Before I fell in love with Jesus, I only prayed on three occasions: when I was in pain, when I was anxious, and when I feared death.
It is a natural impulse for humans to turn to God when we need him most, when we are desperate for someone–anyone–who can save us, when it hits us that ultimately, we are not the gods of our lives.
But when our pain subsides, nerves dissipate and fears fade, we forget that we ever cried out to him, pleaded with him and made bets and promises we couldn’t have kept anyway.
When I was 11 years old and studying for my Primary School Leaving Examination, I begged my mother to buy me a cross necklace. My Indonesian friend Dessie had one, and she confided in me that it was her good luck charm.
My mum bought me one, and just before my papers, I’d plead with God for good grades as I rubbed the cross in between my fingers, hoping that it would ward off bad luck and grant me good grades. I never actually thought about what the crucifixion meant in those moments, or that the power of Jesus didn’t reside in a manmade object.
By the time I’d entered polytechnic, my family had stopped attending church altogether. Whatever Christian background I’d grown up with had long ceased to have significance in my day-to-day life, and I started to seriously doubt its reality and relevance. I began to question the efficacy of prayer and the existence of God, let alone the historicity of the crucifixion and miracles of Christ.
To me, Christianity was reduced to a word on a form I circled, and parroted to people when prompted.
Though I was merely Christian in name, I left my questions at that. I didn’t feel compelled to explore this area of my life, because I saw no real need to. My life was decent enough: it wasn’t perfect, but it wasn’t horrible.
I had friends in school, and happily spent many a day gossiping about other friends, their mannerisms and actions–something I did to conceal my own insecurity and vulnerability. I had an okay family that did ‘normal’ family stuff together and functioned as your average one would–but I also had frequent flashes of white-hot anger directed towards them, that seemed to come from some inexplicable inner source of concealed frustrations. I was talking and laughing and acting like any other person in the day–but in the deep blue nights, I’d often feel a profound loneliness and sadness, one which I could never seem to escape from.
Yet I brushed all these away.
I had questions, but I wasn’t seeking answers.
Yet as I look back at the past 10 years of my life from where I am today, I see how God had–and has–been shaping and preparing me for an infinitely precious joy that is only found in and with him.
The family and circumstances I was borne into, the aunt who’s been praying for me all my life, the song I listened to that made my heart so heavy that I couldn’t stop weeping, the hidden fears and sexual sin and guilt I struggled with, the three years my parents and sister left me, the friend who showed me what it meant to love like Jesus, the time I felt like dying after a breakup, the book written by an Israeli author that lit up my soul–
every single occasion, memory, thing, person, emotion that flurry into a blur in retrospect had all built up to and pointed towards the one singular moment when my very being came to a standstill–when I finally asked myself:
Is God real?
And if so, what am I going to do about it?
For a certain urgency had crept up upon me, an uneasy realisation that I had lived a quarter of my life in not-quite ignorance of the state of my existence. And I knew that I couldn’t move forward without finding out, once and for all, the truth.
Because if he wasn’t real–if God and Jesus and Christianity were nothing but hogwash–I could finally shake off the vestiges of my childhood religion and move on with my life, knowing with certainty that this was all there was to it. I could continue the way I was living then, in sadness and guilt and loneliness and fear, and tell myself that I was just meant to feel this way, that it was part of my temperament, character, identity, whatever.
But if he was real, if I did have a Creator, I wanted to know who He was. I wanted to have all my questions answered. I wanted to ask Him why the world suffered, why there were all these apparent inconsistencies in the Bible, why He didn’t just straight out speak to me in a loud thundery voice like how He did for other people. I had a million questions I wanted to ask him, but most of all, I just wanted to know: