When Perception isn’t Reality

WEDNESDAY’S WORD

“Perception is everything,” a former boss used to say frequently and quite fervently. I knew something was on his mind, but I didn’t ask. Then I noticed it playing out in my life.

The meaning of this quote, for those of you who are a little behind here, is that what people perceive to be their reality is, in fact, their own reality.

askthemanager.com

What people perceive is actually their own reality. The issue is, they play out their “reality “on me, which has resulted in hurts and drama. Then, I had to adjust my own perception — the people whom I thought were mature and objective were not. They were acting out their presuppositions on me.

What they thought was me, wasn’t me. But they thought it was. And what could have been a rational conversation to sort out an issue became… Well, you can let your imagination run riot here…

Time and time again, it happened.

It became clear that no matter what others thought, I had to practice being precise about what I was thinking and believing, and to articulate it to them.

This is what Jesus wants. He wants us to clarify wrong perceptions. When we find out someone is offended over a perceived slight, we could take a moment to talk it out with them; conversely, when we are aggravated by what we think is a slight from another, we can initiate the conversation with a view to reconciliation.

These conversations can hopefully, result in an alignment of perception and we can move forward.

And what if these conversations don’t resolve anything?

Well, what I’ve found is that God isn’t in unreality.

Living in unreality results in a lot of hurt and drama.

I prefer to be where God is.

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. –Phil 4:8

Addendum: A reader asked me, “What if there isn’t trust?” My answer is, ask God to prepare all parties’ hearts and minds, to arrange a time and a place for the mutual conversation to take place. And then, let it go, forget it, stop chewing on it. It has become His responsibility; let Him handle the details.

Go on with the rest of your life.

When the time is right, you will meet and the conviction of the Spirit will be there.

An Encounter with Beauty

CREATION FRIDAY

A few days ago, I met a new friend who’d agreed to hike around the MacRitchie Reservoir with me. Our mutual friend couldn’t make it, so I met J by myself. As we got to know each other, it was interesting how she directed the conversation. First, she wanted to know how long I usually walked — it was 1.5 hours. Then I told her I’d just done some Pilates classes which helped me get my legs back into good order. Before, they were aching.

When she found out that my legs had just recovered, she suggested a shorter 1-hour walk. She knew where the Prunus trail would lead to, and how to loop back to the car park. She knew which trail was a boardwalk, which was rocky, which was sandy, and which was rubberised. She also knew that walking 1.5km would take approximately half an hour.

Knowing that I enjoyed walking, she suggested I hike the Green Corridor from Hillview to Buona Vista, ending there for a meal at the mall. The total time, including stopping for some pictures, would be 1hr 45 mins. She also said I should start early in the early morning as there are no trees providing shelter from the heat of the day.

I was blown away by her practical Servant mindset — in the first 20 mins of getting acquainted, she found out what I liked, how much walking I could handle and shared with me something she knew I would enjoy.

In return, I took a picture of her standing as the morning sun’s rays shone through the forest.

What a beautiful lady.

Between a Rock and a Hard Place

Today, I will share the story of Joseph, who was pledged to be married to Mary. From the Gospel of Matthew, we know him to be a righteous man, one who followed the law. When he found out she was pregnant, I guess he didn’t accept her explanation that it was all part of God’s plan. Caught between his sense of righteousness and his love for Mary, he decided to take a path that would protect his reputation and protect Mary — he decided to divorce her quietly rather than expose her to public disgrace. It took an angel to convince him that what Mary said was true. 

So, here was someone with a good reputation, a good Jew following all the traditions, a kind man as well as a righteous one, shouldering the burden of marrying someone already pregnant. One can imagine the whispers going around; and if he or Mary even tried to explain, one can imagine that the whispers would become a roar!

So my question is, what would you do if your reputation was ruined, like Joseph’s, and it’s for doing the right thing? What would you do when your integrity is being questioned, and — it’s God’s handiwork? 

Photo by Mounzer Awad on Unsplash

The Power of Blessing

COMMUNITY MONDAYS

For some weeks now, I’ve had a small group practice meeting one-on-one and affirming the good qualities they see in each other.

In Asia, this is counter-culture. In most Chinese families, children are seldom praised. The only exception is when a child gets no less than an A grade or is admitted into a well-known university — think Ivy League or Oxbridge. The metric for worthiness is performance, usually to do with academics, not quality of character.

So, meeting regularly with a group that desires to find their positive attributes and articulating them to each other is rather unusual. The result has been much self-discovery as each person realises that traits they take for granted are unique, and a blessing to the community.

I can’t reverse thousands of years of Chinese tradition through these exercises, but seeing people light up as their good qualities are blessed, is a reward in itself. And second, having them internalise these truths in their quiet time have resulted in greater self-confidence and so, a greater ability to tackle the challenges that life throws at them.

