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Faith

In trying to be a friend, I let myself be emotionally manipulated

by | 20 April 2018, 2:02 PM

I grew up with love stories.

When I was younger, it was about how true love made a mermaid abandon her home for a prince.  When I was older, it was the Korean dramas which showed how true love perseveres in spite of disapproving parents, illnesses and rivalries.

I’ve had my perception of love shaped since I was a child: Patient, selfless and forgiving. And that’s great! Selflessly loving others is a good thing as long as we exercise discernment in doing so. That was my problem: Story books and dramas never taught me about discernment.

So I loved like a high-speed ambulance without brakes.

I met Tim when I was in school and clicked with him almost immediately. He shared his life with me, gradually letting me see how broken his family was. His real life was a stark contrast to the facade he put up for others to see, to convince everyone that his life was put together.

It didn’t take me long to realise that he was running away from the emptiness in his heart. To rid himself of loneliness, he worked his way up the social ladder. And to feel better about his self-worth, he took care of his appearance and won girls’ hearts.

But these were just temporal pleasures. What he truly needed wasn’t the love of men – but the love of God.

As I disagreed with his actions and perception of life, I rebuked him and tried to point him to a better way. I struggled to love him as a friend because he was a ball of depression and anxiety, frequently lamenting how not even God would love him.

He pinned the blame for his brokenness onto his broken family, and guilt-tripped me for not being loving enough to stay. He was emotionally manipulative, threatening me with his suicidal thoughts whenever I wanted distance from the friendship.

I often shared about my friendship with Tim to friends and mentors who also knew him. But because I thought I would be gossiping, I left out all the parts where he was toxic or emotionally manipulative. I didn’t want to taint what they thought of him in case he ever decided to come to church.

Because of the partial truths I had shared with my peers, they were unaware of the severity of the situation. So their advice was generically encouraging – not what I truly needed to hear because I was never transparent with them. And so I continued to invest in my friendship with Tim.

I continued to suffer for months until I told my friends the truth, who immediately persuaded me to get out of the friendship.

Selflessly loving others is a good thing as long as we exercise discernment in doing so.

I was heartbroken. I knew how much he needed God and had believed it was my duty to make every effort in showing Christ’s love to him. I cried as I told my mentors how I felt like I’d failed as a servant of God. But a friend shared a verse with me.

“”I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.” (Matthew 10:16)

I didn’t realise that what I thought was long-suffering love, was actually me just blindly remaining in a toxic friendship.

But I don’t want this article to discourage anyone from showing love to others.

“And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God.” (Philippians 1:9-11)

That’s from Paul’s letter to the Church in Philippi. I could use that prayer myself: God, help me to love others wisely.

I’ve learnt to know when a friendship has turned toxic, and how to be more accountable. I am heartened to hear from friends that Tim is doing well and pursuing a deeper understanding of God now. I know that God wants to minister to Tim – maybe just not through me. And that’s OK.

I just want to serve the Lord, who sees plainly our hearts.

/ helene@thir.st

After surviving the chaos of Poly life fighting the evils of sleep deprivation and academic stress, Helene now spends most of her free time repaying her three years accumulated debt of not doing household chores.

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I would have left this world if not for a friend

by Li-ann Chee | 19 April 2018, 2:06 PM

Since young, I hated looking at myself in the mirror because of how ugly I thought I was. I wouldn’t even take pictures with anyone. It was suffocating, living with this fear of mirrors and photographs. And I hated believing that I was ugly, alone and somehow judged by the people around me.

It was my worst pain that my family could not understand this, not because they didn’t care, but because I had no idea how to accurately tell them about my misery. On the inside, I felt useless, worthless and without a sense of belonging everywhere I went. There was no joy in my life.

Despite my struggle with my self-image, the irony was that I really craved attention. All I wanted was for people to notice me – the real me – for once. But the more I craved for attention, the more I could see it being a burden on those around me.

Unable to express myself well and left with almost no close relationships, I sank into a depression, hiding in my room and crying myself to sleep every night.

