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Why I left Instagram

by | 10 August 2017, 1:52 PM

My Christian brethren might give me some side-eye at this confession, but I’ve never fasted.

In my church, fasting season every year stretches from July 1 to August 9. That’s 40 days leading up to National Day – 40 days, because that’s the number of days Jesus fasted for spiritual preparation in the wilderness (Matthew 4:2).

I just never wanted to do it.

After more than 20 years in church, I probably know all the best reasons for fasting, and yes, of course I agree that it’s a great spiritual discipline. But for me, it was such a hassle to skip socialising at mealtime, risk a gastric attack or just stop work to pray.

So I honoured the fasting season as much as I could without forgoing meals, such as going without meat or solid foods. I recall trying a computer fast – but only because I had to study for exams anyway.

In recent years, I focussed on the “praying” side of things, spending my morning commute in silence, reading and praying along to the 40-Day Fast & Prayer Booklet. That extra time spent in prayer did wonders for my spiritual focus and hearing God’s words in season for me.

I just thought that was good enough.

But this year, a specific challenge came to my attention from different sources: Fast from Instagram. Over and over, in the middle of various conversations, people would look at me knowingly and suggest it.

My life was all about the ‘gram. All 5,818 posts since 2010. It was my journal, my message board, my pulpit.

My newsfeed was my community. The people who shared life in short bursts and pretty pictures from their daily adventures, heartfelt ramblings and little inspirations. We were each others’ entertainment channels and motivational speakers. We were family.

Only best friends tell each other everything, right?

At the height of my frustration to restart and move on from the past, I deleted the Instagram app with trembling fingers and replaced it with the BibleGateway one.

But like an episode on Black Mirror, the dystopic hyper-reality TV series, the Instastory of my life became an idealised documentation of what I wanted to believe my life looked like.

With a vulnerable but well-angled caption, bad days could become good days. With the right amount of VSCO editing, good days could become great days. If we followed each other and liked each other’s photos, we were friends – even if we never actually spoke in person. And imagine if we left comments

After a while, as real life took a detour into the valley, I found the two worlds stretching further and further apart, like mozzarella on a pizza. I wanted to be #real about how I was feeling so that others wouldn’t feel alone in their own suffering or think I lived a perfect, pain-free life, but on an open platform like Instagram, you aren’t actually expressing as much as you’re composing.

Nothing is really that raw.

After hearing how #triggered I was getting over the constant comparison, ensuing FOMO and my unspeakable, offline struggles, my real-life best friends had had enough. “Get off Instagram for this year’s 40-Day Fast & Pray,” they told me. And when I protested, asking how I was going to document an important wedding and upcoming trip to Hong Kong: “You can always post when you get back on it.”

So after much resistance, but also at the height of my frustration to restart and move on from the past, I deleted the app with trembling fingers and replaced it with BibleGateway on July 9.

I was late to the fasting party – not quite 40 days – but this was the challenge: One month of no Instagramming, from July 9 to August 9. Game on.

So that’s where we are now, the day after National Day. It’s been 31 days since I left Instagram, and the thought of downloading and reopening the app is strangely as daunting as it was to delete it. Because in my deliberate departure, I learnt 3 big lessons that will stay with me longer than any social media footprint would.

3 LESSONS FROM MY INSTAGRAM FAST

1. SOLITUDE IS SCARY
… when you’ve forgotten how to be alone

The first night I went without Instagram, I had a meltdown. By bedtime, knowing I couldn’t write something sad but well-scripted on my Instagram, the weight of my aloneness was crushing.

Nobody will know I’m suffering!

But it was the next realisation that broke my heart: I was just as alone as I had ever been, with or without Instagram.

I’d never cried so hard, but the revelation made me all the more determined to reclaim my solitude – and my sanity.

2. SILENCE IS SURREAL
… when nobody knows where you are

On July 16, I slipped out of the country on my own, telling as few people as I could. It’d barely been a week since I’d started the fast, but I was actually excited to push my new-found aloneness to the next level. On one of the days, I made my way to Hong Kong’s Dragon’s Back Hiking Trail and trekked in silence up the stone-strewn hills.

