Wednesday 3 September 2014

To the New Lifestation! Part 2

This is Part 2, a continuation from my earlier post: "To the New Lifestation!" So that it's clearer (and shorter), I've decided to post this post separately from the earlier one and this post will talk more about "Embracing the Future". Using the 'moving house' analogy (from my previous post), this post is about finding where are the bus stops near your house; knowing your neighbours; what shops and buildings exist near you; nearest ATM and the nicest, cheapest coffeeshop around. Here I'll mostly be writing to people who have more or less have 1 foot in the new lifestation (the previous post is more for people who are still trying to find a firm footing)

How do you know that you have 1 foot in the new lifestation? My guess is: (not in any order)

  • Several months have passed (I'm not saying that you have to/will reach this point of time after several months, but I'm saying this based on common observation). Specifically for university, probably after the first semester. For NS, after you've completed your trainee days.
  • There is a general trend of decreasing emotional distress (the workload and physical pressure can still be a lot, but emotionally you're slightly more used to it)
  • You're able to get a better "sensing" of the struggles/unique aspects of that life station. A good way to know if this is happening is if you're able to verbalize/imagine them when people ask about your new lifestation. 
  • Your lifestyle habits are naturally conforming to the new lifestation's "requirements" - perhaps waking early or meeting new people are easier now.
  • You're thinking "what else should I be doing in this lifestation?" - shows that you're moving towards settling down here.

Before I proceed, I want to highlight that transitioning can't really be divided into very distinct phases like my 2 posts; I simply divided them in this manner for clarity's sake. Rather, it is something more similar to a general trend. Up and down, up and down but generally towards eventually transiting fully. Even after having 1 foot in, there will also be periods and times where you feel like you still can't adapt properly (as in the previous post). When this happens, don't be discouraged that after so long you're still back at square one. Rather, a better yardstick is simply: "Are you understanding this new lifestation better?" or "What have I learnt about God in this lifestation" or "What has God done in me here so far? How have I grown in my walk with God?"

So let's get started on the tips for a smoother transition:
Embracing The Future

#1 Expect yourselves an adventure; be excited 
As you all are probably familiar with, prior to church camps we often set objectives for the camp. (If you're not familiar, then you learn something new about me today :D) These objectives usually relate to either discovering more of God or growth in our walk with God or ministry or outreach/serving God outside of church. Anyway, I have been doing that for every church camp, albeit with differing expectations of how God will meet me and add unto me through these camps. Some objectives were massive - I want to know a new dimension of God/I want to rise up to be a leader; some simple - I want to grow in my humility, I want to know my cellgroup more intimately. Either way, God will always meet my expectations and my objectives EVERY SINGLE CAMP

So back to my story~~ In the days before I began my university journey, right after coming back from my 1-month long overseas isolation retreat, it was already August. And in August NUS always have this orientation for freshmen called O'Week. Since I know that I need to know my classmates (who will mostly be my Orientation Group members), I signed up for it in advance. I was renewed from an experience with God in my overseas trip, but it still wasn't easy adapting to a new ministry in church and the idea of studying again. Regardless, I remember that the few days before my O'Week (which was a 6-day camp zomg), I decided to set some camp objectives. It was a surprise to me, because I mean, there ain't going to be a sermon or a time of worship in a school camp right? But in my spirit, by God's grace, I know that this is the right and appropriate thing to do, and to discover God in another manner. So my camp objective was really simple: "God, I want to see you move in this camp. In a way that is obviously You!" (I can't remember the exact phrasing.) After I made that objective, I was burning with extreme excitement, couldn't really sleep well the night before :P Not so much because of the camp, no, not at all. But because God has always met my expectations, and He will surely continue to do so; He will honor my heart that desires to seek Him in every circumstance, every setting. And true enough He did - on the beach day, one of my friends who left church some years ago went with me for a special service in church. During some speed-dating session, 2 of my OGmates and I left secretly to some corner of the school and I unexpectedly got the opportunity to share Christ - my faith, my conversion story and my confidence in God - to a non-Christian who was at a massive fork in his life. This person miraculously accepted Christ 1 and a half months later. (Btw I was only involved in his conversion story in the sharing of my faith and also bringing him for one of my church services - this person eventually realized that Jesus existed and sought Christ on his own; he received Christ in his room on a random day and told me about it)

All this I did not expect at all, you know! Until that time I had never imagined how my small efforts to share Christ can lead to someone receiving Christ in another church (or in his room!). But God is a good God who wants us to experience an adventure with Him:
Ephesians 2:10b "created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do". 
These "works" are also the thrill of adventuring, exploring and experiencing. And when we're excited about the new lifestation, we will see more and more of what God has prepared for us in this lifestation. We won't see these as new challenges or struggles or sufferings, but simply an adventure. Going to a boring/mundane field trip, against going for a backpacking adventure with the Lord, which is better? Naturally, the adventure, no? God thrives on  excited and expectant hearts!!!

