Life Is: To Love and To Be Loved

IMG_3987

The countdown to returning to the sunny island we call ‘home’ begins. It was just months ago that we packed our luggages, bid our farewells, (maybe) shed our tears and embraced our loved ones; vivid memories at the airport still remain. At milestones as this, the fleeting nature of time confronts us and somehow takes us by surprise each time. Shouldn’t we have arrived at enough milestones as such to realise that our lives are like fog – here for the moment and gone in the next? Shouldn’t that realization compel continuous pursuit for greater? From the earlier days in Sydney, I had been seeking ‘love’ that I knew ‘had all answers’, that ‘always makes a way’; the ‘love’ that fills us with joy and peace, ‘love’ that builds character. Preceding years of service and volunteerism, convicted me of the incomparable value of ‘love’ that I yearned to be the foundation for my life.

Months on from leaving home, I discover the truth that we all receive an incredible love that my words do little justice to. My prayer is that reading this would encourage you to, too, seek true, pure and complete love that exists instead of settling for the counterfeit love that hinders us from that which is authentic and immeasurable.

Love is not selfish

In primary school, idle afternoons would be taken by poor movie choices, consisting mostly of chick flicks. Each of which provided an inaccurate and incomplete illustration of ‘love’ –  friendships were littered with betrayal and backstabbing, while the so-called ‘love’ between the couple that eventually gets together was more often characterized by attraction and affection, nothing more (think Mean Girls, High School Musical or Easy A). As my female peers (and now myself) enter university, there has been increasing pressure to seek ‘love’ in the ways of the world that we have been taught. We hear stories of “who’s entering the upcoming pageant”, “who’s dating who” and “who’s done it already” within the first weeks of university. No one talks about it aloud but within, fear and insecurities brew – What if I don’t find someone? What if I am unlovable? What if there’s no other way to love but this? But since when did being attached and engaging in sexual activity become measuring sticks for love and ‘lovability’.

These lies compound and we so often settle for the selfish love that is not love. The opposite of love is not hate, it is selfishness. ‘Selfish love’ is an oxymoron, for true love does not demand its own way. Love is not self-seeking. Today’s relationships (both boy-girl relationships and friendships) are so often premised on how the other can meet one’s emotional and physical needs – the increasing co-habitation trends in young couples are reflective of our taking one another on ‘trial sessions’, to see one’s fit to meeting our own needs. Friendships are no longer about sticking it out with each other through the ups and downs, but about the unspoken transactions. Until we commit to learning love that is not selfish, we are nightmares to be friends with or to date; betrayals and heartbreaks waiting to happen.

How many of us truly enter the relationships in our lives seeking to serve the other person wholeheartedly, instead of considering what we can gain from the relationship? Have we chosen selfishness over love that is not selfish?

Love is complete acceptance

For some part of my life, my frizzy hair was a source of great insecurity. Growing up amongst girls with long and straight hair made me think that my curly hair was unusual rather than unique. It is rarely discussed, but I came to find out from vulnerable conversations that every person struggles with some part of their appearance or their character – it is a shared human experience. Each of us, if asked for a part of ourselves we hoped to change, could most definitely come up with a list immediately. There is a difference, though, between wanting that change from a place of love (seeking growth) and wanting that change from a place of resentment (seeding destruction).

Especially in the Asian context, we are taught to treat ourselves harshly as a form of discipline towards change and betterment. There is, though, a discipline that comes from love that begins from a place of complete acceptance. Think of someone in your life whom you are certain about his/her love for you and consider this – in your imperfection and many weaknesses, this person has chosen to love you and loves you still. Does that mean that he/she will not want you to seek development and growth? Does that mean that he/she will love you any less when you change because you pursue a better version of yourself? One who truly loves you will love you too much to let you remain the way you are and instead, compel you with that love of complete acceptance to become better and better every day.

I have lost count of the number of times my emotional vulnerability has been taken advantage of in relationships. Over time, I have come to learn that those who truly love me not only protect and cherish it, but support me in learning to harness empathy as a strength. Love rejoices in our gifts being brought to light and tramples upon injustice. Are we pursuing the best version of ourselves every day from a place of love or resentment? Are we assured that we receive unconditional love even if we are imperfect and we will change? Or is conditional love taking the guise of true love, limiting the greatness that you were made for?