Eventually, I started questioning my own existence on Earth: “Does anyone really care about my life?” There were several times when I looked out my window from the 18th storey and thought, “Will there finally be peace if I fall to the first floor?” 

I tried my best to fix my eyes on the Cross and read God’s word daily, but things took a turn for the worse last year when my grandmother passed away in April, followed by my mum being diagnosed with cancer later in September.

All the old feelings surfaced again. Worthless. Useless. Insecure. Helpless. I couldn’t do anything to change what had happened to those I loved. I found myself crying alone again; the pain was so great that I scratched myself until I bled, hoping to numb my heartache

But God proved His love to me again and again. I questioned Him, “If I am really your friend, give me a sign and put the right people in my life.” In response, He gave me a vision where I saw a river that I had to cross, and then I saw myself dancing on stage, with Jesus standing in the audience and waving at me.

In a step of faith and obedience, I joined the dance ministry in church, although I had no background in dance. And it’s been the best thing I could ever ask for, where I get to serve Him alongside a great community.

If I didn’t have Jesus, I don’t think I’d still be here. But I’ve learnt that even if people don’t love me or want to be my friend, He is the one and only true friend and Saviour who loves me – and you – unendingly.


This is a submission from a participant of our Greater Love Giveaway.

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You’re never too far gone

by | 18 April 2018, 5:20 PM

Some time ago, I sat in a conflict resolution meeting with some of my cell members.

Simply put, the conflict was caused by mistakes I had made. There was a lot of unease going into that meeting as I didn’t know how would my cellmates react: Would I be rebuked for my incompetence? Were they going to tell me that they were right all along?

As I sat in that meeting, I was instead surprised by how quickly my cell members forgave me and take me back into the cell. It happened in a blur – undeserved but freely given.

What did I do to merit such favour? By all accounts, it was me who messed up – why were they so gracious?

I realised my quick reinstatement resembled the prodigal son’s homecoming (Luke 15:11-32). You know the story: The prodigal son runs away from home and lives as if his father was dead. He then squanders his inheritance on every vice imaginable.

Sin tries hard to take us as far from God as it possibly can. It makes us grieve God. And yet our God is like that father who endures the heartbreak of watching his child waste his life – living for the next high.

Deep in trouble, the son thinks of home – he misses being in his father’s house and love – and makes a plan to ask his father to take him back as a slave. Speech prepared, he picks himself and trudges on home.

In the moments before our meeting, I could empathise with the prodigal son’s pain. He had made a complete wreck of his life and his only option was to return to his father he had rejected. What kept him going past the shame of failure was the memory of his father’s house and love. It was similar for me: I remember doing nothing but praying the entire journey there.

The grace God gives to us surpasses all logic and rational thought.

It’s just like how we are when we come back to God after yet another sinful escapade. In the mess and muck, upon remembering His love and providence, we realise the best course of action is to return to our Father.

The younger son thinks he’s finally crossed the line – he’s too far gone. But as he walks home, instead of being yelled and jeered at by a man on the horizon, the Father runs toward him and embraces him. Remarkably, the Father cuts the son off midway through his apology speech. He can’t wait to get a feast started. He can’t wait to celebrate his son’s return!

That’s our God. He never forsakes us – even when we forsake Him. He doesn’t just wait for us with open arms – He runs to us when we come home. Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you.

The grace God gives to us surpasses all logic and rational thought.

My friends demonstrated God’s love to me when their forgiveness and grace sprinted to meet me. The grace extended to me that day wasn’t something I could ever earn. But they looked past my mistakes and welcomed me home.

Have you run away from such a love? Maybe you feel your life’s an empty shell, like you’re too far gone. Well, you’re not. God’s love is waiting to wash over you the moment you turn around and come home.

So come back, brother. Dad is home and dinner’s ready.

/ junheng@thir.st

JunHeng is a 100% extrovert who loves caffeine – lots of caffeine. He also likes HTHTs, jamming and eating good food. Did he mention he loves caffeine?