We’re still a work in progress, but I hope that affirming one another will be a lifestyle. When we are blessed, we are empowered to bless others.

I am really grateful to Rebekah Scott for her course in Unveiling Beauty, that started the ball rolling for me.

If you’re interested, go to https://sapphiretrainingcenter.com/ to check when it’s next being offered.

Photo by Vonecia Carswell on Unsplash

(This is a re-post as I’d accidentally deleted it)

The Journey to Fulfillment

WEDNESDAY’S WORD

“When will the inner healing process be complete?” I was asked the other day.

My answer was, “It won’t be complete as long as we’re alive.” Because the passion of God is for us to be His bride, without wrinkle or spot. Because His passion is for us to “Be holy, because He is holy” (1 Peter 1:16).

And because of that, He permits the devil to test us. His Son got tested, His disciples got tested. And we believers will get tested.

The crucible is for silver, and the furnace is for gold,
    and the Lord tests hearts (Proverbs 17:3)

God’s purpose for the test is that we be refined and be a better version of ourselves; the devil’s purpose is that we flounder and stay stuck in a rut.

A friend asked about the conflicts that she faces in community. I said these were opportunities for her to discern if:

  1. It’s an old wound or wrong belief that is being surfaced for her to deal with;
  2. It is the other party’s issue and nothing to do with her at all or,
  3. More commonly, both are somehow at fault and both need to do better.

As we become a better version of ourselves, we become more wholesome, showing more integrity, shining brighter for the Lord. What we say and what we do, matches. And God’s purpose for our lives is made manifest.

Photo by Kathlyn Tsang

Honor Your Father and Mother

WEDNESDAY’S WORD

In the church, there’s a lot of teaching of “honoring your father and mother” (Ephesians 6:2), but very little on the following verse:

Fathers,[b] do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.

“Exasperate” means “anger, frustrate or annoy”.

I have been hearing much from adult children who feel angered and annoyed by their parents.

Let me put this in context for my readers who are in the West. In Asia, it is expected for the younger generation to look after the older, which I believe honors God. Unfortunately, there’s a tendency for the older generation to demand it as a right.

The thinking goes something like this: “Because I brought you up, you are obliged to repay me when I get old.” The children are resentful as they are being treated as a commodity — an investment against loneliness and insurance against financial lack. Growing up in an Asian family often means a son, more often a daughter, is expected to “pay back”. The parent-child relationship is transactional, a unilateral contract that is imposed on the offspring.

With that undertone marking the relationship, adult children often express anger, irritation and resentment over something they have involuntarily signed up for. They are “exasperated”; at the same time, they are plagued by guilt over the possibility they are being disloyal or ungrateful.

In addition, Asian parents very often don’t change their overbearing attitude. There’s a tendency to “talk down” to their adult children and they feel hurt if the response is one of irritation. They do not understand that their grown-up children want to be treated with respect and the way the generations relate need to be re-negotiated.

 “Honor your father and mother”—which is the first commandment with a promise— “so that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.”

But one must also not “exasperate your children”. The two go hand in hand. Emphasising the first without dealing with the second causes an imbalance in the equation.

Listening to adult children sharing frustration over unreasonable parents, my only feedback was to try to work out a win-win if possible — yes, do look after the aged, but take care of yourself too. Beware that you are modeling for your young children how you would like to be looked after when you get old and God forbid, a little hazy in the mind and a little clumsy in the body.

Photo by micheile || visual stories on Unsplash

Cultivate your community now —

before it’s too late.

Photo by Chang Duong on Unsplash

When I was a young adult, the message was, “you’ve made it when you’ve gotten married.” Once my friends were married, I didn’t hear much from them. I was disappointed at being summarily abandoned once their goal was reached, but I decided I would make new friends.

After many years, I found I was pretty good at making and keeping friends. It wasn’t intentional, but many of them were more accomplished, more well-travelled, had more resources than I had. They were like me in the sense that they were always working on growing, on being better than before. Some had a better start; others seemed to have had it worse, but being gifted with much intelligence, natural energy and an incredible work ethic, became proficient in their field.

And then recently, I realised how my early losses and my positive response, which was making friends with the younger generation as my own generation dumped me, have buffered me against a reality that those my age and older are facing — a shrinking community and the prospect of loneliness.

Desperate, these people try to cultivate relationships that were abandoned decades ago, and to be honest, it feels odd, weird. Relationships take time to cultivate; they can’t be revived overnight. If you’ve ignored someone for decades and then suddenly decide you want a relationship with them, the normal response would be, “What??” Or worse.

My takeaway is, don’t just discard your friends just because you’ve gotten married and have had children, an exciting career and a higher social status. Friendship, like marriage, is for life. Take time to nurture your friendships so that when you need your friends, they’ll be there — naturally.