Love is life

Let’s ask ourselves, “What in this life is worth dying for?” because that same thing would then, be worth living for. Our futile pursuits that lead us deeper into emptiness assure us of the many things that are not worthwhile – our grades, achievements, travels and even memories will fade away in the matter of time. This strategy of elimination, though, is not quite time effective especially considering the fog-like nature of our lives. The dissipation is already happening; with every moment we draw closer to the end of this life.

We are all on our own journeys towards the truth of what this time on earth is meant for: for a long time, I had been lost in the roundabout busyness that our world draws us into. Today, I feel more alive every day and the turning point started in the moment I decided to make love my one calling. Throwing aside the things that were hollow of meaning, so that I had two hands empty to embrace the calling to love. I challenge you to do the same – reject the counterfeit love of this world and seek love, truly – then watch your life be radically changed as was mine. One that is not selfish and accepts completely, truly. I look forward to your testimony of life change, write to me at shng4630@uni.sydney.edu.au.

“Many of us live with incredible tension and anxiety because we think that our dreams will come true if we just get the right degree, if we just meet the right people, if we just get the right job. We assume our happiness is tied to our success, and our success depends on our performance. So we sweat and struggle and scheme and strategize, and we wonder why we aren’t enjoying life.” 
 Judah Smith, Author of Life Is ­­­­­­_______

IMG_4146

Advertisements

You Were Made For Greater

wholehearted-living

What if I told you you were made for greater? You were made for greater. Greater than the unending busyness, greater than the relentless routines and mindless pursuits. You were made for greater than travelling to that job you don’t enjoy every day or studying the subjects you see no purpose in. You were made for greater. There is something greater in store for you than the endless scrolling through social media and the conversations that bring you more emptiness than fullness. Greater than you can even imagine and certainly greater than the greatest you think you’ve experienced. This piece is about the greater in store for you, inspired by a recent read Greater by Steven Furtick and the fires we are to start setting should we want to uncover the promise of something greater.

Set fire to our silliness

‘What is your passion?’ is the buzz of the generation. Left, right, centre, we are told to ‘follow our hearts’ and ‘pursue our dreams’ – we are the generation walking on the clouds, seeking something greater but getting lost in rollercoaster rides of adrenaline and burn out. Worse, we are confused and mislead in the false dichotomy of passion and practicality. Say this world we live in were a mansion, we feel like we are taking a gamble whenever we decide which doors to open and which others to close. The door of practicality appears to bring us into a room with cement flooring of stable ground but white walls of meaninglessness; vitality is lacking. Peeking through the slit of the door of passion, there are radiant colours and music plays but we fear that the ground there will not hold us. ‘It’s impractical’ or ‘You’re going to fail’ are the criticisms that hold us back from that first step that could make all the difference.

The greater life that we were made for though, is a mansion of open doors one after another – a myriad of colours painted on the walls and diverse types of flooring await our adventurous steps. There are many more doors than just two, passion and practicality are characteristics (that can coexist) not categories (that are mutually exclusive). There is more than enough room in this mansion to try and fail, if we only tried. Too often, it is not our intellect protecting us from regret but our fear preventing us from revolutionary. In the words of Steven Furtick, the real danger we experience in this generation is not that of losing our lives but of wasting them – wasting them for anything less than the greater we were made for. How greater looks for every person might differ, but we all start from the same place – setting fire to our silliness.

The silly things we do in this life are many. We hold onto our pasts that leave no room in our hearts for the present. We chase perfection to please. We spend more time doing things that mean less to us. We settle for less. We let irrational fears be our excuses. We let the people who don’t value us be our measures of worth. We are less aware of our convictions that shape our everyday lives than we should be. We are slaves to our silliness – making room for greater calls us to set on fire silliness taking up the rooms of our hearts.

What irrational fears and doubts are you holding on to? Who are the people who are telling you you are anything less than strong and courageous? Which commitments are you dreading more and more, to bring yourself to? How are you spending every moment in this precious life?