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How I forgave my dad for having an extramarital affair

by Esther Toh | 18 April 2018, 10:45 AM

I grew up in a Christian family.

We attended Church every Sunday, my parents taught me to pray and they read the Bible to me. Everything was smooth-sailing – until my parents got into a fight that ended their marriage when I was 10 years old.

I was thrown into confusion – I thought God did not approve of divorces? If my parents truly loved God, why would they do that? I remember pestering them for an answer. I needed to know why they could not be together anymore, why I had to choose between my dad and mum.

As they blamed each other, I learnt that my dad was guilty of an extramarital affair.

This period was too overwhelming for my mum, who fell into depression.

I don’t know how I coped. I was afraid of my mum and her emotions. Not knowing how I could help her – I distanced myself from her.

In desperate need for comfort, I became too emotionally dependent on my friends. I did anything to get attention and affirmation from them. Many of my my friendships failed: It was too exhausting to be my friend.

But the biggest issue I struggled with was that I could not bring myself to forgive my dad. Through this period, I continued to attend church where I learnt the importance of forgiveness and how to forgive. So I knew I needed to forgive my dad, but I was just unable to do so.

Even though I met up with my dad regularly, I was always reluctant to see him. Our relationship was strained and he knew it. As much as I wanted to fix it – and as much as he tried – we couldn’t fix it by ourselves.

Over the years, my relationship with God grew deeper and I started serving consistently in church. But I always carried this heaviness in my heart – a burden of unforgiveness.

One day in Church, my pastor led us in a prayer to forgive our parents. She asked us to list out all the things our parents had ever done to hurt us. We had to go down the list, pray over each item and verbally forgive our parents for the specific action that had hurt us.

Going through my mum’s list was heartbreaking as I realised that many of the things she did to me was the result of overwhelming stress. It was different for my dad’s list. It was extremely tough for me to verbally extend forgiveness to him. I took time to pray and asked God to work in my heart. After praying and asking God to help me, I was able to go back to my dad’s list, to forgive him for the things he did to me.

As I was doing so, God brought a memory to my mind: I was 10, my mum was breaking down in her room – screaming and shouting. Sobbing in fear, I ran behind the sofa. I called my dad and begged him to come home from work. He said he was busy and hung up.

No matter what situation you’re in, remember that God is always there with you. Cry out to Him and He will surely answer – He loves you more than anyone on this earth can.

Immediately, I felt the presence of God surround me. God revealed to me that I could not forgive my dad because I felt abandoned by him. When I needed him the most, my dad failed to be there for me. God then told me, “Your dad was not there for you, but I was and will always be.”

God showed me that as little 10 year-old me wept behind that sofa – He was right there with me, comforting and watching over me. I felt an indescribable release as I allowed God to minister to me. I knew there and then, that God had broken my chains and set me free.

“God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.” (Psalm 46:1)

God led me to this psalm. He had indeed proven Himself as my refuge and strength – even while I was unaware.

My relationship with my dad has gotten so much better ever since.

I treasure the time spent with him as I no longer bear unforgiveness in my heart, and our conversations have become meaningful and filled with love. Though there may be disagreements here and there, I always remember to go back to God and allow Him into my heart.

I have grown to be dependent on God and not man; I seek affirmation from the only One who matters. Though my life has not been one of bliss and happiness, God has still proven to be faithful and loving to me.

No matter what situation you’re in, remember that God is always there with you. Cry out to Him and He will surely answer – He loves you more than anyone on this earth can.


The author’s name has been changed to protect her privacy. This is a submission from a participant of our Greater Love Giveaway.

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Why was I born into a dysfunctional family?

by Brenda Chew | 11 April 2018, 3:58 PM

I’ve been a straight “A” student all my life.

I constantly topped my cohort – and was Head Prefect to boot! But while my life seemed perfect on the surface, it was far from that in reality.