If this had been any other trip, I probably wouldn’t have done it alone, and definitely not without Instastorying my entire journey.

But as I walked on in almost 100% unadulterated, no-longer-scary solitude, even my time with God felt different. For once, it was truly just Him and me. Not Him and me and my 661 followers. And when I stopped to survey the rolling green slopes, coastal winds billowing past me, I knew He was closer than He’d ever been to my once-distracted heart.

3. STILLNESS IS SWEET
… when your soul is at peace

As the end of my fast drew near, my cell leader asked me what filled the void left behind by Instagram. “Facebook,” I replied with a laugh. It was a joke, but I wasn’t entirely innocent. Albeit a poor one, Facebook had sometimes been a substitute for my idle time.

One night, when I could feel the sadness welling up again, I found myself reaching for my phone and proceeding to scroll through my Facebook feed mindlessly for the next hour. But when I’d put it down, tired enough to fall asleep quickly, everything I’d been feeling just came rushing back in.

That weekend, I heard a powerful message from the pulpit: “When God is doing a new thing in your life, expect birthing pains. People tend to shrink back when they feel pain, but in labour, when the pain comes, the doctor will tell you to push. So don’t let the pain you’re feeling now paralyse you. Push!”

Push. Pray Until Something Happens. The next time I felt the peace within disrupted, I reached for my Bible and stayed with God until the stillness returned.

Fasting brings to mind the story of Jacob wrestling with God (Genesis 32:22-32). Like the hip bone, there are certain things in our lives that we heavily rely upon. They are core support structures within us, and when these are displaced or broken, the way Jacob had his hip wrenched from its socket, we find ourselves in great pain and discomfort, unable to function like we used to.

But in that upheaval of what we depend on, with everything suddenly out of balance, we find ourselves clinging more tightly than ever to God – just as Jacob did.

“When God is doing a new thing in your life, expect birthing pains. People tend to shrink back when they feel pain, but in labour, when the pain comes, the doctor will tell you to push. So don’t let the pain you’re feeling now paralyse you. Push!”

In fasting, we come face to face with the “hip bones” we’ve created for ourselves, our coping mechanisms and security blankets. We could even deny ourselves of them, or of food – our greatest need – to bring us back to that place of total dependency. Hips out of sockets for 40 days, clinging to God like never before.

We’ll find that we don’t depend on them quite the same way, even when the season ends.

“Is not this the fast that I choose: To loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke?” (Isaiah 58:6)

The fast has been instructive enough to make me wonder what I’ll see if I gave God the full season of 40 days to teach me what He wants to teach me. So I may have started late, but I’ll go into extra time now, till August 19.

In an age of insta-gratification, what’s another 10 days?

/ joanne@thir.st

Joanne is a bundle of creative energy commonly heard before she is seen. She believes in the triune power of good conversation, brilliant writing and bold ideas. She also likes milo.

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Should I be giving to every peddler I see?

by | 18 October 2017, 1:44 AM

Most of us are used to being approached by old, hunchbacked elderly selling tissue packets, but I was once approached by a young man who asked for some money for lunch. Although I typically walk away when such people approach me, my heart was softened that day.

“Sure, shall we go to the Kopitiam?” I offered.

I accompanied the man there and bought him a plate of mixed rice. On his part, he was careful not to exceed the budget he’d asked for, carefully deliberating his choice of vegetables.

As I watched him gratefully tuck into his meal, I wondered if I would do this again. I still feel like I did the right thing that day. Why?

GENEROSITY TOWARDS THE NEEDY

The call to be generous towards the needy is found in both the Old and New Testament.

In Deuteronomy 15, Moses teaches the Israelites God’s Law on the year of the Sabbath. In view of Israel’s inability to keep the Law perfectly, Moses tells the Israelites, “there will never cease to be poor in the land”, therefore they are to open wide their hands to their brother, to the needy and to the poor in their land (Deuteronomy 15:11).

In trusting God to meet our needs, we look away from our sufficiency to God’s sufficiency.

This commandment is echoed in the New Testament in Luke 14:7, where Jesus teaches that believers are to aim to do good for the poor without expecting to eradicate poverty in this age.