Set fire to our souls

In Youth Corps Singapore, we speak of the ‘fire in our bellies’ to refer to the innate passions that tug at our heart strings. It is that social cause that brings tears to your eyes, that sport that brings you to your feet, that topic of conversation that brings adrenaline throughout your body, that art form you could indulge in for hours and lose track of time. It takes different shapes and forms for each person but one thing is for sure – the mention of that fire enlivens an inner spark, warming our hardened hearts as if bringing us to life for the first time. It only takes a spark to get a fire a going and I encourage you to be mindful of the everyday conversations and choices you make, for they give you clues to what your spark might be. There is light in each of us, a spark that isn’t meant to remain as it is – like the sizzle from a match that strikes against its box, it is purposed to be thrown into the stack of wood to light ablaze the bonfire.

When was the last time you were excited about something? When was the last time you got lost in time because you enjoyed doing something so much? When was the last time you left a conversation fuller than you were before it? Let’s find that spark and set fire to our souls, the greater life awaits.

greater

Church Testimony: The Transcript

speaking

5 months from the last time I’ve been given the privilege to speak before an audience and so much has happened ever since. Life has a way of tossing you into the least expected places in the most surprising of twists and turn – today, in a much more humble setting, before an audience of 30, I shared my favourite story yet

“Church, today I am privileged and excited to be sharing my story with you – this is a story of how I grew up and how I ended up in Sydney, a story about who I thought I was and who I’ve found I am. This is a story that God has woven into a masterpiece through my life.

God has been working in and through me before I even came to recognise Him.

For many years in my life, I have been an active volunteer and it is something many people remember or recognise me for. When I was 16, I rallied my class to sponsor a child together in Uganda; by 17, I developed a social emotional learning curriculum that was adopted by a primary school in Singapore; at 18, I lead a team of adults mostly in their mid-twenties to Vietnam’s Ministry of Environment to share a waste management plan we had developed; at 19 (last year), I started a social enterprise with my sister called Strong Mind Fit Body. We bring elderly Singaporeans together with youth volunteers for strength training exercises.

I didn’t know then, but God had been working through me and using me in countless ways to bring blessing and light to the darkness of so many.

 God came at a time I was exhausted and hopeless.

In my family, my parents are Buddhist and my siblings and I grew up mostly regarding ourselves as ‘non-religious’. (I have an older sister and a younger brother) The rest of my extended family on my mother’s side are Christian, but because of past conflicts and other negative experiences for my parents, we pretty much grew up being taught to reject Christianity.

The teaching was, “There are many things in life we cannot explain and there might be a higher being. But this higher being is not here to love you but to punish you – so be careful, do good and you’ll receive goodness but do anything bad and be condemned.” If you understand the ‘karma’, the idea is that “if you want anything you must deserve it and to deserve it you must work for and earn it”. How absolutely wrong we were.

Growing up believing that, even love had to be earned.

In the days I started volunteering, I was schooling in one of the most prestigious institutions in Singapore. Every day, we were reminded of ‘noblesse oblige’, which is Latin for “the privileged have an obligation of serving”. The label that enslaved me was ‘privileged’. The more social needs I saw volunteering, the more I was reaffirmed that nothing in this life that I experience and enjoy are deserved – not this privilege of literacy when millions of children don’t have a pencil to hold, not this privilege of safety when so many live on the streets in fear, not this privilege of a proper meal when millions struggle to even be fed. With no concept of God’s grace, the only logical response to this horrific realization was to be constantly in service to others and to deny myself any more of it if I could help it.

Closer friends knew how terrible I became at taking care of myself – my days would be packed from even before the sky awakens to prepare for our workout sessions all over Singapore, meetings with volunteers to whom I became a personal counsellor, travelling to schools to do mentorships, conducting volunteer trainings, facilitating camps and leadership trainings, speaking at forums and conferences.

