Thanksgivings at Every Step of my Life
by Carol Ong
When I was asked to share, my first thought was to share my backlog of thanksgiving … which accumulated over 5 years is A LOT. Today’s sharing therefore is a selection of various experiences, put together to bring across a particular message.
Over 5 years, I would not say that I have grown tremendously spiritually, but I would say that I have been humbled a lot and brought back ‘down to earth’. As a young Christian, I used to thrive on spiritual highs like for example, being at the right place at the right time, or finding something I’d lost after prayer, or even finding someone I was looking for without a handphone or without arranging to meet through praying. But the reality is that the Christian life is not always like that. Sometimes our Christian life is simply about learning discipline. Other times it may be a period of endurance. Sometimes we suffer setbacks when we try to love another person and they don’t respond or they get angry at us. Or sometimes maybe we feel really discouraged when we think we’ve failed at being a Christian and don’t want to try anymore. Sometimes our commitment is tested when we encounter a “new temptation”. At different phases of life we encounter different things. When we are young, we face school, exams, finding a job. As we age, we face illness, and also we are inevitably confronted by death! There are always new things to overcome.
I have found time and again that there are so many encouragements along the way. I think it is fair to say that for many Christians, one of our struggles is in understanding the Bible. I had a friend who only read his Bible once in a long time because he felt that daily reading was meaningless if you didn’t understand what you’re reading. To some extent this is true. The language used in the Bible and the customs are quite unfamiliar as they are unique to the Jews. Sometimes we may find the passages repetitive. For example, there is not just 1 gospel, but 4 gospels all telling about Jesus’ life and ministry on earth.
But I find that when we ponder on the Bible or are stuck at a certain passage, somehow the meaning of the passage is revealed to us. There was once I was really stuck on a particular portion of Scripture in 2 Corinthians. That very Sunday, unknowingly, the pastor mentioned the passage, and not only that, he spent a good half an hour to one hour of the sermon explaining that passage. Another experience of understanding Bible passages is through reading Proverbs. Proverbs was a very didactic book. You may read it without understanding and instead view the passages simply as teaching, as a sort of theory which in practice we are unfamiliar with. For example, you may never have met a contentious women when you are in your youth, but when you finally meet one, you understand…. Ahhh! So a contentious woman is really like the dripping of a leaky roof in a rainstorm (Prov 27:15 NASB).
Proverbs is a book with a lot of practical advice, which we may not understand or agree with as a youth. There is a statement that goes, ‘Let your foot rarely be in your neighbour’s house, or he will become weary and hate you’ (Prov 25:17 NASB). To young people, this statement is paradoxical! If you are good friends with someone, all the more you should spend plenty of time with them. How ideal it would be if you were neighbours, because you can just walk over whenever you like. But I saw two friends experience the truth of this situation. They were very close, and were also neighbours. One of them had her own car to travel around and had a lot of freedom, as her parents also were rarely around. The other friend naturally went to visit this friend a lot, to join her on her adventures or to spend time at her place. This friend’s father, who is also a Christian, gave her advice saying, don’t go over too often, it is not good. My friend however felt that her father was unreasonable and old-fashioned, and did not really pay heed to what he said. At that point I was also in agreement with her that it was good for friends to spend time together. Lo and behold, one day the girl who’s house was frequently visited by my other friend, came to talk to me and shared how she was quite burdened and annoyed with the frequent visits of our friend. When I heard this, I understood how this passage in Proverbs was indeed very true.
For these reasons, among others, we should persevere in reading the Bible everyday and draw power and wisdom from it. When we encounter situations in life, we may recall the passages from the Bible and these then become a light unto our path, for they guide the way that we should walk, how we should behave, how we should live our life. Two passages which I find very precious are Proverbs 17:9, and James 1:26. Proverbs 17:9 NASB reads, ‘He who conceals a transgression seeks love, but he who repeats a matter separates intimate friends’. Sometimes in our relationship with brothers and sisters, we transgress against one another. And sometimes when someone transgresses against us, we want to inform them of that transgression, out of what we believe are good intentions, as we think that we would like to help the person learn from their mistakes. I am not saying that we should never do this, but sometimes our intention really is just to make sure the person knows our hurt—for our own benefit. Proverbs 17:9 also tells us that by bringing up a transgression, we may really hurt our friendship. The second passage in James 1:26 NASB reads, ‘If anyone thinks himself to be religious, and yet does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this man’s religion is worthless.’ The severity of this passage is a firm reminder for the next time when you want to throw a tantrum and shout at someone for whatever reason.
Another area of learning over these years is in service. For many years now I have played the keyboard in church. I first started when I was 16, with some coaching from someone, although at that time I had not yet been baptised. Learning to play the keyboard at that age was beneficial to me as it enabled me to play pop songs, which was very popular in school. After some time, I left the country to go to university. I changed from attending an English speaking church, to a Chinese speaking church. Chinese songs by nature are more relaxing. The chord progressions can be quite predictable, and the tempo was also slower. So in terms of difficulty in playing, the former church was more challenging. However I faced new difficulties at the new church. Firstly, being English educated, I was not very good at Chinese. This inadequacy in the language meant that the lyrics were oftentimes gibberish to me. It was easy to zone out and simply play the music, without considering the content and spirit of the song. Secondly, I never like to repeat the same song over and over again. Unfortunately, some particularly catchy songs were repeated week after week. The longest running top hit was played 6 consecutive weeks in a row. This was particularly torturous to me as the keyboardist, as I ran out of different ideas on how to play it. My third challenge was with regards to making time to practice. Back in university, by some perfect timing, song practice would always be arranged to be on the night before my exams; the night on which most of my peers would spend burning the midnight oil, so as to utilise their short term memory to score better on the test the next day. Now that I’m working, I sometimes end work really late, which results in a late practice, a late departure home, and difficulty in waking up the next morning to go to work. In Singapore we also have to travel quite a distance. As brothers and sisters live all over Singapore, I would sometimes have to travel from the east to the west and back, which could easily take 1.5 hours. These small grievances, although trivial when I list them out like this, were factors that COULD become hindrances to my service, and therefore were things that I had to be conscious about overcoming.
