Written By Andrea Chan, Singapore
“Sian . . . I had to cancel my travel plans.”
That is probably one of the most frequent complaints I’ve heard from both friends and even myself in light of the COVID-19 situation. While a cancelled holiday is a first-world problem that I’m not proud to be fussing over, especially when many others are struggling to stay afloat, I had been looking forward to a nice holiday after months of working hard, and that disappointment in seeing my plans fall apart is real.
For five years, I have worked hard so that I could one day escape from the reality of living in Singapore—the elitism and culture that seems to be driven by the never-ending chase for achievement and success. I dreamed of working in another country, where less value would be placed on which brand name school or company you were associated with.
In the meantime, I felt less incentive to build deep relationships or to commit to longer term ministries or cell groups at church. After all, I was going to leave anyway, right? Instead, I planned short trips abroad as often as possible. But when my two-week backpacking trip across Japan was cancelled due to COVID-19, I found myself extremely disappointed.
In trying to understand my disappointment, I slowly realized that I had made an idol out of travelling and romanticized the idea of living abroad. While it isn’t wrong to desire new experiences or to be interested in learning about different cultures, once that dream becomes an idol, it can lead to discontentment with where God has placed us.
Over the past few months of being stuck in Singapore, God has been convicting me of where I’ve placed my hope and what I’ve been striving towards. In chasing my dream of living overseas, I had lost sight of what really mattered—loving Him and loving others around me (Mark 12:30-31).
Since then, I’ve been on a journey of learning to rebuild my life on God. Here are four lessons that I am still in the process of learning:
1. Acknowledge your disappointment and surrender it to God
We’re human and we have emotions. It is okay to feel sad, angry, or disappointed, even if it’s not a life-or-death situation. We each have our own struggles, and it’s important to acknowledge and grow from the struggle rather than ignore it because it’s “not that bad.” Let yourself feel these emotions, confess your sadness and bitterness to God in prayer and ask Him to help you to be thankful in your present circumstances and to have a heart that desires His will over our own desires
Letting go of the bitterness I felt about not being able to live overseas has created space in my heart for God to work. He has been helping me appreciate the depth of Singapore’s culture and people by giving me opportunities to talk to people who inspire and humble me. He has shown me a side of Singapore’s community that encourages me—people coming together to help one another even when they are struggling too.
I have realized that escaping Singapore isn’t the solution. Every country has its flaws, and as cliché as it may sound, it truly does take each person to be the change we want to see.
2. Seek to view the world in wonder and thanksgiving
“Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our ‘God is a consuming fire.’” (Hebrews 12:28-29)
It’s easy to overlook the little things when we are busy with “bigger things” that seem more urgent or important—work commitments, studies, or daily responsibilities as caregivers. I’ve found it helpful to pray to God for a sense of wonder and thankfulness, so that I will be reminded to live in reverence and to have a renewed appreciation for the little blessings, the wildflowers and sunsets He has placed in my life.
To maintain that sense of wonder, I now set aside time to spend in nature, to be amazed by His creation. These quiet moments help me remember that my life truly is not my own, and to not take God’s grace for granted.
God has also been teaching me to have a sense of wonder in my conversations with people: to be curious about their stories and to appreciate how God made us each so unique for His purposes. The issue, I’ve realized, wasn’t that too many people in Singapore are only concerned about their grades and their career, it was that I wasn’t breaking out of my social circles to talk to people who were motivated by a greater purpose in their lives—whether it is helping refugees, preserving Singapore’s heritage, or even using music, dance and art as therapy. It truly is amazing how God has made us with different skills and passions, which are all essential to society and our culture in their own way.
3. Find contentment in God, not your circumstances
As we’ve come to realize this year, our plans are subject to changing and unpredictable circumstances. If we put our hope in our plans, we will be disappointed. But lately, I’ve been encouraged by the fact that we have a God who never changes—and is the same “yesterday and today and forever” (Hebrews (13:8).
With this truth in mind, I’m learning to be content where I am, trusting that I am right where God wants me to be. For me, this means intentionally giving thanks and praying for God to open my eyes to little lessons and blessings each day. It also means being aware of and surrendering feelings of disappointment or worry to God when they creep up, instead of letting discontentment take root.Whatever my future holds, I’ve learned to take heart that my satisfaction and hope comes from a God who is not bound by space or time.
4. Implement practical ways to share God’s love with others
As I spend more time with God, He has been reminding me that one way my life should reflect His transformative love is through love in action for others, especially those who have less. While prayers and words of support are important, He has convicted me to step out and practically serve those who are struggling (1 John 3:17-18, Matthew 25:40).
It may not be an extravagant act of generosity or sacrifice, but God has reminded me that He can work through even my smallest actions, because He is a limitless God who will provide where He calls us to serve.
Personally, I’ve been enjoying volunteering with community initiatives like KampungKakis, which is a neighborhood buddy system to support the elderly, low-income and vulnerable residents. During these trying times, there are many other organizations that could really use an extra hand, like Willing Hearts, a charity that provides about 6,500 meals daily to needy families in Singapore, as well as efforts by restaurants who are giving back to the community despite struggling with their own business challenges.
As you process any disappointments you might be feeling about your cancelled plans and unfulfilled dreams, I pray that you’ll take the time to bring them before God. Whatever circumstances you find yourself in, I hope that you, too, may find joy in a life filled with wonder and satisfaction in God.