Deep within on days I was tired of this life, there would be a voice that says “Who do you think you are? Who do you think you are that you deserve anything more? Who are you that you deserve a better meal? Or a decent sleep?” What I didn’t know then, was that God was in all of it. All the times I held the hands of our elderly participants at workout sessions or gave hugs to those who cried, He was holding my hands and embracing me in His warmth. All the times I missed meals and someone would think of surprising me with a proper meal (that was not fast food), all the times my volunteers surprised me with handwritten notes and affirming messages, all the times random strangers came up to me wanting to pray for me and all the times He let people walk in on me crying from exasperation; I was clueless and faithless, yet He was knowing and faithful.

Just as God chose me; for all of my life, I want to choose Him.

One of the first things I did after coming to Sydney, was to enrol myself into a self-compassion course. I had come to a rock bottom where I almost had no reason at all to be loving or taking care of myself. The voice that said, “You deserve nothing” had grown too loud to be silenced. It was then that a coursemate invited me to a church camp over the Easter Break. The first sermon that broke me was about 1 Peter 2:9. It says “You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.”  

The name of the camp was ‘Chosen’ and the pastor talked about how each of us were God’s chosen people. Not because of what we did or will do or can do, but because He loved us so. We did nothing to be worthy of being chosen but we were and because there is no condition for this unconditional love, there is also no reason the love will be lost. We are chosen, and God isn’t going to withdraw this choice ever – the response we get to make lies only in ‘accept’ or ‘ignore’. There is no option to ‘reject’, for it wouldn’t be withdrawn.

In this world that we live in, everything is transactional – in every relationship and every person, it is about what you can give me and what I can give in return. All my life, this is the only type of relationship I’ve recognised; I can’t even count the number of strangers I’ve spoken to, conversations I’ve had, relationships I’ve been in that came from the intention of putting forth a request – “Could you help us with this?”, “Could we meet you to ask you questions about this?”, “Can you be the one to do this?”

When God came to me, He came, too, with a request. But His was not about what I could give Him or what He wanted from me; His was an invitation to receive. To receive something so so precious, something unimaginable. He didn’t come to count tabs or take back what I did not deserve, He didn’t come to punish or to reprimand. He came first to love and embrace and to serve.

My entire self and life is God’s.

I am an avid reader, I absolutely love reading books and writing my own prose. In a recent read, Desiring God by John Piper, the author proposes that we each live a life pinning our hopes on a single treasure – the ‘treasure’ might be family, career ambitions, grades, that ‘comfortable life’ or that holiday dream. We pin our hopes on those treasures such that our lives would be a waste if the value of those treasures were not real.

I once settled for treasures that were going to fail me eventually, treasures that would truly have made my life a ‘waste’. It is by God’s grace alone, in His giving me what I do not deserve, that I live and breathe in His truth. Every day now, I want to live a life that would be a waste if Jesus didn’t love me, if the resurrection were not true or if God were not real. So I know for sure, it will not be a waste for there is no more certain truth I know than the fact that Jesus loves me more than I can even imagine, the resurrection is the most important historical fact in humanity’s past and God’s presence is undeniable – for all of my days, I will pin my hopes on the One who will continue to pick me up no matter how many times I let Him down, who will continue to forgive me no matter how many times I fall short.

In every moment that He breathes life into me, I wish only to bask in His relentless love and bring Him glory in all that I do. Jesus freed me from the burden of my sins and the weight of the chains upon my soul; I have decided to follow Him with all my heart, all my mind and all my soul. And I’m never turning back. Thank you Lord, for bringing to me a place of childlike faith and untradeable joy.”

childlikefaith

I Am Deeply In Love: The Encounter

the encounter2

Second in a series of three, the story continues from where the search for purpose began. This piece speaks of the encounter where answers are uncovered. At 19-going-on-20, my crippling struggle was that I could not love myself. We each have a harmatia – in a superhero movie, this is the protagonist’s greatest strength that is also his fatal flaw. It is his deepest vulnerability that eventually leads to downfall. It is the critical ingredient in the villain’s scheming plot and the turning point of the story. We each have a harmatia – the one thing that gifts us with immense power and yet, paralyses us. I believe that one of the ways God shows Himself is through our deepest wounds that even we are unaware of. Mine is empathy.

