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Walking Together: Resilience

Date: 19/02/2023/Speaker: Rev Miak Siew

Walking Together: Resilience
19 February 2023
Miak Siew

I don’t know about you, but 2023 has not started the way I would have liked. There is a part of me that is asking “can I reboot 2023?” I am glad though that I am not alone, and I feel supported through the challenges I have faced this year.

We kicked off this year with this sermon series “walking together,” based on our vision for 2023 (and beyond) Walking together towards growth and wholeness in Christ.

Pauline started with Burning Hearts – inviting us to see that Jesus shows up and is present as we walk with one another, and for our hearts to transform from one that is filled with disappointment, confusion, sadness to a heart that is burning with awe, wonder, excitement, and a desire to tell others God’s story of redemption, hope and divine love that spans the centuries?

We then talked about mutuality – that We are meant to be tangled up together. We are meant to live lives of profound interdependence, growing into, around, and out of each other. We cause pain and loss when we hold ourselves apart, because the fate of each individual branch affects the vine as a whole. In this metaphor, dependence is not a matter of personal morality or preference; it’s a matter of life and death — branches that refuse to cling to the vine die.

Mutuality requires us to “abide.” It’s as if Jesus is saying, “Hang in there with me, and I’ll hang in there with you,” or “Stick it out with me and I’ll stick it out with you.” When Peter decided to go fishing, to do what was familiar to him, his friends told him “We will go with you.” I looked at it from a different perspective this time – that their response was a response to support Peter in his struggles and his grief. That’s what we should do for each other too. Walk with each other and support each other, encourage each other.

Pauline then shared about flourishing – reflecting on the Beatitudes. “You are blessed/flourishing when you face difficult situations that lead you closer to God…that lead you closer to becoming whole and complete.”

We don’t endeavor to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly in order to earn God’s blessings. We do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly because we are always and already blessed. (Debi Thomas)

I really loved how the Message version of the Bible puts it – direct and doesn’t mince the words –

Matthew 5:48 (MSG)

“In a word, what I’m saying is, Grow up. You’re kingdom subjects. Now live like it. Live out your God-created identity. Live generously and graciously toward others, the way God lives toward you.”

Then I shared about reconciliation – because when we walk together, we will inevitably experience conflict. Reconciliation, however, is not resolution.

Resolution is about dealing with the situation or issue in a way that both parties are agreeable to. That doesn’t mean that the relationship is restored.

On the other hand, reconciliation doesn’t mean that both parties end up agreeing. We can still disagree about something and yet be in right relationship with one another.

Also, to be able to seek reconciliation, we need to be firmly anchored in trusting that we are beloved and worthy, and when we make mistakes, when we fall short, that does not make us any less beloved. Trusting in this means that we are able to feel safe when we reach out to make amends and reconcile with those we have conflict with.

Then last week, Pauline talked about integrity.

if we read them as instructions given in the hope of building and sustaining a community that is both blessed and commissioned to bless — what version of God might emerge?

A God who takes our relationships with each other very seriously, and wants us to treat each other — not with a bare minimum of civility and morality — but with the deepest respect, integrity, and love.”

God is more interested in us living whole/undivided lives of integrity than just following the rules blindly. Living whole lives of integrity means we increasingly align our words and behaviour (exterior) with our hearts and values (interior).

As we wrap up the 2023 kick-off sermon series that lays the foundation of our vision, and before we move into the Lenten sermon series titled “Ashes,” I want to talk about resilience.

Resilience is the ability to bounce back after challenging situations. After the storms in our lives, we pick up the pieces and journey on. Resilience is about adapting successfully to challenging and difficult circumstances.

The word “resilience” has been bandied around quite a lot recently – especially after we emerged out of the Covid-19 pandemic.

All living things adapt to their environment.

How do you deal with, adapt to and/ or bounce back after difficult and/ or challenging situations?

