TRIGGER WARNING: This story contains mentions of suicidal thoughts that some may find distressing.
Just before National Day in 2018, I received a phone call from my parents.
They had checked my bank account and were astounded that there was only $30 left. I earned $600 a month from National Service (NS), and they wondered where all the money had gone.
Left with nowhere to hide, I was forced to come clean about my secret vices.
I remember my parents’ anger, disappointment, sadness – and even empathy.
I felt the greatest shame I’ve ever felt in my life. How could I even look at my family?
They knew I had been crushed. I had recently been dropped from a prestigious army training course – but they didn’t expect things to get so bad.
They also didn’t know that I was devastated after being harshly rejected by a girl I really liked.
Feeling exposed, I felt shame – the greatest shame I’ve ever felt in my life. How could I even look at my family?
How did I let myself fall to such a low, far from my happy growing up years?
In my early childhood, I was mischievous and precocious. I loved making new friends.
Academically, I was a decent student, often in the top 20% of my cohort.
But my life started going downhill when I was 12 years old.
I was placed in a new class where I knew no one. It made me a prime target for bullying.
Things like highlighters were thrown at me. I was chased around the classroom and beaten up for fun. I was tattled on for the smallest infractions.
I developed severe anger issues as a result. I lashed back at bullies, which only made the situation worse.
My grades also started to slip. I was very easily distracted, drifting in and out of concentration during class and while doing homework.
Concerned about my inability to focus, a teacher suggested that my parents take me for a medical check-up.
I was diagnosed with mild Asperger’s and ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder).
These conditions affected my social sense and attention span. It also made me prone to recklessness and quickness of temper.
Thankfully, despite these obstacles, I was able to pull through my PSLE (Primary School Leaving Examinations) and enter a prestigious secondary school.
Things got worse in secondary school.
Because of my lack of social skills, worsened by ADHD, I shot my mouth off without thinking about the consequences, which annoyed a lot of people.
Bullies kicked me in the face or grabbed me from behind, almost every day. They stole my books from under my desk and often locked me out of the classroom, just for their own amusement.
I was ostracised all over again and had no friends.
I also couldn’t keep up with lessons and lost my drive. Even though I had tuition for every subject, I barely passed half my classes. I relied on medication to get me through the school day.
Worse, I felt my parents didn’t understand the severity of my mental condition; I felt condemned and misunderstood. It didn’t help that my two sisters were well-rounded students who aced most of their classes.
I reached my tipping point when I turned 15.
On top of all this stress, there was also conflict at home. I blamed myself for causing my family’s problems.
I became depressed and suicidal, and often thought about throwing myself off a building. I felt that it would be better for everyone if I was dead. My life didn’t matter.
Oddly enough, angsty lyrics of rap and rock music helped me realise I wasn’t hopeless or alone. But this was only temporary.
Just six months before my A-Levels, I failed my preliminary exams horribly.
My tutor reprimanded me for my lack of effort. But thankfully, she worked closely with my parents and I was able to ace my exams against the odds.
I entered National Service (NS) and, for the first time in a long while, I truly believed things would get better.
But I was wrong.
Bitter and vengeful
In my first year in NS, I was harshly rejected by a girl I really liked. She told me, “I won’t ever have feelings for you.”
It made me feel unwanted and lonely. I thought, “Am I so undesirable that nobody wants me?”
A few months later, I contracted pneumonia. As a result, I was dropped from a prestigious combat course and not allowed to train for six months.
I felt I had lost everything that was important to me.
I became depressed and turned to vice and junk food. Food brought me comfort and I started to overeat. I gained 10kg in the process.
I also stopped caring about the people in my life, and felt bitter and even vengeful towards them.
A loving connection
Then came the day my parents found that I had only $30 left in my bank account.
After I came clean about where the money was going, my mum was desperate for help and sought out a family friend.
He spoke to me and invited me to attend Youth Connection (YC) at Kum Yan Methodist Church.
I knew I had nothing left to lose, so I went.
What stood out for me was the community who welcomed me from Day 1. They never excluded me or made me feel left out because I didn’t believe in Jesus.
I had been raised in a household of freethinkers, but spent the next year attending Sunday service regularly.