The many forms through which emotions are expressed come to me as easily as the English Language. As we converse, the furrowed eyebrows, downcast eyes or milliseconds of silence speak more clearly to me than spoken word. In an instant, it is as if our hearts are in sync and I experience another’s brokenness as my own. ‘Pain’ and ‘suffering’ do no justice to what is excruciating. Then, just as the rewards of deep emotional connection are plentiful, the fall that comes with overwhelming helplessness is steep. The cost of harmatia high. As an active volunteer, I could never make sense of the deep injustices I learned of – ‘How can I grow up with such privilege when another struggles to survive?’, ‘Why do I get the gift of literacy while others cannot afford a pencil?’ and ‘What did I do to deserve this life?’ A million questions had no answers. I was on an endless treadmill running away from the truth that I did nothing to deserve any of these blessings. The empathy that had connected me with the suffering of millions had now become the reason for paralysis; my life was overcome with incessant busyness to meet needs, while my own were trampled underfoot. A part of me was desperately trying to dissolve the shame and guilt. The recurring thought ruminated, if I did nothing to deserve this life, then the least I should do is to give it all away to others and give nothing more to myself. Not even care, especially not love.

Leaving Singapore for Sydney, was a brand new chapter. The clean slate provided opportunities for self-care and I signed up for an online self-compassion course by Kristin Neff and Brene Brown that had been on my ‘to-do list’ for months now – creating sleeping habits, eating practices and journaling routines that protected my emotional and physical health became structures to support my attempts at taking care of myself. God was preparing my heart without my knowledge.

The Encounter

Barely three months into Sydney and weeks after ‘graduating’ from the online course, I was invited enthusiastically, to a church camp during the Easter Break. I had expected Christians coming together for fun, games and singing in what would be a ‘feel-good’ retreat (growing up in an anti-Christian environment that preached ‘non-religiosity’ created unhelpful and unrepresentative associations), no more. Instead, the camp itenary consisted mostly of worship sessions (where songs are sung in praise of God’s glory), sermons (where pastors preach referring to parts of the Bible to guide the growth of Christians) and ministry time (where everyone splits into designated groups to reflect on what has been preached). Being in the midst of the Christian community with an openness I never had before was the start on a path that God had laid out for me towards Him, and now I do not wish to turn any other way from this path for all of eternity.

The Bible says, “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” [1 Peter 2:9, NIV]

The first sermon that broke me during the camp was one based on this verse – it was not that we chose God but that God chose us, and we are his first choice. In the words of the pastor, “the burden of choice is on God, not us”. He chose us out of love for us and there is nothing for us to do to prove ourselves worthy of being chosen; for if there were a reason, that reason could be lost. We are chosen, that’s it. The room was silent and the air of revelation was thick. People are not Christian because their parents are Christian or because their friends are Christian. They themselves are chosen. Jesus told his disciples to “go and make disciples of all the nations” [Matthew 28:19, NLT], because we are all chosen just because our God is a God of love. He is one who wants “everyone to be saved and to understand the truth” [1 Timothy 2:4, NLT].

One would think that a three-month long self-compassion course could prepare me to accept any form of love that came my way, but at the pastor’s call to action, I could not bring myself to acknowledge that I had been chosen just as everyone else. Our God has loved this big human family He created from the beginning and he will continue to till the very end. God loves me even after all the times I’ve rolled my eyes at His attempts at sharing Himself with me, after all the wrong things I’ve done in spite of Him tugging at my conscience. He loves me even when I fail and He loves me even if I can never love Him back the same way He loves me.

Here I quote one of the best reads I’ve been blessed with from the time I encountered God, Life Is _____ by Judah Smith where he dissects one of the most commonly quoted verses in the Bible – “For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him.” [John 3:16, NLT] It doesn’t say, ‘God loved some of the world’. It doesn’t say ‘God loved those who loved him back’. It simply says ‘God loved the world’. And if you just read that without feeling a bit uncomfortable, you read it too fast. God loves the whole world? This doesn’t make sense. This is crazy. What about the bad people? What about the indifferent people? What about those who mock Him to His face, who flaunt their evil and flout His commands? God loves the world. I’ll spend the rest of my life trying to understand that.

