Grace, prayer and genuine human connections.

(Written on the bus to Changi, might have a few mistakes)

We reflected on a few questions when we were at BMK.

  • What is the function of a discipleship group (DG)
  • Why do each of us turn up for DG every Friday
  • What do we like most about DG/appreciate about DG
  • What does it mean to grow in love with Christ
  • What does it mean to love his people (how do we accommodate individuals with their quirks)

And a question to myself which I would say, is the most important to me right now, because I am a newcomer to the church. “Why do you choose this love?” I define anyone who has been in a committed relationship with God for less than a year as a newcomer, because everything is new and it is a learning curve without tangible milestones. Easy to slip and fall away.

There are many other loves to choose from. Look around and you can see people who devote their lives to the love of fellow human beings. Not just people in relationships but people who are just around them. The community members. There are people who devote their lives to work, to climbing the corporate ladder or just to dabble in various jobs. There are people who devote their lives to themselves- beauty, youth, material wants, their aspirations which might not match that of anyone else around them. Love, as a commitment of effort or just as a daily routine. There are many versions of love.

I did not understand what it meant to love when I was younger, simply because the love that I received from people around seemed to come with a lot of conditions. I had to be this or this or my parents wouldn’t be in a good mood. And my default personality is rather uncaring, or at least, caring for others who will not give me any practical benefits superficially because it is the norm to do so. As I got older, got sicker, and then better, and now sicker again, through internships and university experiences, I discovered a side of life that was about love and vulnerability. Learning that all human beings have their own struggles and working through some things in my life without taking the default route, thinking for myself what did I want, and then trying those things out. I guess the concept of love- true, unconditional love, became less foreign to me.

I appreciate people who take the time to volunteer, and I value the misfits in society. Perhaps I am just a very slow learner but truly, there is no one path in life that will bring everyone happiness. At least not in the secular world. Reason being that we will never fully get what we want. Things will change, even people can change overnight. Our emotions and situations can change in a split second. And because of the impermanence, there is no stability to be found in our wants and past achievements. So then what do we devote ourselves to? What is one thing or being in the world that is gracious, loving, compassionate to all, yet also a tough lover with high standards, not letting us do whatever we want at any moment in time, but someone or something with a plan for us, and if we are to follow that plan, will find rest and comfort regardless of how bad things are? That is the love that I’m looking for- knowing that I am cared for. The belonging to a cause, the understanding that it is not looks or money or which country I belong to that defines my worth in society. Or even my species- I am a homo sapien, and we are known to be fickle-minded creatures.

It is true that one can be an excellent and good person without God, and without practicing any form of religion or sticking to any one belief. But it is also true that there is no reason or cause to draw people together to be good people. There is no common understanding, and there is no overarching plan. Which is possible too- perhaps we indeed came to being without any reason for it. People often say that it is because we are unable to deal with loose ends and unanswered questions that’s why we turn to religion. But I look at the world, and then I look at everything that is wrong with the world (‘wrong’ which is defined by myself, before I knew anything about the church), and then I look at the bible and how others act (mature Christians, not the Sunday ones who act differently on other days) and I think to myself- maybe I should explore more. And so explore I did, and then serving, and finding so many people with successful day jobs- region heads, partners, presidents of this and that function in MNCs, and finding them doing ‘small’ things. Giving out pamphlets, passing out water bottles at the carnival, cutting crafts for children’s class.

There are no quick answers in church- in DG we often have talking points, where people have different interpretations of the same bible passage. We were not given a FAQ guide, and I actually like that careful deliberation. There are laws, and then there are parables which can be interpreted in many different ways. I see humans has living in the ‘now but not yet’, the period of time where we have salvation assured, and the experience of worship, but a lot of things have not come to pass.

But it is precisely because there are no quick answers in church that is why we are often turned away. There are many misconceptions- that people in church act like they are holier than thou, that God is vengeful and likes to mete out punishment just because he can. That sinners and homosexuals do not belong in church etc. That the love that God offers is not needed and that we have to fix ourselves, on our own, before he will love us. Such things cannot be explained in just one hour- the ‘how to read the bible’ session will take a few days at least, and that is just the start. But complexity deters, and human behaviours deter newcomers from coming to church. Which I honestly find to be a pity.

The function of a DG is not just to meet once a week, to have dinner and chitchat about our lives. DG for me at least, serves as a form of accountability, which is why I hate being late for DG. My meetings at work don’t always end on time and I have to uber over ($$), but my presence is a commitment to others as well. That I am in the same fight as them, if they are here, I will be here too. Physical accountability aside, there is also that mental and emotional commitment.

We were asked to make one commitment to the DG for the next few months of our lives. I know that I am already trying my best with humans 6 days of the week (sat is my alone day), and I did not want to commit to making more connections within the DG, although we are a big group of about 30 regulars. I promised that I would be more involved in bible study sessions. Not just take my food and sit on the floor (love sitting on floors) and listen to the person explaining, but to make more in-depth preparations beforehand and look up the various references. This requires a commitment of time that I have not been able to make because I’m still struggling to adapt to things (am typing this on the bus to work LOL, annoying the aunty with my furious tapping). A lot of the time it is the same few people who ask questions, I think I can too. Because we all come with different bases of knowledge and sometimes newcomers can be scared to ask questions.

After the bible passage study, there’s always a small group prayer. We are in the same small group for one year, segregated from the males (because there used to be males who only came because of the females) and we share about our struggles in the past week and encourage one another for the coming week. At first it was a bit odd because I didn’t know any of them and it felt like I could only share superficial, church related stuff. And then after a while I got to them know better and realised that they all have some form of struggle in their lives, even though they seem to be outwardly, upper middle-class Singaporeans with great jobs and happy marriages. Some of the struggles are, admittedly, not too complicated. But vulnerability and trying to stay with the faith are common themes. Everyone can identify with sin and how we are striving to be better Christians. And in that subset, better humans.

It is not easy to open up to people- the ‘small’ group is about 7-8 on a weekly basis. And we do have middle-aged people, not just young adults, and also 1-2 elderly. We all come with our own personalities. Some are passive-aggressive and also humble, some are unapologetic about their tough love, some are peacemakers. Then you have me, unwilling to talk to anyone who looks fierce. It is a good reminder of our differences and how we care for each other despite the fact that we will probably not consider each other as friends if we never met in church. But that is the nature of church- we love as God loves. It is not easy, especially with my anxiety issues. Sometimes talking to some people feels like eating small rocks. But it does get easier over time, as long as I don’t change my self to fit other people. My core self. Focusing on my heart and my own actions, and not criticising other people.

It is true that on the surface, we are just born with a certain amount of wealth, and that wealth makes some people casual about what they buy/say during DG sometimes. But that is them, and that fact won’t change. That is for me to point out, but it should not affect the way I treat them, which is with love and respect. Love is a choice.

Conversations do get deeper as time passes, when we build up that trust. Through the experiences of other people, I learn what to say and not say even at work. Because I can double-check with my leaders if I’m doing the wrong things. (Got over not being able to date non-Christians already. So be it lololol. Being on client site really helps, the only constant I see is the shuttle bus uncle.) I can clarify the things I’m blind to- my little faults and petty things that I do- pride etc. Although I really want to write an article for the weekly prayer book, but I don’t want my name to appear anywhere. So kind of undecided about whether or not I should contribute.

One thing- because the past few days was spent experiencing fellowship, I think I don’t have the experience yet to write about something that is important to DG. Which is that when we are not with the church- overseas for long periods of time etc or when we decide not to attend church for a few months- the members in the DG are able to encourage you and help you remember God’s presence. It is the ‘missing him when he is not there’, just that because we can’t physically see God, seeing his disciples helps. Belonging, encouraging, and appreciating one another.

A gentle note to self:

  • Temptation but not sin
  • Contribution without self-exaltation
  • Repentance without hard-heartedness
  • Defenseless but not weak
  • Acceptance and not anger

And understanding that the world’s plans and standards are not God’s plans and standards. For we are in this world but not of it. It is always difficult to balance the two because there is so much pressure at work to perform well, and to over-perform actually.