The price we pay for the things we love.

We have to work the hardest for the things we love. As living creatures with wants and needs, there is always the option of putting in less effort, of caring less, for the things we want. Like grades, the learning experience, asking after a friend when his interview ended. Of mastering the asana without falling over, of taking detours to buy fish slices noodles from buona vista. Everything has a price tag on it, but this price is not equivalent to money. Money is a concept created by man, but the price that I am referring is the emotional investment that we put into things we value. One thing that going through all the experiences in my life is that I will only remember things if I chose them according to what my heart told me, if I worked really hard at them, and if I survived. Nothing else matters but what I choose to do. “Where this takes me, there I choose to go.”

Sometimes the price can be too high. Knowing that late nights at work means that I can’t talk to a certain friend as much, and knowing his need to be in constant contact because that is his style. Knowing that my response to stress is usually to shut down and to evade. Or knowing that I had health issues and instead of going for TCM immediately, I delayed it for a year because I didn’t want pain. Knowing that doing a part-time internship would mean balancing work and school, and knowing that I don’t fully enjoy HR, but wanting the experience of working for a statutory board- I chose to do it for six months. Knowing that I do really like my freedom but balancing that with understanding God and understanding religion, I gave myself four years to understand the whole concept of church, and from Jan onwards, dedicated six hours a week to formal lessons. Knowing that my solitary habits probably makes other people judge me but it is something that I choose.With all my choices, there is a price to pay. And a price that I have paid.

Even for my current job choice, working in the consulting arm of a big 4 firm means long hours, some travelling (depending on where your client is located), and a miserable pay. But the experience is worth it, or so they tell me. It is a choice that I make. I know that this is the path I am choosing to take, and whatever comes, I will deal with it. Along with some whining to my poor friends.

Given that all my efforts might result in nothing 10 years down the road, would it be worth the price? Sometimes I get a feeling that I am completely alone and that absolutely nobody understands me. Which I would say is normal, because while I would think that I’m a rather good judge of sincerity and character and even as I understand my friends and their insecurities, I still get a feeling that everyone is locked inside themselves. We can show what we are committed to and what we value, but we cannot let people feel as we do. There is just no way to connect.

I would say that over the past four years, my stress levels increased but I got better at handling them. My gratitude meter expanded, I became more patient and I learned to find good things in people to appreciate when in the past I would have completely brushed them off as boring people. Now they are still boring, but I am no longer above talking to ‘boring’ people. I can’t change how I feel about them but I can change how I act.

Understanding that it was necessary for me to live through university and to build up my confidence through repeated projects and presentations, while learning that at the very end, it is all about being kind to oneself. There will never be a perfect assessment centre or a perfect elevator pitch, but one can always celebrate with milo dinosaur prata (!!) at the end. Regardless of how shitty it was. Because I probably worried about it beforehand, hoping that I wouldn’t embarrass myself. And then I did probably say or do things that I didn’t fully intend to. And then there’s just no point ruminating over spilled milk.

I am nowhere as good as where I would like to be, but here I am, still alive. Not knowing is valuable to me because I then take things more seriously. If I knew how it was going to turn out would I still have done it? If I knew exactly what I would have received from people, would I want to continue? It is in the space between absolute certainty and absolute uncertainty that I thrive, because everything is a gift. That blurred, smoky, insubstantial space that no one bothers to define.

Learnings from Daniel 1 and John 5

I was busy gallivanting around town/doing all sort of non-value-adding things such as sleeping in till 1pm, hence this belated post. I’ll recap what I learned in church first, and then talk about how it affects me.

For the Book of Daniel, it has a tonne of historical data that I have not understood yet. My church is rather quiet in the sense that they don’t pray in tongues, there is no yelling or very loud song-worship sessions, it’s rather relaxed and homely. And I don’t feel the need to bring anyone along with me or sit with anyone, I don’t feel the need to blend in. We are each given different talents to use, and we are told that God has a plan to give us each a future and a hope, but the specific future or hope is not prescribed. I still don’t know what my talents are (although my cooking skills have improved in the past few weeks because I can now boil eggs), but understanding that God is sovereign and that I still have another 3 years and 9 months to go in understanding the bible, helps.

God planned to use a pagan nation to punish his people, because they had forsaken him and adopted other worthless idols. Along with making Daniel (and friends) eat the same food, the assimilation also involved the changing of names. Daniel, meaning “God is my judge” was changed to Belteshazzar, which means “Bel protects his life.” Bel is a Babylonian idol. Daniel refused to eat the Babylonian king’s food because eating his meats and wines would mean honouring the king, and believing in the same idols as him. While on the human level he was taken captive, on the spiritual level he was still following God’s laws. So he requested for a selection of vegetables and water. He made the decision to fear God more than the king.

As for these four youths, God gave them learning and skill in all literature and wisdom, and Daniel had understanding in all visions and dreams.