I prayed that He would assure me that He loves me, demanding of endless signs to fulfil my insecure heart. I made threats in prayer along the lines of, “God, if you really love me why do I feel so alone?” and “God, if you say seek and I shall find; I’m going to start seeking and if I don’t find you I get to move on with my life.” The reason I can tell this story today is because every single time, even when I didn’t think He was listening, He was and He answers. Our God is faithful and He “causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God” [Romans 8:28, NLT]. In the words of Ravi Zacharias, I came to Him because I did not know which way to turn. I remain with Him because there is no other way I wish to turn. I came to Him longing for something I did not have. I remain with Him because I have something I will not trade. I came to Him as a stranger. I remain with Him in the most intimate of friendships. I came to Him unsure about my future. I remain with Him certain about my destiny.

the encounter

I have decided to follow Jesus and I am never turning back.

Young in my Christian walk, I am learning about our infinitely incredible God who surprises and astounds me every single day. Our God is relentless in pursuit of us because He loves us in a way that we can barely even begin to comprehend. He is pursuing you just as He pursues me. No matter how many times we turn away, no matter how many times we choose to ignore, He is stretching out his arms in invitation of us to lead a life in Him over and over again. Rejecting Him is not an option, He will not withdraw the invitation; you can only accept or ignore. The promise is that if you seek, you shall find [Matthew 7:7, NLT] – to accept you only have to start seeking, He is listening to your every prayer.

I Am Deeply In Love: The Search  

20045498_1651519121537865_2280385825921849856_o

20 years old, I am an aspiring Occupational Therapist and an eternal dreamer convicted in changing this world one impossibility at a time through faith, hope and love. At the end of this brief, impermanent life, there would have been countless interactions and experiences I may be remembered for but above all, I hope for my life to be testimony of a love that few have tasted or seen before. When asked what did she do or how did she live, I hope for the resounding consensus to be that “she loved”. First in the series of three, here’s the story of (1) my search for a love that would fill an emptiness within and (2) how I’ve now found something I want to remain in for eternity. Everything about my life from this point is (3) part of the pursuit.

The Search

Months ago, I was welcomed into the embrace of Sydney to pursue my university education. Departing from a place I had called ‘home’ for the first 19 years of my blessed life was uncertainty-filled. Home had been a place characterized by familiarity: a sense of love, peace and significance. I close my eyes and I can trace the roads that line the town, I know the exact shade of orange that colours the seats of the public buses and the footsteps of my fellow Singaporeans are in resonance with my heartbeat. The subtleties of our culture (the accent, topics of conversation, measures of ‘what is meant to be’) had seeped into my subconscious. Home was grasped tightly in my palm and as natural as breath; this place was abode to game-changing initiatives, advocacies and movements I had the privilege of fighting alongside fellow dreamers in.

Before leaving for Sydney, luggage in hand and warm hugs one after another as I bid farewell, I vividly recall a sense of fear accompanied with contentment. The thought then was “Wow, what a splendid 19 years of life; I can’t quite imagine how anything in Sydney can bring me anywhere new or anything more fulfilling.” Fears arose from the disgruntling knowledge that there was emptiness – that in spite of boundaries transcended, challenges overcome and all things achieved; the fullness I had expected had not come.

If that place I’ve called ‘home’ and built a life in cannot fulfil me, how can anything in foreign land? If everything so many have only dreamt of is no antidote to enduring emptiness, what then is the meaning of this life? There was a yearning, a longing and a searching; one with little knowledge of what exactly I was looking for at all. Every day had been filled with incessant busyness, achieving things and ticking off endless lists of ‘what I have done in my life’; people have been met, touched, inspired and indulgences in different forms of entertainment for that occasional breather all did not suffice. The emptiness was real and the grumbling of the soul grew louder.

I am deeply convicted that this life calls that we each ask ourselves the essential question, “What is it that without which, we have no reason to live?” And in seeking that answer, we find out what is worth dying for, that is also what is it we are living for. You are not alone – all of humanity has to struggle and continuously ask ourselves these questions to decide what every breath we take is worth. All other pursuits we embark in are truly subordinate to this pursuit for eternal, lasting worth.

The promise is that if we seek wholeheartedly, we will find[Jeremiah 29:13, NLT] The search had begun.