Bloganuary Day 15

Daily reflection has proved to be very beneficial. Over time, I have formed the habit of going over in my mind the day’s events. And I allow the feelings to bubble up.

  • If it’s joy, I re-enter the event in my imagination, and relive it again. I am reinforcing and strengthening my joy.
  • If it’s something negative like hurt or irritation, I would reflect on the cause. Is it my own unfulfilled expectations? Is it the other person’s lack of consideration? How can I do better next time?

For people who like a more deliberate structure and the authority of 400 years of tradition initiated by St Ignatius of Loyola, these five steps are very helpful.

The Pocket Examen is from Loyola University, Maryland

These daily reflections gets me unstuck from today and moves me on to tomorrow.

An unexamined life is not worth living

Socrates

Bloganuary Day 14

As a child, I was brought up to instantly obey my elders, to never question them (at least outwardly) and to take whatever they dish out. This mentality set me up for victimization and it took me years to change.

But, change I must. I found I was attracting predators because I was tolerating bad behaviour. There’s nothing more attractive to a predator than someone who has been continually brainwashed to think that the interests of others always took precedence over hers.

So I got to work on establishing boundaries. The book on Boundaries by Cloud and Townsend was pivotal in my life; so was some coaching on confrontation by my counsellor friend, David Blakely. I would be tested on my boundaries, time and again, by young and old.

One day I was sitting across from a much older lady who had invited me for lunch. We chatted, but I noticed that whenever I glanced away from her to reflect on what is said and to formulate my response, she would immediately tap her hand on mine. After three or four times, my annoyance was rising. She was giving me no personal respite. Whether she was conscious of it or not, she was tugging at me emotionally like a puppet on a string. And no one likes to be controlled.

I took a deep breath and countering cultural expectations — we have been taught to never be “rude” to hosts, even more so, to an older person — I said, “Would you stop touching me, please?”

This was the litmus test for a friendship.

In my culture, if we rebuke someone, there’s a high probability the other person would take it as a put-down and find ways to take revenge, whether passively avoiding you or aggressively badmouthing you. The cultural “unforgivable sin” is to cause someone to “lose face” (i.e. be embarrassed), especially in front of others. So inappropriate behavior is rarely confronted.

That day, my friend was shocked and taken aback; I could see the emotions rolling across her face. Subsequently, she caught herself trying to tap my hand, and stopped.

To my relief, she didn’t take offence. We still have a good connection.

But I took a 50-50 risk. It could have gone either way.

Finding Direction in Life

Photo by Javier Allegue Barros on Unsplash

When I was a youth worker during a wave of charismatic revival, I was asked by an 18-year-old: “What do you think God’s purpose is, in my life? What courses should I take in the university?” I answered quite logically: “Why don’t you choose the courses you’re good at?” The teen was disappointed. I think he expected me to lay hands on him and prophesy: “Thus saith the Lord…”

Nope.

So, how do you discover your life purpose?

You begin with your natural inclinations. As a child, I loved reading. I also loved writing. It’s just there. So it was natural that I would major in English Literature and then move on to journalism. I started out as a sub-editor and later moved on to reporting, magazine journalism, tried a stint at PR (didn’t like it) and then started freelancing.

A few months later, God intervened and changed the whole direction of my life. My parents were non-Christians although I was exposed to some smatterings of the Christian faith. After an unexpected God-encounter (I plan to write about that later), He called me to full-time ministry; so I attended theological college and then started what would be the beginning of 21 years of church work.

I began with two ministries — youth and prayer — but through trial and error, I found my ultimate calling was prayer, and the particular audience that was attracted to me were young adults.

But there were new skills I had to learn. I had to adapt to the church hierarchy; recruit, lead and sometimes counsel volunteers. I had to work with a pastor, my colleagues and with a string of secretaries with varying competencies and temperaments. I organised events for forty, and for a few hundred. Occasionally, I preached or taught.

As I was in charge of the prayer ministry, I was also expected to have some competence in spiritual healing! Another learning journey started; I tried various ministries and methodologies, but it took years to find a ministry with leadership and people I could resonate with. And I found that ministry, not in Singapore, but in the U.S.

In Aug 2018, I retired. Naturally, I continued the spiritual healing ministry I had started. But the people that stuck with me were getting healed — I was working myself out of a job! So, I wondered what to do.

Then an email flew in with a suggestion that I attend a course that’s about Unveiling Beauty — seeking and articulating God-given design in yourself and in others. In that course, I rediscovered my first love — writing. And this blog is the outcome.

God had brought me back one full circle but now with a new set of skills I had acquired along the way. The platform has changed — instead of the church, I am now reaching out through my writing to the diverse community that’s out there.

The Methodist preacher John Wesley had declared, “The world is my parish.” Mine too.