Lessons on love and sacrifice
Written by: Joseph Koh (Photos by: Zann Lee)
I’ve been in a long-distance relationship (“LDR”) for almost two years now, and as expected, it hasn’t been a smooth sailing one. With absence — like waves that tug you away from the shore — it can feel like I’m single, because my girlfriend and I would make our own plans quite independently of each other. Since we are living on different islands, continual communication is crucial, especially when disagreements reach the surface.
The biggest challenge in our relationship would indubitably be: how are we eventually going to live in the same city? Much uncertainty hangs in the balance as we honestly don’t know how our paths will merge as one. The only decision that we’ve made, since the genesis of our relationship, is that she will eventually make the big move, due to pragmatic reasons.
However, about a month back, a friend posed this destabilising question (for me at least) out of sheer curiosity: Have you considered moving to Penang? What if God is calling you there instead? The reason behind his inquiry was that she has found such fruitful expression of her calling and giftings in her ministry back home, and he felt that it would be such a pity to let that go.
Even though I gave him a resolute answer about her eventually migrating to Singapore, my mind raced, like a winding trail round the coastland, with the possibility of me crossing the causeway. Why is my heart so closed up to the concept of settling down in another country? As I examined my heart and checked its motives, two imposing questions stood in my way.
If God calls, am I ready to give up my material comfort to live out His will?
If I moved to Penang, there would be no question that I would take a pay cut. Beyond the consideration that my girlfriend doesn’t possess a steady income flow at this point, my translocation would also mean that we’ll forgo the opportunity to capitalise on my Central Provident Fund savings for our future home. Compounded with saving up for our plans down the horizon, it simply doesn’t make financial sense.
Yet, through this time of introspection, God was revealing to me that my pragmatism and “middle-class Singaporean” ideals could be standing in the way of me living out His will. Charting out a simpler life could mean living in a modest home and making do with less, but it doesn’t necessarily compromise on my happiness. Instead of leaning into Him to look after our welfare, I was transfixed on my ability to comfortably provide for the both of us, especially after witnessing how much my friends had spent on their wedding ceremonies and house renovations. I wasn’t willing to undertake a faith-filled journey with Him.
I’ve since come to learn that what is seemingly foolish to man may be different from God’s thoughts on the same matter. In 1 Corinthians 1:20, Paul exhorts the church, “Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?” Exemplified by the case of Jesus’ confounding act of dying on the cross for us, “the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men” (v. 25). My willingness to move to Penang may seem senseless and flawed, but if this is what God wills, it will be the best possible decision I could make.
Am I ready to give up everything in Singapore for my girlfriend to walk fully into her call? What if my destiny were to support her ministry?
I had no immediate or convincing answer to this probe, because I had never considered this before. I hadn’t thought adequately about what it meant for me to support my girlfriend’s ministry at the expense of me losing what I currently feel God is calling me to do — whether in the marketplace or with my writing projects.
I had never thought that it would be an “either/or” situation, whereby we could still pursue our individual callings in our relationship. Amid my fear and reluctance, God was thumping on the door of my heart: Are you ready to give up the “good things” in your life for someone you love?
Undergirding this prickly question is the concept of sacrifice. God was speaking to me about the man’s role in a marriage, of which is beautifully captured in Ephesians 5:25-28 (MSG): “Husbands, go all out in your love for your wives, exactly as Christ did for the church — a love marked by giving, not getting…Everything he does and says is designed to bring the best out of her…”
In the throes of self-reflection, God was steering me towards the cross: fleshing out His unfailing love for us, Christ had laid himself down, emptying Himself to the point of death. In a relationship marked by love, when two become one, the self has to be buried — God would be glorified when I learn what it means to forsake much for someone dear to me. It could entail an austere life — including the forgoing of certain comforts in Singapore I’ve been used to — but I believe that it’s one worth living.
Give Me Jesus/ You Can Have All This World
Ultimately, through the thought-provoking and emotionally-stirring questions, God was distilling to me the very things in my heart that were preventing myself from giving Him my everything. He was asking me for my wholehearted “yes” — an unbroken devotion built on an understanding that He is the one whom my soul delights in.
During this season, as I grappled with laying down every single consideration, crown, and comfort before His feet, God called out to me: “Jo, I stand at the water. Drink of me.” He, with His deluge of grace, was inviting me to turn away from everything else and keep my eyes focused on Him.
Following this whisper, the first verse that trickled into my mind was John 6:35 (ESV): “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” He was reminding that when the provenance and providence of my life is concerned, Jesus is only the source I truly need. Grounded in self-dependence, my heart had not given Christ His rightful place. It had been bloated with strife, rather than abiding in Him.
If you’re currently struggling to abandon your plans and give God the freedom to work in every single inch of your heart, down to the nooks and crannies, may you find such deep-seated assurance that He is both the architect and builder of your life. When you understand your design — that without Him we can do nothing — you’ll find a sense of belonging and joy like never before. As you trust Him, brick by brick, your life shall never crumble, because in Him all things hold together (Colossians 1:17).
Even if a quivering “yes” is all you can confess right now, it is your best. Even if your trembling “yes” feels like a pale shadow from before, it is the best you can give. And your best is always good enough.