#2 Explore and Experiment
In my days as a freshman in NUS, I was thinking of which CCA to join. Though I signed up for almost 10 CCA's welcome tea during the CCA fair, in the end I couldn't really decide on anything. Around the same time, my OGL from O'Week told me about a welcome tea hosted by VCF (Varsity Christian Fellowship), which I have never heard of or seen at the booth. So I wasn't particularly enthusiastic, but having more exposure to God in university is probably not going to be a bad thing. Anyway, what can happen? So I went for the welcome tea and truthfully I find the program a little dry for my taste. But eventually my OGL asked me the golden question: "Do you want to join VCF (Biz faculty)?" "No way!" was my immediate thought, as I was actually pretty tired of knowing more people, what more in the vulnerable setting of a Christian group. But I didn't want to simply let my preferences dictate the choices I make in transition. So I prayed immediately and asked God how. Guess what? He said: "Just stay :)", and my heart sank immediately after. In the end, I told my OGL that I'll join. And now, 1 year later, as the vice-chair of the Biz faculty for VCF, thank God I did :) Having a root in the Christian movement in school really helped to anchor me to be aware and sensitive of the plans God has for me in NUS.

In any new lifestation, since we don't know much about it, it is simply wise and logical that we must intentionally and continually explore and experiment what this new lifestation has to offer. In university, these can be in the form of new CCAs, new ways of learning and thinking, new opportunities new ways of serving, new hobbies, new friends, new tutors, new modules, new courses, new camps, etc. Why must we explore and experiment? Because if we don't discover these, we will naturally keep comparing this lifestation with the past based on the criteria of the past. Not embracing the new kind of people we meet in school, we will naturally compare our current friends against our JC/poly /army friends with whom we have went through years of emotional ups and downs together. How do you expect a camp or two and several weeks of having lessons together to bring your university friends to the same level of intimacy as those in the past? (I'm not saying it's impossible, but just that you won't expect that to happen easily.) Not just friends, but also tutors/teachers and also CCAs or your after-school activities. Only through exploring and experimenting can you discover these things, and the more you discover and are involved in the things of this lifestation can you eventually fully transit. Also, by exploring I also meant that you also explore deep. Bring your heart with you as you go about, for somethings can only be enjoyed at depth with the heart - at times you may have to be vulnerable though you're uncomfortable/scared/worried. Just try, our heart is protected by God, however many times it breaks He will pick it up and mend it (or just give you a new heart sua - His heart!)

However, I do want to add some caution - ESPECIALLY FOR THOSE WHOSE 1 FOOT IS STILL NOT IN THE NEW LIFESTATIONGo slow - take it in bits and pieces at a time. How slow will really depend on your comfort level and how well you've transited in so far. Going slowly is really important. Imagine filling a half filled water bottle with a garden hose - yes you will fill the bottle but most likely you will also spill quite a significant amount of water and wet yourselves and your surroundings at the same time (and any unfortunate person who is standing near you). Instead, we go to a tap to fill the bottle to minimize spillage and wasted water. So go slow as we don't really know how much capacity we have and also how much would each venture cost us. Also, please understand that by comfort level I'm referring to how much you are willing/able/expecting to go through at the moment. It's like if your bottle's excess capacity at the point of time is not much, you can actually stretch it (imagine a stretchable bottle like a balloon :P) and add more water, but you must first be prepared to be stretched. Essentially, play safe and go slow unless God has specifically told you to do/go ahead with something.

In essence: SOME things must change - it's the whole point of transiting into a new environment and lifestation. You must be prepared for everything but God to change, even something so precious as friends. Knocks and falls are only to be expected and things that never used to hurt as at all may be unexpectedly painful, but don't worry, it's part of the experience!!

#3 Commit to something
During this phase you will eventually have to make some decisions that require commitment. Whether it is joining a CCA, deciding on a module, whether to stay in school or not etc. Such decisions will usually shape your path for the next few months (or even years). Often, while transitioning and unsure of the future, we might prefer to procrastinate and not make any decision. But eventually we have to. And the decision can be a yes or a no. Regardless, we have to decide and commit to that decision. 