Over time I learnt to appreciate the Chinese language better as certain feelings can be expressed so poignantly with 2 chinese characters, yet to describe the same thing in English would easily take a whole sentence. In terms of repeated songs, I was one day struck anew by the beauty of the lyrics. There was one popular song which goes, “我渴望更多遇见你…” If these words are truly our prayer, they are very precious and are a very beautiful desire. I was also taught to increase my faith, as I did experience times when in spite of having practiced the day before my exams, I would still do extremely well in my exams, sometimes even scoring better than those who are smarter than me. Lastly, my stint at staying with my grandmother in a rather isolated area taught me how to travel without complaint, as any journey from her house would require at least an hour. Worship itself also serves as a time to focus, to break away from being busy during the week and helps us not to get too caught up with life.
The second type of service I am involved in is Sunday School. The first time I participated in teaching Sunday school was quite traumatic. I was quite enthusiastic and so had planned out the day’s lesson in some detail. I started off with singing some songs with the children, only to be laughed at by 2 friends, who for some reason were very amused at seeing me sing to the children. After the singing I tried to teach them the episode in which Joseph brought Mary on a donkey with baby Jesus to Egypt, to escape from Herod. I used balloons to represent the characters, with baby Jesus depicted as the smallest balloon. I even drew on faces on the balloon with a marker. So while enacting the story, baby Jesus the balloon burst! The children also got the ink of the marker on their fingers, something which we had been reminded at the last Sunday school meeting not to do as this was the parents’ request. Overall it was quite a disaster and I even made one child cry. I was slightly discouraged by the event but I was not yet ready to throw in the towel, so I did not approach the in-charge to tender my resignation. However, one night before the next Sunday school, a sister called me up and we were just chatting. I then mentioned the following day’s Sunday school session to her. This sister then took some time to share with me, saying, we need not be too focused on planning out everything and that it all goes to plan. We’re doing this Sunday School also to let the parents have the time to listen to service and join the worship. She also shared with me some activities she liked to do with the kids that really kept their attention. I really appreciated and was encouraged by the care that she showed towards me during that conversation. Here we were, two sisters, in the same ministry, and she was encouraging me along and giving me assurance. It was a precious experience to me.
The third and last aspect I would like to share on is regarding my grandmother. I’m sure everyone is familiar with my grandmother, Aunty Chin. There are really times when she touched my heart. Every grandmother loves her grandchildren; it is quite natural. They will worry about us when we are out late, they would want us to be healthy, well-rested, well-dressed, well-mannered. They would be concerned when we are really busy. These are a grandmother’s love for her grandchildren. But there are three occasions that I am thankful for.
The first was during a sharing which my grandma shared about my uncle and his autistic son in church. She loves my uncle a lot and she really feels for him in the difficulties he faces taking care of his son. As my cousin grew older and physically bigger, he was harder to care for. In her sharing, she mentioned very earnestly her struggle to give thanks under these circumstances. I really appreciated her struggle because in sharing her struggle, you could see that she had a very simple desire to obey the command, ‘in everything, give thanks’, which we had been learning in church. For all her weaknesses, there is a desire to really try and give thanks.
The second occasion was once when my aunty came down from Hong Kong. I did not go out to greet her as I had not been informed that she was coming in advance and had no mental preparation for her arrival. After she had left the house, I went out from my room and told my grandma I didn’t want to interact with her. Popo immediately said, a Christian should not behave like that! I appreciated that her emphasis was not just on manners, but rather about the conduct of a Christian. After hearing her remark, I was chastened and went to greet my aunty later on.
The last occasion was with regard to my grandmother and how she used her authority as grandma to get my sisters to come to church. She said, ‘Sleeping at home all day is useless, it is better to go to church!’ I really liked what she said, and I was very pleased that they came that day. So as a whole I am very thankful to relate to my grandma as a sister in Christ and not just a grandma. I’d also like to take this opportunity to apologise to popo for any rudeness, lack of care, lack of respect, and outbursts of anger.
I have almost come to the end of my sharing and I have one last thing to mention. Today I have shared several ‘ordinary’ experiences in my years as a Christian. I have also deliberately omitted one word from my sharing thus far, namely the word ‘God’. I got the idea for this approach from the book of Esther where the word ‘God’ is not present, yet His actions, His protection of His people is very evident. His protection is not only of our physical being, but more importantly, of our faith. God is good, God is merciful and God is faithful. In our weaknesses we have encouragement, in our faults we have reminders, in our repeated mistakes, we experience patience. I am sure that each one of us has also experienced God in various way. Sometimes the experiences are so ordinary that we may not have recognised His fingerprint in our lives. Yet He tries time after time to encourage us, to be friends with us, to reach out to us. So dear brothers and sisters, press on!
(c) 2012 Christian Disciples Church