each, so none of us can fully imagine what it must be like to keep a commitment for 25 years! We’re thankful they chose to stay together through thick and thin, because it’s their committed marriage which has produced and nurtured life in all three of us.
Our mother has always wanted four children, and God blessed her with that. There are now only three of us because our brother, Nathanael, passed away as an infant. Nathanael means “given of God”, and we think that’s really how Mummy sees all of us. Over the last 23 years, she has poured her life into stewarding and nurturing these “gifts”, even when we made things difficult for her.
Mummy gave up her job to take care of us because our brother was often sick as a child. When we were younger, we would tell her go back to work, secretly hoping we’d get to spend more time on computer games without her around. Now we’re grateful that she gave up her career to care for us. Occasionally, our grandma complains that my mum “wasted her education” because her other peers are now highly accomplished in their fields. Realizing that our mum paid this price to stay home makes us appreciate her decision even more.
We sometimes joke that our mother serves as the Minister for Health, Minister for Education, Minister for Transport, and Minister for Home Affairs. Whenever we fall sick, Mummy’s the one who would stay up to nurse us in the wee hours of the morning. Whenever we need anything for school, Mummy’s also the person to ask. However, there was once when she fell sick along with the rest of the family, and so the task of cooking a pot of porridge for lunch became Tabitha’s responsibility. Despite being quite ill, Mummy still woke up early in the morning to guide her in cooking, even though she should have been sleeping, because she loved us and wanted us to be successful.
For many years, Mummy would wake up at 6am each morning to send all of us to school and Daddy to work. Even though we’re now old enough to take public transport to school, Mummy still gets up at the same time to wake Jeshaiah up, and still bails him out when he’s late. Could she have arisen at an earthly hour, and not at the hours of a student? Certainly. But she chose to love us this way, wholeheartedly and without complaint.
Because Mummy manages everything around our house so well, the rest of us don’t have to worry about much. Mummy’s the one who will miraculously fix the Internet connection when it breaks down. She goes to the wet market every week. She keeps track of our changing schedules and remembers who’s coming home for dinner on which days – so that we each have our favourite dishes on the days we’re back!
From the big things to the small, Mummy always seems to be on top of everything. Perhaps that’s what all children think of their mothers! Hannah recalls a time when she was 9 and Mummy replied “I don’t know” to a question she asked. She was horrified. How could Mummy not know?! She always knows! All three of has have since realized that a mother is just like any of us: human, with shortcomings – and not all-knowing. They simply do all they can to love their families, trusting God to do what they cannot.
To every mother reading this: Sometimes we expect you to be superwoman, but we know you’re human too. Take heart that your children are in His good hands even when you fail!
And to our dearest Mummy: We love you very much. Thank you for all you’ve done through the years. To borrow the words of the Psalmist, “Those who sow with tears will reap with songs of joy. Those who go out weeping, carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with them.” (Psalm 126:5-6) May your joy be great!
Hannah, Tabitha and Jeshaiah with their mom, Melanie, and dad, John.