 

The Hunger And The Bread

18403760_1345761352187565_255877795559908001_o

Koorong is a humble bookstore that sits at the crossroads of West Parade and Anthony Road, with endless wooden bookshelves and occasional couches for those who prefer immersing in their reads amidst other bookstore-goers. Soft music caresses our souls as we each pace calmly from one row of reads to the next. The day is beautiful; the sunshine, glorious. This morning, the chatter of old friends accompanies the waft of tea fragrance in Pages Cafe, snugged comfortably in the embrace of the bookstore. Midway through the Ration Challenge, it is my 8th meal comprising of a cup of water, a palm-sized serving of plain rice and one piece of flatbread. This piece attempts to articulate the midway revelation on the true hungers we each suffer from.

The Hunger

A hunger ache awakens me on chilly winter mornings, but it is bearable. The blandness of rice and water robs my excitement toward mealtimes, but it is bearable. Occasional headaches scream for a sip of a sugary drink, but it, too, is bearable. I close my eyes and imagine the refugees who take these meals every day – those drifting in the ocean on boats, those crawling under fences, those hiding amidst rubble, those separated from family indefinitely. I imagine the dishevelled faces and weak bodies. Dishevelled not because they don’t have what they need to wash and clean themselves; weak not because they haven’t been given enough to feed their stomachs. Dishevelled and weak because of the countless things they have lost, they have lost their ‘why’.

Why live? Why does it matter if I have not cleaned myself? Why does it matter if I haven’t filled my stomach? Why exist? Why have hope? The food is barely enough, but enough still; what is truly starved is the soul. In an instant, people who’ve built their lives around their careers have become unemployed after investing days and nights into the incessant busyness of work. Others who’ve built their lives around their families have lost them to fragile boats sitting in choppy waters. Yet others who’ve built their lives around their money, their friends, their prestige, their beauty, their possessions have lost them all in an instant – one gunshot, one bomb, one political conflict, one place they called ‘home’. What is truly starved is the soul. The despair so real: purposes once rock solid, seemingly unfailing, have been invested in through toil and labour with every waking moment. In an instant, the fallibility of these futile goals and fruitless harvests shows with such clarity one wonders why it was unforeseen. The true hunger is that for lasting purpose and significance.

Wherever I go, bright signboards and colourful advertisements tempt me, but I can turn away. Every street corner finds an alluring cafe seated, but I can, too, turn away. How, though, does one turn away from a hunger that is deeply embedded within? For ourselves, we can ask the same questions – Why live? Why exist? Why have hope? Every person who has an inkling of the impermanence of his or her life has to confront these questions to arrive at the mussel of strength that is required to get out of bed every morning and proceed with the endless daily tasks that we fill our time with. We are each hungry for that purpose and significance. Be still, in silence you will hear your soul’s constant grumble. We are each starving until we have discovered a ‘why’ so purposeful, so significant; one that does not fail us, one that is constant.

The Bread

We are living in a state of transparency, where this world’s suffering and humanity’s brokenness have become see-through. We have made way for a ‘normal’ of obsessions and addictions that blinds us – today, the friends who come from broken homes are plenty, the suicide rates skyrocket, the atrocities and terror attacks are frequent headlines. It is now normal for the corrupt and the wicked to reign, acceptable for the worshipping of material pursuits to distract us from what truly matters. We now serve as puppets of the very tools we created to serve us – time, money, competition, comparison. The price we continue to pay every single day stares back at us everywhere we look, glaring.

We are living in the perils of meaninglessness, where the line beyond which everything becomes insignificant has become so thin. On the surface, the refugee crisis finds the displacement of persons from homes by their circumstances; but it is merely a mirror of a suffering experienced by all of common humanity. We are all starving. The underlying challenge remains: to be a part and yet apart. How do we find our ‘why’ in the midst of such alluring mindlessness? What is your bread of life that fulfils your soul’s constant yearning; what is your purpose that will withstand any trial? And if you’ve found it, how do we clench tightly onto the bread of life we have found when so much of this world challenges us to replace it with the impermanent pursuits?

18422994_1345760022187698_611861011449422650_o

Jesus replied, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry again. Whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” [John 6:35, NLT]