There are of course helpful and unhelpful ways of adapting. I have, in my life, acquired unhelpful coping mechanisms. I have binged on food when I was stressed. I noticed an uptick of alcohol consumption during one period – I took more frequent evening drinks until I went for the mindfulness course, and suddenly, I just dropped drinking whisky when I had a bad day because I acquired more helpful ways of dealing with negative emotions / feelings.

I have discovered in my experience that many of us struggle with difficult or challenging situations because we think that we deserve it. That bad things happen to us because God wanted to punish us. While it may be true that some of these things that happen to us are consequences of our actions, I do not believe that God wants to “punish us.”

These bad things happen because they are consequences of our actions, nothing more and nothing less. I wasn’t paying attention when I was running and I ran in to a pole, resulting in a deep gash. It wasn’t punishment – it was consequence of me not paying attention of my surroundings.

That is an accident that is easy to explain, of course. There are other things that happen that are more difficult. The death of a loved one, diagnosis of serious illness, natural disasters…. These are things that we often cannot explain. Yet, we want explanations. We have lots of questions – and the one that crop up most often is “Why?”

“Why did this happen?” “Why this?” “why not that?” “Why me?”

Why do you think we want to know the “whys?”

At the root of the question Why is fear. Knowing why helps give us a sense of certainty and security. Otherwise, life would be random. And this randomness, and this uncertainty is scary.

When we seek to know the whys, we can be like the folks who approached Jesus in Luke 13:

At that very time there were some present who told Jesus[a] about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. 2 He asked them, “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans? 3 No, I tell you, but unless you repent you will all perish as they did.

4 Or those eighteen who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them—do you think that they were worse offenders than all the other people living in Jerusalem? 5 No, I tell you, but unless you repent you will all perish just as they did.”

We often read this passage as though if we do not repent, then we will be killed in some accident like the tower falling down. But that is misreading what Jesus said.

He said “No – the Galileans did not suffer in this way because they were worse sinners.

No. those who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them were not worse offenders.

Rather – Jesus is saying – we should not judge others based on their misfortune or suffering. I think he is warning them don’t think you got away, therefore you are “right with God.” Rather, instead of worrying about what happened, turn away from sin and live in alignment with God’s will!

We want to know the answers (like why bad things happen) so that we can avoid these difficult things. We want to know something we can assign blame on.

Sometimes, like my accident running into the pole, there are answers.

Other times, there are no answers.

I asked Beng Kwang if I should share a little of his story.

Beng Kwang first reached out to us in November 2021 – and I visited him at home almost a year ago last February. He was the first wheelchair user who reached out to us, and I really wanted us to live out to our inclusive values to create a space for all. We had a few exchanges via email about our physical space, and if we were wheelchair accessible.

When I visited Beng Kwang at his home – I was struck his resilience, positivity and acceptance.

He was not miserable and complaining about how unfair things were, how bad his situation was, but looked on the bright side of things. He showed me the meaning of surrendering things to God – it is about accepting the situation and at the same time, not give up. He told me about his plans of rehabilitation and physiotherapy, and he knew it would take time and effort. And I believe God is working through his difficult situation to bring him, and us, closer to God, closer to becoming whole and complete.

I was hesitant to share his story, because I am also cognizant that very often, when people share their difficult experiences, they are met with responses like “it’s not that bad, someone else has it worse.” “It’s not that bad that you lost your job, at least you have a roof over your head.” Or even “I also have a similar experience, but worse than yours!”

I am not sharing Beng Kwang’s story to tell you to suck it up. I am sharing with you because there are key things that I think helped Beng Kwang, and these things can help you as well.

Being able to accept that we don’t know why. Because we can become stuck trying to find out why, thinking that knowing why we would find resolution of comfort. And even if we manage to find out why, from my experience, the grief and pain doesn’t go away.

I used to want to know the answers to everything. When I was a child, I couldn’t stop asking questions. I kept asking Why, why, why. My mom was wise enough to buy a series of books titled “Tell Me Why”

A few weeks ago, a member asked me if I knew why I knocked my head into the pole.