Over time, I grew to love and appreciate the people around me. I started making friends with the members of my small group. Today, they are my closest friends.
I met church leaders who always checked in on how I was feeling and how my life was going. They were willing to sit down and discuss Christian beliefs and doctrines with me – a bitter and cynical non-believer.
I wasn’t afraid to voice my discontent towards Christian beliefs that went against my own thoughts and values on topics like lifestyle choices.
Despite my vocal disagreements and questions, the leaders never made me feel condemned or stupid. For that, I’m grateful.
I felt like my voice mattered and I appreciated how they gently addressed my concerns.
My biggest struggle? I simply couldn’t bring myself to believe in this God they spoke about.
The idea of an all-loving, forgiving God who cares about us more than we can imagine was something I could not wrap my head around.
Even if God was real, I wondered: Why would He save me – of all people – from my sins?
The voice on the kelong
At the end of 2019, I still did not believe in God. But nonetheless went for a youth camp the church organised.
It was held on a kelong (an offshore wooden fishing platform) in Indonesia, away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life and modern civilisation.
As part of the programme, I spent time alone praying to God, surrounded by nothing but the sound of the ocean and the rocking on the waves. I felt at peace.
I then realised that, if I ever believed in God, I needed Him to show me He was truly real. He couldn’t be just a name on a page in the Bible or some abstract concept.
I wanted – no, needed – to know for sure that He exists.
On the final night of the camp, I was exhausted. We had spent a whole afternoon playing games. I desperately wanted the closing service to end so that I could go to bed.
When the team started playing the worship song Goodness of God, I mechanically sung the lyrics: “All my life you have been faithful. All my life you have been so, so good”.
Suddenly, I heard a voice amid the noise. It boomed with authority, yet spoke with warmth and love. I felt its power and restraint, both at once.
I was immediately terrified, but also comforted beyond measure.
I knew it was the voice of God, speaking right to me. All He said was: “I’m here, and I’ve always been here.”
Instantly, I wept.
Here I was, a sinful non-believer who did nothing but denounce Him for my whole life.
Yet, God chose to speak to me, making sure I knew it was Him without a doubt. He showed me He was real.
Most importantly, God let me know that He has always loved me.
I was a mess for the next three hours. I cried in anguish and joy.
On one hand, I felt guilty for not appreciating His love for so long.
On the other, I was joyful! I felt whole, seen and forgiven by God.
I had validation from God, and that is all I needed.
Right there and then, I accepted God into my life, and I have not looked back.
A lost son is found
The Bible verse Luke 15:24 has a special meaning for me: “For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.”
But walking with God is a process filled with ups and downs – not an instant happy ending.
Giving up the vices was the easy part.
More difficult was getting rid of other old habits like self-doubt and resentment towards others. Forgiving others did not come easily.
However, with God’s help, I slowly worked to overcome these challenges, and still do today.
My parents noticed changes in me as I became more conscious about my new faith.
I kicked aside old addictions, like playing video games for too long, and began seeking God’s will for my life. I stopped swearing, too.
With a lot of prayer, patience and giving it over to God, I was able to better focus and concentrate.
I became more empathetic, and better able to relate to others. I was also more willing to open up to my parents and others about my struggles.
I slowly got over my grievances against my parents and over time, our relationship healed.
I’ve since noticed that things are more harmonious at home, and I often play the part of mediator.
Having angered a lot of people in the past due to my rash words, I better understood where others were coming from. In turn, this made me less angry. And if God could forgive me, I could do the same for others.
I’ve found that accepting Jesus into my life has made it worth living, especially to serve God and others around me.
I now help in the youth hospitality at church, making sure newcomers, especially non-Christians, feel welcome. I also volunteer with helping seniors to bond with the younger generation.
The world is a wilderness.
Without God, I was so lost that I almost killed myself.
But with God, I have been found and I am saved.
If you do not yet believe, I hope that you’ll give God a chance to work in your life. Open your heart to Him, and let Him surprise you too.
This story was first published on Stories of Hope and is republished with permission.
- What about Theodor’s story encouraged you?
- What was the lowest point of your life?
- Looking back, can you trace the hands of God in that difficult season?
- The next time you encounter a difficult moment, what is one promise of God in the Bible that you can stand upon?