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you plant seeds, not pluck fruits.

Over the last 15 years as a young person, I’ve learnt many things, both as a youth and as a youth leader. One of the things that PC taught me is that with people, you need to be patient, for one day they will surprise you with their goodness. I think this is particularly relevant for anyone dealing with a teenager, and especially for parents whose children are in their (painful and excruciating) juvenile years.

Mothers and fathers need to bear in mind that they may see very little (and often disheartening) results that may not be worth celebrating over especially in the younger years of their kids’ teenagehood. This also applies to all youth leaders. I encourage you to manage your expectations when working with adolescent (and often rebellious) youths. They will always think that they are right and they will always want to prove you wrong. This sounds cruel, but really, let them be, let them fall and let them learn. Don’t expect them to make good decisions at 14 years old and change the world at 16 years old when you only started to mature and wise up at 17 years old. I reiterate this to almost every young person under my leadership – that one of things I expect from them (pardon the lack of a better way to phrase it), is to screw up. And this immediately sets them at ease.

As a parent, mentor or youth leader, you must always remember that being with young people is often a thankless and behind-the-scenes job. Of course, there will be pockets of them who know how to appreciate you. Oh, I am so grateful for these because their appreciation of your investment in them is often so genuine and heartfelt. But I do not live or thrive on these boosts. Their encouragement is a bonus, not a necessity; I’d love to receive it, but I do not need it to do what I am called to do. A mature youth leader needs to sort this out in his head and heart. For if a leader is motivated by recognition and appreciation, he is sure to be left disappointed and disillusioned at some point.

To be frank, sometimes it can be tough (and tiring) working with youths, especially those who do not listen; I was one of them, so I know. You put in the hard work, sweat and toil with them, but when they succeed, they get all the credit and you simply get forgotten. When they are in trouble, you offer advice and genuinely want to help them, but when they mess it up, you sometimes get the blame and even need to pick them up. So today, I encourage you to look further and beyond all these seemingly disparaging signs.

Always remember that you are here to plant seeds, and most times you will not be the one to reap what you have sown – not immediately at least. JH was amongst the first to plant seeds in my life, and as I develop fruits, I can honestly tell you that he did not benefit from it directly – but it doesn’t stop him from planting it anyway. So I’m here to remind us all, that whenever we work with young people, that it is our job is to plant seeds, not pluck fruits. Let’s be committed to do our jobs well and to trust God to nurture and eventually complete what we have started. After all, we do the planting, He does the growing.

For those who are much younger and not in a leadership position yet, I’d urge you to encourage, appreciate and honour those who have planted and are still planting seeds in your life. Let them know, in whatever way you know how to, that you are thankful for their investment of time, emotions and resources in you. You’ll make their day.

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Do remember that the bible-giveaway competition is still ongoing. Please make my job as the jury a little harder! Come on!? :P At the same time, I’d encourage you to consider subscribing to my blog (fill in your email at the top right of the page) so that you’d receive and read my daily posts in the convenience of your mailbox at the time of publication. Also, just want to mention that the readership response for the last entry on my journey into full-time ministry was extremely encouraging – I hope you were blessed by my sharing. Blogging daily has become a think-time that I look forward to. (:
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would you let go of me?

It was my turn to “teach” a lesson from EC’s outstanding handbook, “Mentoring Paradigms”. (Now, I actually don’t quite understand how I was supposed to teach a lesson that is supposed to be self-taught by simply reading the book and reflecting so) I took the liberty to teach outside of the book; after all, the book is supposed to be self-explanatory and the leaders present at the meeting are old enough to digest the wisdom for themselves.

The gist of the paradigm that I taught was on God’s efficacy. (The book is on my office desk, so I’ll update this post again and list the key lessons I’ve learnt from EC’s teaching.) And so I brought everyone’s attention to the three parables placed one after the other in the Gospel of Luke – The lost sheep, the lost coin and the lost son. I thought it was appropriate for the leaders to see for themselves God’s efficacy at work in a dynamic manner in these three examples. In my reflection, I think it’s common to hear that nothing is wasted in the economy of God; I’d turn that around and say that in God’s economy, there’s no such thing as nothing!

Observe, for the lost sheep, one in a hundred went missing; for the lost coin, one in ten went missing; and for the lost son, one in two went missing – the stakes are upped dramatically. Observe again, the shepherd left ninety-nine and went out to search for that lost sheep; the owner (went in and) turned his house upside-down to search for that lost coin; and the father could do absolutely nothing when he lost his son. Actually, to better phrase it, it was his son that decided to lose him.

Now, from this juxtaposition, I’ve learnt that the closer the missing subject (a person, usually) is to you, the lesser you can do about it should he or she decide to leave you. There are some people you go out to hunt for, some you turn your ransack your house for, and for some, you are simply powerless to do anything about it – and yes, it is extremely heartbreaking because you can almost see their outcome.

Around three years ago, I experienced that with my beloved sister. I remember the two-hour conversation in the car. It was then that I had to let go of her as my younger sister so that she can become her own woman. Letting go of a younger sibling that you protect is a lot more difficult than letting go of a young person that you shepherd. Without getting into details, I basically realised that I couldn’t and shouldn’t protect her in the same manner anymore, for she was old, mature and experienced enough to make her own decisions, and be responsible for them. (Sometimes, I wonder if it’s painful because I am relinquishing my status in her life – I don’t ever want to be a redundant elder brother.)

I had to learn to trust God for her eventual outcome and while it’s painful for me to let go of my sister because I love her so much, I must remember that God loves her so much more than I do and so surely He will look after her well-being better than I ever can. Hence, I shall have no fear for my Lord is in control of my sister. Either way, God has a plan for her and already knows what He is doing with her, way ahead of me. At the end of the day, I’m actually left with no choice, but learn not just to trust her, but to trust Him, whom I’m entrusting her to.