My dad used to own a construction company, but because my mum mishandled the funds, our family ran into debts. To maintain her life of luxury, my mum borrowed money from our relatives – money which was supposed to be for our education. So my dad went back to drugs and started being abusive towards my mom.

Police visits were common due to the 3 am shouting matches and suicide attempts. I was only 12 when I had to pick my parents up from prison. At 14, I started working because I had to top up $50 to have electricity and water at home. At 17, I lived out of a luggage because there was no house to go home to.

Life in my family was tough. I was taught that family stands for “Father and Mother, I Love You.” But my sister came up with her own acronym: “Father and Mother, I Leave You”. She told her counsellor that she will never forgive my dad and wanted my parents to get a divorce.

For years, I’ve gone up for every altar call about family. I bawled my eyes out, pleading for God to intervene in my family, but disappointed and hardened – I eventually just learnt to suck it up. After all, the only breakthroughs I saw were loansharks breaking the doors of my house down.

“We love because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19)

I could never apply that verse to the context of my family. God often nudged my heart to love and forgive them – but I wouldn’t and I couldn’t. I even told God I didn’t care if they weren’t saved. I just wanted to be distant – numbed to the pain that they caused.

Sometimes I just went up to the altar for the sake of going up. But no matter how jaded I felt, I always saw a small glimmer of hope. Each time I placed my heart at the altar – God restored me. And when my heart was ready, breakthroughs began to appear.

One of my leaders met me and asked if I was willing to forgive my father. I told her I had forgiven my father in my heart, but she asked me to verbalise it. Crying, that was when I gave up any last rights to be angry or to be the victim. God’s love helped me to forgive.

I knew I could either continue to hold onto my anger, or remind myself that He forgave me even when I didn’t deserve it.

In 2005, there was an occasion where my youth pastor suddenly looked at me and said, “I believe your family will come to Christ.”

I had dared to harbour hopes – but nothing miraculous happened. Instead the next thing to happen was being locked up with my sister in the study room by my mum, as my dad stood outside its glass door demanding it to be opened. I cried and told him to stop. He walked away, only to come back with a butcher’s knife – threatening to smash the door down if if I didn’t open it.

Subsequently, another leader prayed for me and told me he saw two pillars. One pillar represented me – holding my family together. God was that second pillar beside me.

I saw that because God was holding me – I could hold the family. Knowing I wasn’t carrying the burden alone gave me courage. Because God was shouldering my family with me, I had strength and I could persevere.

The process was long and arduous, but after 14 years, peace and reconciliation finally came to my household. Today, there’s no more shouting or fights in the house. The loudest sound these days you might hear from my home is my father’s snoring.

With the storm finally past, I now understand why God placed me in this family: My role is to bring restoration.

I used to wonder why I was born into such brokenness, but I now know that God wants to use me to bring true healing. What Jesus did for me – I was to lead my family to it as well. It sounds difficult, but knowing that I’m dearly loved by Christ no matter what, makes it easier for me to forgive and love others too.

Because He has made me victorious, I now live a life that is beyond my situation.

I gave up any last rights to be angry or to be the victim. God’s love helped me to forgive.

Filled by the love of God, I’ve come to love my own family by praying for them and speaking life into their lives. I’ve also started leaving countless of love notes filled with Bible verses on doors, cans of beers, and computer screens for them!

God wants to restore the family through me – an ambassador of Christ. I know that reconciliation within the family isn’t the end of my story. I’m still holding on to the hope that my family will come to know Jesus and be reconciled to Him.

One day, me and my household, we will serve the Lord.


The author’s name has been changed by request for confidentiality. This is a submission from a participant of our Greater Love Giveaway.

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by Jane Chan | 10 April 2018, 3:06 PM

I have always struggled with self-worth since young.

Being overweight for a large portion of my life and having to endure nasty name calling made for a difficult time growing up.

I looked for approval from the people in church. My roles in church afforded me opportunities for affirmation and approval from my peers and leaders. I often reminded myself to do it for the pleasure of One but that was really just an afterthought.

