Culture

Stuck in Singapore: Now’s a good time to unpack our wanderlust

by Gabriel Ong // October 6, 2020, 4:37 pm

STUCK IN SINGAPORE WANDERLUST

Spend any amount of time with friends in conversation or on social media, and one topic’s bound to come up: travel.

You can see it in the #throwback posts and pictures of exotic locales. You scroll past it in the privileged laments people make at the uncomfortable prospect of remaining grounded.

I’d wager there are few countries with more wanderlust than Singaporeans. So great is our restlessness that even the absurd notion of flying to nowhere was received with some excitement last month!

However, when you think about it, there’s much to learn from our reaction to this new normal we’re in, just as there was much to learn in our reaction to COVID-19 when it first became a thing.

At the time we reported a lot of the good stuff we saw as people rallied in the face of the growing pandemic, but the coronavirus also exposed a lot of things that were wrong with us as a people, like the panic-buying and hoarding.

And let me tell you what, as I’ve sat on it for awhile, I’ve come to see there’s an unhealthy wanderlust in many a millennial –which might well be another thing we’re getting wrong.

WE CAN’T GET NO SATISFACTION

For the many who work to wander, the coronavirus may have exposed patterns of life that are unsustainable. We’ve all got that one friend who always goes on about wanting to “get out of the country”.

You probe a little, and ask where that person would want to go. The answer is nondescript and unplanned: “I don’t know. Somewhere. Anywhere.”

But why? Why the desperate need to get away from where you are? I think the reality is that many of us don’t truly enjoy the places we are in right now. And so we get some distance mentally by feeding a growing sense of escapism in daydreams.

Is getaway upon getaway all we really have to look forward to?

Consider an avid diver who works crazy hard through long stretches in the year, just for the pay and possibility of travelling and diving for a short stretch. She spends most of the year dreaming of the far-flung island as a sort of promised land, as if just landing on its shores will make her bad year disappear.

She works to clear her calendar out so she can actually get the tickets to go there. She reaches and strives to have a good time. But the time ebbs away all too quickly, and it sinks in that she has to come back. Now she’s unhappy on the flight back, and the clock resets until the next getaway.

Is that cycle of work and vacation what we truly want for ourselves? Is getaway upon getaway all we really have to look forward to in our careers?

I believe that’s dysfunctional, and it’s only the existing model for so many of us because we’ve forgotten how to rest.

GOT SO JIALAT MEH?

I’ve said quite a bit, and it’s sounding a little negative so far. So let’s change gears for a second.

The truth is, you really shouldn’t feel bad about travelling. Sorry if I made you feel that way! 

The Bible is filled with people who travelled, especially in the Old Testament. Think of Abraham (Genesis 12), who uprooted everything and went to live in a new place. Or Moses, who saw some incredible things in his time in the deserts (Exodus 15-19).

Even in the New Testament, the apostles’ work took them from place to place, all over the world. If they were around in our time, they’d probably be backpacking and working part-time to pay their way to destinations – kind of like tentmaking missionaries.

And think of Jesus Christ. He visited beautiful, quiet gardens (Matthew 26:36-56). And He hiked a lot, climbing hills and mountains (Matthew 14:23, Luke 6:12).

And why? For times of prayer and to be spiritually refreshed. To get closer to God the Father.

What do you do when you can’t travel anywhere?

My point is that travelling is best when there’s a higher purpose and pleasure to it. When we go to a place, having been led there by Him. Or when we go somewhere special to seek Him, undertaking a pilgrimage of sorts.

Especially so when we go somewhere to do His work, like sharing the gospel with people who need to hear the good news.

Because travelling also finds its meaning in the work that we do. It is one half of the coin.

God designed work to be noble and fulfilling. And we are exhorted all throughout Scripture towards work. It is not something to avoid or run away from.

Therefore a great getaway should ideally be a time to thank God and enjoy Him, a resting from a time of having accomplished good work. 

Do you work to rest, or rest to work?

We have small getaways every Sunday, after six days of work. And we have big getaways when time and God permit, to rest up and rejuvenate our minds and bodies for the work to come.

So if the sole purpose of travelling is to run away from what you are supposed to do, and run away from the the work that should bring you fulfilment in God as you labour excellently at it, then we might be missing the point.

We might be restless wanderers like Cain (Genesis 4:12) or unhappy runaways like Jonah (Jonah 1:3). 

A BETTER WAY THAN A GETAWAY

Have you ever stopped to wonder about what it is you’re getting away from as you scroll restlessly on Skyscanner and Airbnb? 

I hope I’ve represented Him rightly, because God is not some cosmic killjoy who hates the idea of you trying to have a good time overseas. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to see the world. Because, after all, it’s a beautiful world that God has made.

There are places in the world that may inspire a divine moment between us and God. I’ve felt it, standing amid the clouds on Mount Rinjani’s peak. And I’ve danced in His pleasure, as I worshipped God on mountains in China.

But He does want to address the issues we are running away from. 

Are you burnt out, bored, and barely rested?

True rest is ultimately found in Him. So we run to Him, and we abide in Him. True purpose is found in Him, so we serve His kingdom with all we have, and rest becomes all the sweeter for it when we get to have it.

As the December holidays loom, whether we can travel or not, let’s live out the original meaning of that word: holiday. 

Let’s set aside time to make it a holy day or a holy period, resting in His presence so that we might be filled with His power to do every good work He’s prepared for us to do.

THINK + TALK

  1. Is there anything that you’re wanting to run or get away from? Why?
  2. What does it mean to be rested in God?
  3. How can you spend your holidays/leave in a way that will allow you to encounter God and enjoy Him? 
About the author

Gabriel Ong

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