I told them – “I was just not mindful”

“Do you believe in suay? Or bad luck?”

I told him at least for this, I have an answer. There are other situations I do not have answers whether it was meant to be, or bad luck or suay or whatever. I used to want to know – but now I am content not knowing. I can’t control very much in life. Surrendering and learning to deal with what I can, is my philosophy now

I guess that’s very free-ing, isn’t it?

Yes. It is the basis of the serenity prayer… Serenity to accept the things I cannot change or no power over…. I guess the years have taught me wise no need to try and know everything

The serenity prayer “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.”

The serenity prayer leads me to the next point I saw in Beng Kwang

Serenity or Peace comes from surrendering to God and letting go of the need to know why. We can still feel pain and grief, but there is peace. Surrendering to God isn’t giving up though – surrendering to God means trusting God.

And trusting God requires us to really be anchored in knowing we are beloved.

It is something I repeat a lot. And I did some reflection – why do we need so much convincing that we are beloved in God’s eyes?

What have we been taught about ourselves?

What have you been taught about how God sees you or how you should see yourself?

One of the ways we learn about how to see ourselves isn’t through teaching, but the songs we sing. I am struggling with one of my favourite worship songs – amazing grace. While I understand and can resonate with “Saved a wretch like me,” it can be harmful to someone who does not see themselves as worthy of love, and can only be a wretch. Jesus doesn’t see us as wretches. Jesus sees us as beloved, friends, siblings.

As I reflected, I realised that many of us are influenced by Calvinism.

Calvinism is a Protestant theological system that originated in the 16th century as a response to the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church. It is based on the teachings of John Calvin, a French theologian and pastor who lived from 1509 to 1564.

One key doctrine of Calvinism is Total Depravity.

”Calvinism teaches that human beings are totally depraved, meaning that every aspect of their being is corrupted by sin and unable to please God on its own. This emphasizes the need for God’s grace in salvation.”

I disagree with that. Yes, we need God’s grace in salvation – but that doesn’t mean that we are totally depraved, and that every aspect of us is corrupted.

FCC has been very influenced by Methodism – (no surprise here) – which emphasizes the importance of free will and believes that humans have the ability to respond to God’s grace and cooperate with God in their own salvation.

Psalm 139:14 “I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well.”

We recognise that our very existence is the result of God’s creative power and intention. “Fearfully made” does not mean fear or anxiety, but rather a sense of reverential awe and wonder in the face of the amazing complexity and intricacy of the human body and the human mind.

We are made in the image of God – we carry the Imago Dei. Our bodies, minds, and souls are precious and deserving of respect and care. This idea can inspire a sense of gratitude for the gift of life, as well as a sense of responsibility to use our gifts and talents for the greater good.

This awareness that we are made in the image of God is reinforced when we connect with God. This awareness is the awareness that we are beloved. John 15:4 “Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me.”

What are the ways you connect with God? Do you do that regularly?

I will tell you – that prayer, worship, fellowship are just some of the ways.

I went to the newly opened Rifle Range Nature Park last week. It was a nice walk – and relatively quiet on a weekday morning – enough for reflection and connection with God.

Some of the ways that I connect with God are not what you would think as ways of connecting with God.

I feel connected with God when I am fully present. And there are times I am fully present sometimes in activities few people will think of as religious or spiritual.

**cooking / Gunpla.

I will to leave with you with an image – a metaphor. We have heard “be like the bamboo, bend and not break,” Bamboo is flexible, bending with the wind but never breaking, capable of adapting to any circumstance.

But there is more about the bamboo in my reflection. The bamboo is also rooted strongly. We need to be anchored strongly in God’s love, knowing that we are first and foremost, beloved. Nothing can change that love. Nothing bad that happens to us is God punishing us.

Bamboo also don’t grow individually. Because they gain resilience as they gain strength from each other as well.

May we be like bamboo – as we walk each other towards growth and wholeness in Christ.