As we heed this commandment, we may be questioning the value of being generous with those in need. Proverbs 19:17 makes this clear: graciously lending to the needy is akin to lending to the Lord.

As we meet the needs of others, we demonstrate reliance on God to provide for our own needs. In trusting God to meet our needs, we look away from our sufficiency to God’s sufficiency.

NEED GENEROSITY BE FINANCIAL?

Cynics will argue that peddling tissue has become a profitable income-earner, where peddlers are scamming their buyers at rip-off prices. Yet, I choose to ask myself: Would I rather be in their position, where I have to make ends meet by hook or by crook?

Of course, I cannot be certain how the money will be used – if it will be used in the way the person claims. Hence, I admit I tend to err on the side of caution as I don’t want my generosity to be taken for granted. I don’t want to risk having my money being used on feeding a harmful habit, such as the consumption of cigarettes or alcohol.

But I also remember this: In showing love to someone else, I do him no harm (Romans 13:10). So, taking this all into consideration, I’m willing to be generous in kind rather than in cash.

In showing love to someone else, I do him no harm.

In personal experience, I have had the privilege of sharing time and energy with a family who is less well-to-do, by reading with their preschool children. They have been directed to the appropriate platforms for financial assistance; nonetheless, I am repeatedly reminded not to give them money, were they to ask for it.

As I give my time and energy, I believe the family is no less blessed – my presence is an opportunity for their caregiver to take a momentary pause in caring for them. I know she appreciates my presence – in the midst of caring for young children, she treasures conversation with other adults.

Likewise, the children anticipate my visits – being read to is a treat their caregiver cannot afford time for, as her time is spent on taking care of their basic needs.

TRUE GENEROUS GIVING

As we seek to be generous both in cash and kind, it is worth remembering we are not always able to give to every person we meet. Hence, we give as we are able, bearing in mind their greatest need is not physical, but spiritual.

The New Testament speaks of spiritual hunger and thirst in the gospel of John.

When Jesus meets a Samaritan woman at the well in John 4, He offers her some water, telling her that whoever drinks of the water that Jesus will give them will never be thirsty again. The water that Jesus will give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life (John 4:14).

This water Jesus professes to give refers to the Holy Spirit dwelling within a believer (John 7:38-39).

Later, Jesus tells the crowds He is the Bread of Life (John 6:35) – which is superior to the manna provided in Moses’ day. He says this to tell the crowds He gives essential and eternal spiritual nourishment, instead of meeting only physical needs.

Hence, while we are called to give generously to the needy, we do so with discernment – in order that we don’t run the risk of doing more harm than good for the needy person. We also should be looking out for opportunities to meet their spiritual needs, not just their financial ones, as God avails.

At the end of the day, we cannot guarantee they’ll always get helped, but we can ensure they’ll always get loved.

“What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” (James 2:14-17)

/ eudora@thir.st

Eudora found herself writing on public platforms by chance. Apart from writing, she likes many random things, including spoken word poetry, adult colouring books, tea, stationery and fresh, clean laundry.

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Reflections on Skyrim: I didn’t make my lives count

by | 17 October 2017, 5:31 PM

Skyrim (2011) is a video game from the Elder Scrolls video game series that originated in the nineties. The player learns that he or she is the chosen one, prophesied to defeat Alduin the World-Eater – an ancient and massive dragon hell-bent on destroying the realm of Tamriel.

Yes, I know how nerdy that sounds.

But I certainly found it interesting. And recently, I saw that Skyrim was on sale on Steam, a gaming platform where games’ prices are periodically slashed and users are alerted to video games they might like.

It brought many memories back. I’ve owned this masterpiece of a video game for 6 years, yet I never actually finished it.

Why?

DELIVERANCE TO DISTRACTION

In Skyrim‘s grand opening sequence, you are a prisoner in shackles who is about to be executed. At the eleventh hour however, you are delivered from the chopping block when Alduin attacks, and chaos breaks out in the town.