On that note, I believe that parents put so many restrictions on their children in this generation not because they don’t trust them, but because they don’t trust themselves – they are not confident of their own upbringing of their kids. I’m not yet a father so I write this callously, but I’d like to believe that when it’s time for my children to make their own decisions and account for themselves, I will deliberately and gladly let go of them, so that they can grow in an exponential manner apart from me. I will do this partly because I trust them, but mainly because I trust the good way that I would have brought them up. I guess I’d only be able to put my money where my mouth is when my children reach that age of reckoning.

On a side, random and personal note, I am absolutely and unashamedly confident that I will make an imperiously outstanding father. And just like in RD’s “Danny The Champion of The World”, I will become that father with the sparkle in his eye. Perhaps the absence of it makes me pine for fatherhood so much more, but somehow, I have this unquenchable, untamable conviction that of the many things that I will excel in in life, fatherhood is one that I am most certain of because it is something closest to my heart.

I have no idea how this evolved into a piece on parenting but I’m glad anyway.

why misunderstoodsunshinekid?

The moniker of misunderstoodsunshinekid sounds like some teenage bubblegum nickname that reeks of adolescence and youthfulness. And certainly not very appropriate for a man who turned 21 for the sixth time this year. There is, of course, a meaning behind this deliberate choice of words.

Coined towards the end of my time in Ngee Ann Polytechnic where I studied Mass Communication, it first appeared in the yearbook which was contributed by and distributed to every student in the cohort. The editorial team asked each of us for a photograph and three words that best described ourselves. Come to think of it, considering that I’ve not seen 90% of my school mates since we graduated, these three words would actually go a long way in helping us remember each other.

It was really amusing to see some of the entries. The more commonly used words were “Bubbly”, “Friendly”, “Outgoing”, “Sociable”, “Funny”, etcetera – basically words that were safe, correct and well, forgettable. There were some that went out of the box with “Nobody Knows Me”, “Damned I’m Good”, “Ahh Whatever Lah” and “I Am Indescribable”. But the one that tickled me most was “Humourous, Cheerful, Easygoing” and attached with the words was a really fierce, unfriendly and serious picture. Nice.

Without going into too much detail, here’s why I chose “Misunderstood Sunshine Kid”:

Misunderstood
Half my life I’ve been misunderstood for my intentions, choice of words and actions. I’d like to believe that it’s always been love-hate with me; people don’t really have a neutral feeling towards me. They either like me or dislike me. And because of this I almost always end up leaving either a great or a horrible first impression. As I age, I’ve learnt to deal with it by simply not bothering about it; I cannot please everyone, so I’ve learnt to stop having to justify or explain what I say or do. I’ve embraced this as a part of me and the only approval I seek would be that of God’s. I’ve learnt to take myself less seriously and not be so uptight about what people say or think about me. Yeah, I know this sounds very teenage/emo/angst, but hey, this term was coined when I was a 19-year-old teenager.

Sunshine
I’ve always been a positive and optimistic person and I think that it rubs off on the people that I interact with, especially with those in my sphere of influence. I’d like to I exude a “You can do it” vibe. On a side note, my heart goes out to pessimistic and negative people, but how they live their lives is their problem, not mine. I desire to be contented and always joyful. Another ethos which I live by is, “I could always be happier but I am situationally contented”. That was a phrase I coined together with PL some years ago. To an extent this word contradicts the former, but both somehow capture a key essence of my personality and character.

Kid
I’m always up to some mischief and I’ve always enjoyed being cheeky and naughty. There is a difference between being childish and childlike. I never want to lose the sense of wonder that children have. I always want to retain the kid in me, for the kid that I will have in future. I am confident that I will be a father with the “sparkle” in his eye. You know, kids are actually very sensitive and can detect sincerity from hypocrisy. I enjoy playing with kids and I think they (know it and) enjoy it too because they see it in my eyes – that I really want to play with them and I’m not afraid of embarrassing myself. I’ve always dreamt about being the father that my father never was to me. And for that to happen, I’ll always have that boyish playfulness hidden behind a now older and wiser head.

Each word could be an entry in itself so I’ll just leave it like that until I decide to elaborate further.

investments.

In an attempt to expand my perspectives on “investment”, I’m inclined to think that it should not and cannot be tied to just monetary terms. There’s also the investment of time, energy and resources, which money cannot and will not be able to purchase.

Many men and women have invested into my life ever since I became a Christian and a lot of them will not be able to directly gain the returns of their investments made at various key intervals of my life.

Likewise, a lot of what I am about to do with young people and with the youth ministry, I may not be able to see or touch the returns. Youth ministry is a transient place to say the least and while major decisions are made during this time, most of its consequences and effects would not surface until years later, when these youths have exited the ministry.

I believe that if we wait long enough, people usually would surprise us with their good side – something I learnt from Randy Pausch’s “The Last Lecture”. And in youth ministry, most times, it’s always about being patient and looking beyond the immediacy of the circumstance and to help the young person see what you see too. I think that everyone at any point in time is relatively myopic. This is mildly non-sequitur but there is nothing more satisfying than to play a part in bringing out God’s best in a young person.

The invaluable investments that people like RY, PL and JH have made in my life – maybe their kids will be recipients of their investments. In fact, it is very probable that all of their children will be under my care within the next 10 years, providing I’m still at it. And maybe, if I’m allowed to think a little more selfishly, these investments that I’m making and about to make in young people – my kids will be indirect recipients of my time, energy and resources. And maybe that makes it all a little more worthwhile.

Now, that’s what I call a risk-free investment.

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