In 2015, I struggled badly. Self-worth and a heavy internship workload were some of my struggles. I faced envy when I saw how my female friends enjoyed the attentions of guys chasing them. And there I was in ministry, giving my all to a group who were taking my efforts for granted.

But instead of speaking to someone – or even God – I chose to quit. I chose to step down from leading while giving the excuse that I was a better supporter than leader. It was a downward spiral from there on.

I went from from worshipping God in church to getting drunk in clubs. This was when I met J – the guy who I thought was the remedy to my worthlessness.

Things started off innocent and fun, but I began to be afraid of losing him. I couldn’t afford to lose the only thing that assured me of my self-worth. Whatever he requested of me – I would comply. Even if it meant giving myself away just to keep him by my side.

As time passed, I realised I was just being used for J’s physical needs. I was convenient to him. I knew I should’ve ended things with him but didn’t know how – and I couldn’t bring myself to do so.

But one day, I decided not to meet him when he called me over again. So he decided that we should end things there and then over text – like it was nothing. I was shattered.

He chose the cross in love for us, knowing we might never love Him back.

I started questioning myself: Did he leave me because I wasn’t attractive enough? Because I wasn’t skinny enough? I wanted to pinpoint his leaving to something I could change – anything I could work on – just so I could get him back.

I began throwing up whatever I’d eaten in an attempt to lose more weight so I could be more attractive. I couldn’t function normally. I felt ashamed, cheap and disgusted at myself. I didn’t dare to confide in anybody, so I sought comfort from cigarettes and purging.

I grew angry and repeatedly questioned God: Why didn’t He protect me? How could He allow this entire episode to happen? I was so bitter. In the pits, having lost everything within a few short months, I was an empty shell.

I didn’t dare to go back to church because I feared what others would say.

I thought she was a leader? Didn’t she leave church? Why now then come back? It was so easy to think of all the “judgy” things people might have said upon my return. I was mentally preparing myself for the condemnation to come if I ever headed back.

But God spoke to me there and then. He reminded me of the story of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15:11-32. God told me that though I may feel ashamed and fearful of heading back home – He would be welcoming me back with open arms. He would wash me clean and clothe me. He would restore whatever was taken away and heal my wounds.

“Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.” (Isaiah 1:18b)

In August 2015, I decided to go back to church – just to see how things would go. I walked into the church building alone, afraid of familiar faces and darting eyes. I entered the lift and waited for it to reach the fourth level. The lift ride was agonisingly slow.

I had planned on heading into the auditorium and hiding myself in a corner, but that plan was left at the door the moment I stepped inside. I felt warm and I could almost tangibly feel God putting His arms around my shoulder and audibly saying: “Welcome home.”

Over the next few months, God began healing and restoring whatever that was lost. He gave me peace, purpose and the ability to love and trust Him again. I could love those around me too. He made me able me to live again.

As the momentum picked up, I began to serve again. This time, “for the audience of One” has truly become my heart’s cry. I currently serve in church and my cell group together with my new boyfriend.

Whenever I am tempted to think back to this whole episode and spiral, God never fails to remind me that I am His child and that there’s nothing in this world that will be able to separate me from His love (Romans 8:38-39).

I was lost but found. I have been lavished with love, grace and mercy undeserving. Jesus has such great love for us. He chose the cross in love for us, knowing we might never love Him back. I remain in awe at God’s unconditional love, and I am thoroughly convinced that no one but Jesus is able to love like this.

I pray that my story will be an encouragement to anyone who wants to head back home to God but is afraid. He is waiting for you with open arms.


The author’s name has been changed on request to protect her identity.

This is a submission from a participant of our Greater Love Giveaway.

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Article list

In trying to be a friend, I let myself be emotionally manipulated

I would have left this world if not for a friend

You’re never too far gone

How I forgave my dad for having an extramarital affair

Why was I born into a dysfunctional family?

I gave my body away for love