Over the next few minutes, you successfully escape out of an underground labyrinthian network of caves. You then emerge headlong into the cold mountain air, where a magnificent vista greets you:

Lines upon lines of mighty, snow-covered fir trees stand sentry in sweeping frosty meadows. Snow-capped mountains rise defiantly in the distance, beckoning you to climb them – and you must.

For Alduin is perched atop one of these mighty mountains, scheming where to strike the world of Tamriel next. It is later revealed that the Dragon intends to destroy Tamriel’s afterlife itself – a plane of existence called Sovngarde. Which is kinda like our Heaven. So our primary goal is to save humanity by taking down the ancient dragon before Heaven is no more.

However, this great quest we are commissioned to undertake is immediately waylaid by a myriad other smaller quests. One of the common comments about Skyrim is that it’s easy to forget the main quest because there are thousands of other things to do in the world.

And these side missions have rewards so immediate – so here and now – it’s often simply a lot more appealing to do them. Walk into a cave, kill a troll, level up – profit.

The greater good isn’t as fun as doing what we want, whenever we want. So we just end up doing our own thing, chasing what pays and what gratifies.

Eventually, we’ve completely lost sight of the larger goal and our original purpose. We forget why we were spared from destruction in the first place. Sounds a lot like real life to me.

THE PROPENSITY FOR DISTRACTION

Maybe it all sounds like a bit of a stretch to you, but gaming really makes me reflect like this.

In Tamriel, I ultimately became rich and powerful. Whenever I walked into a town, people would greet me as if I were a king. I could build homes, or I could just as easily raze them to the ground.

But for all of my might, I left no impact on the world. The characters around me would still go on with their lives, oblivious to the great threat which hung above them – biding its time. They would die, and when they did there’d be no Heaven for them to go to.

Yet all the while, I could have done something. I could have “saved” them.

This isn’t an exhortation to climb up a mountain and spear Satan or something. To be clear, we don’t exactly get to save the day. Christ has already defeated death, and saved us. He has already won.

Having been delivered, our job is to now deliver that good news of salvation to others who remain mired in darkness. Our job is to make disciples and to make Him known in the world.

But what is common to open-world roleplaying games and the Christian walk, is the propensity for distraction. There are ten thousand other things to do in this life, and many of them are far more “rewarding” in the here and now.

WE ARE CHOSEN

Maybe some of us had a dream for God once. But maybe “real life” caught up, and we ended up losing sight of that vision along the way. You might say you have no particular calling – that still doesn’t absolve you.

That certainly doesn’t allow you to waste your life. We all have the same commission (Matthew 28:16-20). We all have the same main quest.

In the various classes – no, professions – that we pick, it’s worth examining: What are we really chasing with our skills and talents?

While we’re caught up with the world, humanity hinges on what we make of the sliver of time and life given to each of us.

I didn’t finish Skyrim in the end. But in this real life, I intend to focus, fight well, and run long and fast.

I’m playing to win.

/ gabriel@thir.st

Gabriel isn't a hipster, but he loves his beard and coffee. In his spare time, he'd rather be on a mountain.

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Am I still a female if I’m unfeminine?

by | 16 October 2017, 12:37 PM

I was never a feminine girl.

Just ask my grandma. She’ll confirm that I used to be punished with the boys for being a nuisance during kindergarten. We’d face the wall as our punishment – and I would invariably be the only girl standing among a row of boys.

At home, my mom would often berate me for being chor lor (uncouth) as I liked to sit with one foot propped up on my chair. She wasn’t a fan of the habit I picked up from my Dad; it made me look like a Chinese coolie, she said.

More recently, in my university days, my female friends would laugh at my lack of empathy. Memorably, I once dozed off in front of a friend who was droning on and on about her problems.

Aiyah, Siqi thinks and acts like a guy lah,” my friends joked. I laughed along. I really didn’t mind the label they slapped on me. I thought it was accurate.

Until I became the leader of an all-female cell group.

IDENTITY CRISIS

I became painfully aware of how different I was after I was thrown into this group of girls. Having to intentionally reach out to them on a regular basis, my stunted emotional intelligence in the realm of feminine conversation proved to be a barrier in relating to my cell girls.

I just wasn’t girly enough.