-Daniel 1, ESV

Pastor A. said something memorable- you are not what you eat, you are who you fear. Out of our everyday activities, how many of them are done out of reverence, and how many of them are done because we are afraid. We fear growing old, being single, hence we hold on to unholy relationships. We fear missing out on promotions hence we work so hard, skipping church sessions, exploiting other people. We fear that others will laugh at us because we are not doing the things that they do, hence we try very hard to cover up.

An example for me would be social media- I was asked if I wanted to be the roomie of a pretty well-known journalist, a senior from my JC. A quick browse through her Instagram (with her permission, I told her I googled her), reveals someone who is extroverted, bubbly, extremely good at writing and loves food. I am practically the opposite. She finds it hard to take a vow of silence for one day, I enjoy taking vows of silence for long weeks. I am terrible at writing, I don’t read the newspapers, I can’t express myself very well. She keeps her social media accounts public and I don’t touch social media unless I want to stalk someone, and even then, it’s such a superficial touch and go experience. Her memories are all online, I only want to experience the moment. I rarely take photographs. But we are both created by God, although when I first got the news and googled her name, I was wondering if she is more ‘real’ than I am.

Am I less substantial, less attractive if I don’t put myself online, or if I don’t express my views on anything? What if I had nothing apart from my body and the little bits of work that I do every day. Can I still breathe and take up space? It might seem like a silly question but people with an established social media presence, or journalists or writers or basically people who are more googleable, they give the impression that they have a solid existence that will live on after they die. I have very little abilities and a very short linkedin profile, I prefer to stay within the blurry, insubstantial areas, to not be known. I believe that it is the self-assured people who can live there without dissipating. But even so, when I am planning my post-grad experiences, I am still thinking of what other people might ask. I frankly do not want to go to touristy areas, I just want to spend some time swimming and being on the beach and being with no one I know. But to most people that is so unexciting. What is there to do on the beach? Nothing! Although it is exactly nothing that I want to do, I want to be comfortable with my own mind, I want to exist in that blank, black space when you close your eyes and there’s absolutely nothing there. Which is such a conversation killer. But why am I afraid of other people and their judgement, when it is not humans whom I fear?

I used to wonder why are we studying all these things which happened so long ago, and why can’t God just show himself now. And now I think I am accepting the ways in which he communicates. Sometimes through experiences, mostly through the Bible, and also through other people. Am I very sure of what God is telling me- nope, I don’t know if I will ever be sure. Or if I will ever have anything to be sure about. I just hope that I can continue to do the things that I like and not die of anxiety in the near future.

My friend invited me to her church last night for a session by Dr Samuel Rodriguez, a Latino pastor who was part of the signing in ceremony for President Trump recently. It was rather interesting because while I don’t think I learned anything new about John 5, I did hear a number of personal testimonies about how God used him to change the lives of others. Such an inspiring vision to have a million churches by 2033, coupled with a lot of yelling. He is a rather emphatic person.

He spoke about how Jesus bypassed the norms of conformity and did what others would not do on the Sabbath, which is to heal the man. He likened the man’s paralysis to the spiritual paralysis of the world. Although I really do not like it when he says “I prophesy this ______” because he seems to be doing it just to rev up the crowd, and then they respond with ‘amen’ or ‘yes’ and I don’t know how many people will actually remember what he said, or if it is just empty emotions. And while he knows his prophesy, that this generation will stand up and change the world, he didn’t say how. How can we do something that we cannot see?

The man in the Book of John picked up his mat, because he did not want to leave it behind. Leaving it behind means that one day he might return to his invalid posture. Picking it up means that you have been healed, and He who has healed you has given you the right to believe in your newfound health. But whenever he says “you will no longer be paralysed by your past!!!”, I just wonder if we can expect healing to come to everyone, that we can shake off our past. He shouts it with such belief and everyone else is nodding their heads and believing, and I feel like I lack faith if I doubt any of his ‘I believe that ____’. Maybe it is just the style of speaking, I prefer people who are calm.

He also said “this is what makes us different”, because we are Christians. But the thing is, being a Christian isn’t just about what you believe/say you believe. It is also about what you do, or want to do. And until you can prove that you are more spiritually mature through your actions, it is difficult for anyone to believe that you have been ‘saved’. And that church is worth going to. How much of the work of megachurches are based on emotions and singing, and how much of it is spiritual change? I am not doubting the validity of their sermons, I am just wondering if there is a better way to do it.

It was also difficult to stand still during the closing prayer because megachurches always have this segment where they invite people to say the sinner’s prayer and after you do it everyone claps and says that you have been saved, it is a great day because you have acknowledged God. There is an opportunity that the church provided, which you took, and henceforth you are a part of the family. Saved by faith and not by deeds can be misinterpreted as “I don’t need to do anything as long as I know that He exists”. But being a part of the Christian family means that you have to work for it. Salvation is given freely, but it is not easily attained.