It has been a crazy few weeks. Sometimes, I become bogged down in the daily slog – and through the exhaustion and burnout, life can be fairly wearisome. But even then, God continues to work in my life and shapes me to love Him and trust Him more.
Even in the most hopeless of days, I’ve discovered a strange confidence and comfort in the words of David the psalmist (Psalm 27:13-14):
I remain confident of this:
I will see the goodness of the Lord
in the land of the living.
Wait for the Lord;
be strong and take heart
and wait for the Lord.
My God is a God who overflows with goodness. So, in the midst of hopelessness, let me wait for Him to do good.
Here are a few stories about the lessons I have learnt, each springing from a conversation that I’ve had over the past few weeks.
Little Graces – with Hong
Burnout sucks the joy out of everything. Even the things that you usually enjoy so much – they become a burden when you are worn out and tired from everything. I’ve seen this happen to not a few people in my life. Far from the innocent and bubbly keen days of first year uni, a grey wave of cynicism seems to have swept over many things. We notice many things to be broken, or at least, unsatisfying. Our souls are parched and longing for joy.
“If it’s like this now… it probably will be the same, or worse, for the rest of our lives.”
In my experience, suffering really sucks when you forget the taste of joy, and consign yourself to misery forever. When it will “always be like this”. When you doubt that things won’t really get better. Once you lose hope and can’t see past the horizon of your present sufferings, that’s when things really start to hurt.
At the beginning of the week, I was indeed feeling fairly out-of-joy. And I was reflecting about some of these things with Hong. But I was reminded about one of the best things that suffering teaches you – that is, how to hold on to the small graces and small joys in our lives. When everything is bleak, and things can’t get any worse, the smallest moments of joy suddenly become so sweet. When nothing brings you joy, the small things that do brighten your day are things you become deeply thankful for.
There is real joy and grace to be found in life, and often, our hearts are not attuned to seeing them.
I love this quote by Blaise Pascal: “Little things console us because little things afflict us”.
Hong said, sometimes it’s more difficult to know how to be faithful with small everyday things than big life decisions – like whether you decide to get irritated at something, or how you approach waiting for something with or without patience, or whether you are thankful for the small things, like being able to walk and enjoy the wind on your face.
I’ve learnt that these things are very true.
So, I resolved to seek goodness and grace, and relentlessly chase after joy, even in the face of drudgery. It’s easy to let myself dwell on the bleakness of things and become disheartened. But when I do so, it is indeed living in a lie – for there is real joy and grace to be found, even in the little things.
Stewardship – with Yuya
Sometimes, I have trouble trying to make sense of everything that I so abundantly have.
Last night, I was at a fancy dinner thing, where I had the chance to have a short chat with Yuya. Coming from Japan, he commented on the great richness of Sydney – both physically and spiritually.
Who can deny – we are so blessed here, especially at Sydney University. People are well-off and generally live fairly comfortable lives. And looking at our university, we are deeply blessed with the EU – so rich with faithful and godly men and women, so abundant in solid teaching of the truth, so well-equipped to encourage and build people up in spiritual maturity.
Yuya said, the richness of Sydney is actually God’s gift to the world. Our abundance here is actually a great blessing to the world – for it is here at Sydney where we can equip, train and send people back into the rest of the world.
Both Yuya and I went through a period where we realised the great privileged position we were in, and yet felt immensely guilty for it. We both came from fairly well-off families and lived relatively comfortable lives. We both went to great universities – him in Tokyo and me in Sydney. And in these universities, we both were a part of one of the most thriving campus Christian groups in our respective countries and had the chance to be built-up and equipped. When we looked at the rest of the world – whether it be the less reached, less resourced, less privileged parts of our countries or at the rest of the world, we were both struck with the thought – “who am I to have all of this!”
Yuya told me – “no, we actually do not need to feel guilty at all.”
The very fact that Yuya was here in blessed Sydney meant that he could be equipped as best as possible, and then sent back to Japan and serve the less reached and less resourced there. The abundance in Sydney was not something to be guilty over, but rather, a huge blessing to the people of Japan.
We can’t change the fact that the world has rich people and poor people. But God has given riches to some so that all may be blessed. Yuya said, “It’s about stewardship of the blessings you are given.”
From this, I resolved to strive to steward what I have well. I have been given much and blessed much –may it be an instrument of blessing to others too.
Sabbath Rest – with Moussa
I find rest a difficult thing to do. I like to pack lots of things into my life and do as much as possible, and this means, it is often a relentless thing-to-do after thing-to-do cycle.
I had realised the importance of resting – and taking care of myself is something I do try to work hard at. For instance, over the past year, I have developed a real vigilance with my sleep, aiming to get to sleep at the same time each night, wake up at the same time each morning, make sure I get enough hours of sleep, and to ensure this is a priority despite all the things that need to be done.
And yet, I still managed to end up burnt out and stressed this semester.
We were talking about burnout at a small group training a week or two ago, and so I asked Moussa – “so… how do we like… not burn out?”
He pointed our group towards an ancient command given to the nation of Israel, seen in the ten commandments – to keep the sabbath. A day of rest.
Interesting, because the idea of a ‘sabbath’ is one of those things which we know is no longer a directly binding law – that is, we aren’t obligated to cease all work one day a week. But it seems, there is great wisdom to this.
Moussa essentially said to take a day off once a week to do whatever you like.
It sounds too good right?
But it’s actually very difficult. When assignments and work and other things pile up, it’s easy to go into overdrive and find every spare moment to work. Not a few times, after a long and busy five-day uni week, I would find myself thinking – ‘Yes! The weekend! I finally have time to get this unfinished work done!’
I suppose sometimes this needs to be done. But long term, this is very foolish.
And I have found that the relentless, non-stop work is what drove me into my recent run of weariness and joylessness. Yet, the times when I am energised and ready and joyful and willing to do work – those are times immediately after I have given myself the time off to do whatever and chill out and not worry about anything.
So there seems to be great wisdom in structuring in time off – a difficult lesson for the workaholic in me. And it’s not that I have to be quiet and still and meditate do nothing in order to rest. No, rest is just doing whatever energises me and fills me up. And perhaps sometimes, the more stressed I am, the more I need to get out and do something active and completely unrelated which takes my mind off it.
Knowing that it is okay to do this… no, that I actually need to do this, is an important lesson for me.
So, having resolved to have good sleep patterns in order to physically rest well, I now move onto phase II of learning how to rest well – and resolve to try and structure in a day of doing whatever the heck I want because that is necessary mental rest for the rest of the week.