Soon, I began to question something I had never thought about, something I had never cared before: My identity as a female.

That night, I cried myself to sleep. I was afraid there was something wrong with me. I felt like a disappointment and a failure. I was even afraid of what God would think of me.

Comparing yourself to others is poisonous for the soul.

In an attempt to become more feminine, I began to imitate my other female friends. But I could never measure up; I wasn’t as gentle as this girl, as relational, as patient. I found myself constantly miserable and tired from chasing other people’s shadows.

Comparing yourself to others in this way is poisonous for the soul. I ended up feeling even more confused about my identity. I didn’t know who I was anymore.

That was when it hit me: I was worried about going against God’s design, but I was now doing it all the more.

God didn’t create me to impersonate others. I’m unique (Psalms 147:4) and crafted with a specific purpose (Ephesians 2:10). I was dead wrong thinking I could “create” my identity by trying to be like someone else.

That’s not to say we shouldn’t model ourselves after our Biblical heroes. There’s a difference between imitating people and imitating Christlike values. While I can’t express compassion the same way my friend does, I can learn from her to be more empathetic in my own way.

I’m called to imitate Christ, not to be a poor copy of somebody else. When I try to imitate others, I’m only losing out on how I was uniquely created by God and what I was designed to offer (1 Corinthians 12:18-20, 1 Peter 4:10).

CHRIST IS IDENTITY

It took me a long time to understand that my identity is only determined by my Maker.

People may say that I act like a tomboy, and some days I feel like the most unfeminine person on earth – but ultimately it’s what my Creator says that truly matters.

It took me a long time to understand that my identity is only determined by my Maker.

I’m a female because that’s what God made me (Psalm 100:3).

All I need to do is to simply abide in God, obey His Word, and I know He will lead me to become the person He created me to be (John 15:5, Romans 12:2, 2 Timothy 3:16-17).

Sure, I may not be feminine – I still sit like a coolie when I eat my meals at home – but I’m me. Fearfully and wonderfully made. Me.

/ siqi@thir.st

Siqi loves to eat. Except for peas, egg yolk, cucumbers, livers, intestines. Among others. She also happens to be a writer.

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“I thought it was my inevitable reality as a woman”: Sexual harassment in the workplace

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I had been praying for the right work opportunity after ‘A’ levels to earn some pocket money and also start on a personal missional lifestyle: To share the Gospel with my colleagues as salt and light in my workplace.  

I was eventually introduced by a female friend to a Thai restaurant in order to take over her part-time position as a waitress. She was going to be starting a new job elsewhere soon and assured me that it would be a fun and dynamic environment with nice colleagues.  

I was the only woman and Chinese Singaporean at my workplace, but I was quite excited at the prospect of being able to share about God to my new Thai friends, having recently started learning Thai for future mission work.

There were a few newcomers besides me, so we had a welcome party after work in the first week. Out of nowhere, one of the older men started joking about how he visits prostitutes. Suddenly, I could feel eyes on me. Then another colleague blurted out, in Thai, “Too bad she’s young. I would pay a high price for girls like her at the brothel.”

He downed another shot. I hadn’t drunk much, but my face was on fire. I didn’t know how to respond. They didn’t think I’d understood, but even with my limited Thai, I had.

I wanted to believe it was just the alcohol speaking, but later incidents proved otherwise. 

There were situations where more than one of us servers were squashed against the cash register, trying to settle the bill. This happened whenever the restaurant was particularly crowded.

I was taking out some change for the customer when I felt one male server standing very close behind me. He pressed against me, arms swooping between mine and intercepting me to the cash register. “Sorry, customer is rushing me,” he mumbled in my ear as he swiftly retreated, but not without grazing my chest and slapping my butt.

I was afraid to speak out for fear of being too sensitive or confrontational. The other guys didn’t think it was a big deal at all. 

I was unsure if it was an accident, or if he was treating me like a “bro”. Did “bro’s” do that to each other? In the end, I decided to dismiss it as he didn’t seem to think much about the matter. Also, I was afraid to speak out for fear of being too sensitive or confrontational. The other guys didn’t think it was a big deal at all. 

