“...that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” – Philippians 2:10-11
Having been the youngest and only male child in a family with 3 older sisters, I consider myself as a rather spoilt young brat who always wanted my way to be done, and often threw tantrums when things didn't go my way. I would sulk if I lost in games like Monopoly and even in the game of Chinese chess. In fact, I wanted so much to win all my P6 classmates in Chinese chess that I sought my (late) father's help to coach me some useful killer moves that would help me win every chess game played with my classmates.
I grew up as a very self-centered young boy, whose love became very conditional, for example, my father often paid me a small tip to help him buy cigarettes from a shop downstairs and kept it a secret from my mom who hated his smoking habits. I hated the smell of cigarette smoke and vowed to never ever pick up such a nasty habit. Ironically, I turned into a chain-smoker in my 20s and became the very person I hated.
Ironically too as a young boy, I hated my (late) father's frequent use of vulgarity at home, especially when they were directed at my mom, but became a foul-mouthed young adult myself. Even my computer login passwords then were acronyms for a particularly rude Hokkien swear phrase. I had even used those swear words on the very people close to my heart.
In short, I had become an angry and a very bitter young man who desperately tried to cover up for an insecure core with hard work, and outwardly fun-loving personality. It was a mask that I put on out of habit to mask my insecurities and self-hatred. To my colleagues then, I was a successful young Sales Manager who worked hard and played equally hard. However, as God had intended, He knew I couldn't keep up this false front nor live at such a frantic pace without crashing headlong into burnout…
In October 2005, at the age of 33, my right brain experienced a Circuit Breaker. When I suffered an acute stroke on a Saturday morning, by God's Grace, my ex-wife was at home, and had quickly called for an ambulance. I was rescued from a certain brain death by skilled paramedics who administered life-giving oxygen to my dying right-brain cells and was whisked to the nearest hospital in Changi in an unconscious state.
By His Grace, the stroke had rendered me paralyzed in my left torso, but with the help of a skillful neurosurgeon and physio doctor as well as his team of well-trained nurses in the acute stroke ward, I was able to relearn how to button my shirts, type on a keyboard, and able to use a walking stick safely to walk from one point to another. I was discharged from the ward after a month-long hospital stay and 2-months post-hospitalization leave from work. In short, although I didn't take a single day's Medical Certificate (MC) in my 2-years stint with the company, I maxed out their insurance claims for hospitalization leave and my MC entitlement in this one acute medical issue in my life.
I thank God that 2 months after my stroke that I have a new identity in Christ; and a Father in Heaven. I thank God for His patience, and sometimes painful pruning of my proud character. I thank God that I was finally able to break free from the chain-smoking habit and foul-mouthed habits too. Thanks to God, I learned to stop seeking worldly success to affirm my identity because I know in Christ, I am a new creation and deeply loved, and through Christ, I have a Father in Heaven who loves me for who I am and not for what I can do for Him nor because of how good I am. I can rest secure in my identity as His beloved child. As Scripture says, He has A Name that is above every other name, and one day, every knee, including mine, shall bow, at the sound of His Name.
I am deeply grateful to God, that in 2015, I was experiencing what is called "The Dark Night of the Soul", or a spiritual crisis - a very dark time where God seemed deaf to my desperate pleas and tear-soaked cries - as I laid on my bed tormented by morbid thoughts of wanting to end my misery on earth, feeling extremely exhausted and yet unable to sleep. I managed to check myself into the Institute of Mental Health (IMH) where I was warded 2 weeks for clinical depression and general anxiety disorder. Thankfully, my mental state calmed down significantly in the 2 weeks I was there. I thank God for 2 Catholic brothers who prayed the Rosary with me, from the moment we woke, to the free time before our meals and finally as a closing prayer every night.
I remember the warmth of our Hope fellowship, within the 4 walls of the guarded ward, even though we had little physical freedom inside, our minds were set free by the fervent prayers that led us through the life of Jesus, from His miraculous Conception and even to His Death and Resurrection. As a new convert to Catholicism, I am deeply grateful to His Grace, in using such a simple prayer exercise to renew my mind. The doctor reviewed my mental state and deemed me to be fit for discharge.
It was God's Grace that led me to a friend who showed me a pathway out of a dark dreadful abyss into which I was falling hopelessly, and was instrumental in leading to PSALT Care's Depression & Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA) Peer Support meetings where she volunteered as Peer Support Facilitator since 2015. Through regular attendance of these meetings, I discovered a community of like-minded young adults, who were battling with various forms of mental health challenges while grappling with stressors in life. We shared our joys and even sorrows of living with mental health issues, and encouraged each other with useful tips on how to cope with our challenges while being hopeful that recovery is truly possible. Through PSALT Care, I've also found a supportive band of brothers and sisters-in-Christ who are struggling with mental health issues while trying to understand how a good God could allow such intense mental anguish in His children. After regularly attending the meetings for 2 years, I decided to pay it forward as a volunteer facilitator in both the DBSA and Christian Peers Support Groups since 2016.
Today, I want to thank Jesus, for preserving my life and allowing me to love and serve Him through the people He has allowed in my life. Amen.
I will close with this favorite hymn of mine "What a Friend We Have in Jesus":
What a friend we have in Jesus
All our sins and grieves to bear
What a privilege to carry
Everything to God in prayer
Oh, what peace we often forfeit
Oh, what needless pain we bear
All because we do not carry
Everything to God in prayer
Have we trials and temptations?
Is there trouble anywhere?
We should never be discouraged
Take it to the Lord in prayer
Can we find a friend so faithful
Who will all our sorrows share?
Jesus knows our every weakness
Take it to the Lord in prayer
Reflection on Philippians 2:1-11 by Chris Tan.