Words and photos by: Joseph Koh
My personal and creative rut
I probably shouldn’t be writing right now, because I’ve been mired in a personal and creative rut for the past few months. It isn’t quite as dramatic as what some would call a “quarter-life crisis,” but this sudden lack of direction compelled me to undertake a solo trip to Japan a couple of weeks ago — my haphazard manner of trying to put a finger on what is exactly discombobulating within me.
The severity of the situation grazed me when it dawned upon me that I was no longer impassioned for anything in my life — nothing seemed to matter. For the things I once held dear to me, I was now indifferent. I felt like dead skin: limp, cold, unnecessary.
Despite desperate attempts, I couldn’t get through to God. His voice (if any) was fainter than a whisper, as distant as silence. A general lethargy imbibed all of me, but I couldn’t find the cure. At the end of each day, my only desire was to vegetate and binge on Netflix.
My heart’s posture felt uncannily like Job (23:2-4): “Even today my complaint is bitter; His hand is heavy in spite of my groaning. If only I knew where to find Him; if only I could go to His dwelling! I would state my case before Him and fill my mouth with arguments. I would find out what He would answer me, and consider what He would say to me.”
I did not understand how I nested into such a dire situation. Nothing seemed to resonate or “click” within me, like a watch crown unintentionally left ajar, leaving the hands to hang in limbo.
I have not fully grasped or processed what I’ve experienced until today (and vestiges of it are still evident), but as I ploughed through this disconcerting period of numbness, God taught me a few lessons:
My relationship with God cannot be based on my feelings alone.
Having grown up in a Charismatic environment for a significant part of my life, there is a palpable tendency to build my faith upon my feelings, whereby the reality of God is mostly understood through my senses and emotions.
During this time where my life felt strangely hollow, akin to a corpse, this prolonged apathy somehow jolted me with this thought: In the throes of my struggle, what do I know of God to be true? Can I still believe that He is good, kind, and generous through it all? As I reel in this apparent chasm, how much of my faith is actually built on His character (especially from the Word of God), such that I am able to cling upon Him no matter how I feel?
We are all familiar with the silly builders who had erected their house upon the shifting sand (Matthew 7:24-27), yet how often are we indulging in such tomfoolery? Our faith cannot be built on personal experience alone.
Am I living for Him or myself?
Sometimes when things are removed from our lives, like coerced circumcision, we discover an unexpected clarity. This season shoved me to take steps back from the rush and routine of modern living and question myself: Who am I living for?
In Singapore, where everything comes at us fast and furious, we can slip into our own fashion of living, neglecting the very things that count for eternity. The emptiness caused me to ruminate on the “why” of everything I had dabbled into — my work, my ministry, my relationships, my leisure activities. There were nooks and crannies in my heart that needed investigation.
As the waiting and ache felt insurmountable at times, I challenged God on repeated occasions. Parts of me grew stale because I presumed that He wasn’t coming through for me. However, the silence had its way of unravelling, and I soon came face-to-face with my self-entitled nature. Who am I that the very person who had created me is now beholden to me? Job understood this full well (23:13): “But he stands alone, and who can oppose him? He does whatever he pleases.”
Jen Pollock Michel details my perverse mindset, “If we are to come to God asking and asking well, we must understand first that we do not deserve to receive. God is not in our debt. Desire that gets corrupted emerges from a heart of demand: I want this and should have it because I deserve it.”
I had been treating my faith flippantly, such that the gospel has skidded from my heart, vanished like an inconceivable shadow.
Grace will eventually find you.
God was slowly inching away from my life, as I vacillated between wanting Him and pushing Him away (because I had grown sick and tired of everything). Quiet times were erratic and ridden with half-baked thoughts and prayers. I was no longer open and available to Him.
Yet, when I came across a worship video on my Facebook newsfeed recently, He found me. The cement that encased my sickly heart finally started to break. I was keeping God at an arm’s length because I felt I had been found wanting — there was nothing in me that could live up to the expectations of an upright Christian. I hid away because nothing in me felt like a worthy sacrifice unto Him.
Light started to streak in, like dawn breaking in the wintry cold: God didn’t want perfection from my life, He simply yearns for devotion. Right now, my devotion to Him may seem weak and raw, but it is enough. Even though I’m a flickering, faded filament, He will always take me in, no matter how far I’ve fallen.
My perfectionist self was turned in.
I’m still in repair right now (so I do not possess all the answers), but if you’ve been feeling trapped inside a trying season of your life, I would like to encourage you to keep pressing into His presence, even though everything in you is pulling in the opposite direction. May you find your own way of keeping close to His steps and the commands of His lips (Job 23:11). One day, you’ll surely “come forth as gold” (Job 23:10). Someday, everything shall begin to make sense.