Earlier in the story about me joining VCF, initially I went because well, there's really nothing much to do and there's only so much time I want to spent studying. And also, since usually I have tutorial till 8pm anyway and my BizCF meeting ends at about 9.20 (and it's less than a minute's walk away from my classroom), I really have nothing to lose whatsoever. So I was in limbo in a sense for almost the whole of semester 1. However, nearing the end of that semester, one of my seniors asked if I would take up a position in the BizCF committee. I was surprised, as I didn't do anything beyond always assuredly turning up late. In the end, my gut feeling seems to say that I should just take it up and stick to something rather than nothing. There is really nothing much to lose and in fact I could gain so much more. So I accepted that post, even though in my heart I was pretty reluctant still and it took a long time for me to get used to my new position and commitments. But I guess on hindsight, now I fully agree with my decision then and was glad for God's hand in guiding me to make that decision. I started to see the importance of Business faculty and also the role of VCF and Christians on campus in an absolutely new light. I also started to understand much, much better why God wanted me to go NUS. 

For some of you, it may not be a "spiritual" thing like VCF or joining a Christian group or serving more in church; it can be simply just-for-fun things like recreational sports or an interest group or research or saying NO to these things and choosing to focus on studies/church for the time being - it really doesn't matter. Rather, the important thing is that whatever you have decided, just stick to it, even if at times you feel that decision doesn't make much sense or that it is very hard to maintain the commitmentEven if the decision feels dubious, I think sometimes we should just try. This is because the reason we are apprehensive is because we do not have previous exposure to it or it could also be due to our fixed mindset on certain stuffs. Here I'm talking about things that are not considered sin in the Bible - so murder, sexual immorality, stealing, lying etc are obviously out of the question. I don't really have a good example for this since everyone has their own standard for what they find "dubious" and I personally think that everything can be used to glorify God if we know how to and we aim to honor Him in everything. Simple answer, if in doubt, ask God and ask your church leaders or Christians who you know will make the most God-honoring decision.

Lastly, for this point I want to add that it is a command from the Bible in Ecclesiastes - enjoy your life (so not enjoying = sin O.O) Of course, this is also not meant in the #yolo and do whatever you want manner. A new lifestation is about discovering more of what God has in store - just do what you think is benefical for you ^^

#4 See the God in the bad
Though seasons and lifestations change, God doesn't. His character never changes, neither does His presence or His purpose for you life. Or His death on the cross. All these remains to be real, remains to be true, remains to be applicable for you no matter what. When nothing makes sense, we MUST be able to see the God in the bad. Otherwise it'll never make sense, and you'll go crazy when you realize there's no sense in this imperfect world with sin in the picture. If in a new lifestation we neither look out for God's hand nor wait expectantly for God to move/deliver us, then some negative consequences will DEFINITELY appear. The lightest one is that you will simply miss out what God has for you here in the new lifestation, whether it is to learn new skills, understand His heart more, discover His unique plans for you, meeting people who will be with you for the rest of your live, knowing the abundance of life etc. When I type it here, honestly I also think it sounds a bit "lame" and "abstract". But for those of you who have had such experiences, you'll probably agree with me that these are life-changing, magical sort of experiences. They are worth any cost, almost. The harsher consequences is well, you forget that you are Christian and your walk with God will take a tumble - you may even give up on God and forgot His goodness in your life so far. Initially when everything is moving and changing rapidly, it is fully understandable that we may neglect God in some ways and I think God knows that will happen, so He will send people, situations our way to remind us. But if we don't see them or don't prioritize seeing God's gentle prodding for extended periods of time (by extended, I think 1 month is dangerous enough), then it may be fatal. This is probably similar to how university students often forgot what they learnt from the previous semester after the holidays. But for our walk with God, things are not so simple, because God is not a book or a module; He is living. And a relationship isn't as easily renewed. 

At the end of the day, transitions exist to mark a chapter in our lives. Transitions must exist, otherwise we will not be urgent regarding our current lifestation. All this, is God's divine plan of making us "grow up". And grow up we must, because God has so much in store for us that He can only reveal and give to us when we can handle them. For many of us, we are probably not used to growing up and the struggles associated with it. That is natural. Similar to tuition teachers, if you, with your JC/university-trained mind, were to do a secondary school exam on a subject that you took before and also have the chance to revise it, though not getting a perfect score, you'll probably be able to get a really decent grade. Similarly, growing "down", going back in time and transiting to a lifestation you've been through is probably going to be pretty easy. You've faced the struggles, the questions, the doubts and the pains before. But who knows the answers of their next lifestation before the questions even come? Not you, since you've never went through it, but only God. Only He knows how. So follow His leading and His Word. And lastly, this is my prayer for you!

1 Corinthians 13:11
When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me.
I pray that out of this lifestation, you will come to see how you have grown up and put the ways of your "childhood" behind you, talking, knowing and reasoning about God like a grown-up in Christ :)

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