This wasn’t the first time I’d faced some form of sexual harassment. It’d happened to me before on public transport and with people I knew and trusted. Somewhere inside me, I thought I ought to accept all these incidences as part of my inevitable reality as a woman.

When I tried to tell others about it, the common responses I got were: 

“Are you sure…? Maybe it was accidental.” 

“You? Sexual harassment? They must’ve been blind …” 

Why would guys want to touch you?” 

“Stop being dramatic .. you also not that pretty.”

“You look like a man leh.. are they gay?” 

I decided to stick it out for another few months. 

I was working the closing shift when my male colleagues were making sexually suggestive jokes, directed at a female patron just out of earshot. Unable to stand the coarseness any longer, I asked them to stop it.

They looked at me and burst out laughing, saying, “Just a joke what … You also have nothing for us to look at so we look at other people lah.” They proceeded to spend the next few hours making fun of me, accusing me of only liking Caucasian men because of my bigger build.

I couldn’t get openly angry because there were customers around, and neither could I leave if I wanted to be paid. I had prayed to God for a resolution, for some sort of way to end all of this. But it seemed like He hadn’t changed their minds and made them stop.  

In fact, it only got worse. For some reason, that night, the boss came by after closing and requested to speak to me. I thought that it might be a good time to broach the topic of my colleagues’ behaviour. But before I could start, he pointed to my baggy work-wear and asked, “Why don’t you wear tighter jeans? You’ll attract more male customers that way … You’re the only girl here.”

They all laughed. He beckoned me to sit beside him as they smoked and drank, and again I tried to share about the uncomfortable experiences with my male colleagues. Midway through, he swivelled towards me, a wry smile on his face.

“Have you ever had sex?” He asked. The table roared. “She’s Christian and definitely a virgin!” Someone else piped in. I stood up in shock, holding back tears in my eyes; I had to get away from these people. But my boss gripped my arm tightly, insisting he was just joking and would drive me home afterwards.

As I fled the scene, my head was spinning and all I could think was, men will be men.

Coupled with my past experiences of being sexually assaulted, I was disillusioned and angered. I felt entitled to my bitterness.  

There was a point where I even questioned, “Why am I even praying for them? They deserve to go to hell.” I know Christians are continually called to be counterculturally meek and loving, but is this what I have to put up with? Is this really what I’ve been called to do? To love these people in spite of this? 

In the news, we hear of horrifying reports of sexual harassment and abuse. The Harvey Weinstein scandal brings to mind every incident where I had been sexually harassed, assaulted and violated. And whenever I remember, every suppressed emotion that I felt in those moments rises like bile from inside, choking me with violent intensity.

But in my quiet time of prayer one day, I heard, “Even then, love.”  I was shaken and broken to tears. Yes, I saw myself in those memories, hurt and confused. But for the first time, I was looking at my pain through His perspective. I felt the Father’s love overflow in my heart.  

“Come to me.”

And then I knew: He had been there, in every moment, in every situation, weeping with me.

What does love look like when you’ve been violated? 

What does forgiveness look like when you’ve been wronged?  

What does redemption look like, in a disordered, perverse and sinful world?  

Christ-like meekness doesn’t mean aggressive confrontation, neither does it mean to suffer in silence. Whether you’re a man or woman, whether you’re facing this for the first time or to the point where you think you’re desensitised to it – it doesn’t make sexual harassment or abuse okay. If you’ve felt uncomfortable in a situation that you were unable to escape, it is not your fault and you are not alone.  

In the darkest moments of self-condemnation, bitterness and shame, I find comfort that Jonah prayed to the Lord his God from the stomach of the fish.

“I called out of my distress to the LORD, and He answered me. I cried for help from the depth of Sheol; You heard my voice.” (Jonah 2:2)

God can hear the words you can’t say. Your suffering will be redressed, even if you don’t get to see it for yourself. Injustice will not go unpunished. Vengeance is His, and He will repay (Romans 12:19).


Ashley has since left her waitressing job and found a safe and loving work environment. If you’ve ever been sexually abused, assaulted or harassed, seek help – be it reporting your case to the authorities or speaking to a trusted loved one. Your well-being is top priority.

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