Work. It’s a scary word. From a young age I got the impression work wasn’t a good thing, just something we had to do.
My family had always struggled financially. Though my parents tried their best to provide us with everything we needed – a proper education, a roof over our heads, three meals on the table – it didn’t take me long to realise that they were barely making ends meet.
My dad had invested in some foreign company overseas, but as investment returns kept getting delayed, he kept chalking up debts.
My mother, the sole breadwinner, was up to her neck paying off his credit card debt for more than 15 years. I watched my older sister help pay his bills too, sometimes buying lottery tickets for him, hoping against hope.
At times he was pressured by the people around him to get a decent job, become a taxi driver or something stable like that. But he’d always reply with the same exasperation, “I’ve already pumped in so much money. I can’t give up now.”
I wanted to believe him. But some part of me wondered if he was running from responsibility.
My parents weren’t around much during my early years. Because Dad was always flying overseas for business, Mum had to work really hard for the family, often clocking late hours to earn extra money.
So my grandparents and our domestic helper took care of my siblings and I.
Grandma was really strict. If we lied or did anything wrong, she’d beat us, or burn our lips and arms with a cigarette lighter. Once I couldn’t finish my food and threw what was left in the bin; when she found out, she force-fed the food remnants to me, chiding me for wasting food.
As tensions ran high at home and people were constantly upset, I threw myself into work to help alleviate the financial burden.
I figured out that her constant mistreatment of us was because of her dislike for my mother. I once eavesdropped on a conversation, where I heard she’d been charging my mother an exorbitant amount to help care for us. My mother worked around the clock for the whole family, yet my grandmother despised my mother’s sacrifices.
“Nothing you do is good,” I’d once heard her say, “You’re always making things worse.”
When I was 13, we moved back home and learnt to be more independent. The longer my mother worked, the closer she was to losing her sanity.
I watched her struggle to keep everything together. She held a strong front, but I saw through it – she sobbed herself to sleep. She attributed her hard life on bad karma accumulated during her previous life. Silent, angry and forcibly resigned to her cruel fate, she saw death as a release from all suffering.
Trouble always brewed on the horizon.
My older sister had a child out of wedlock when she was 15. The guy eloped with another girl. She sank into postnatal depression.
On the bad days she would claw at me, screaming, throwing things in anger as her grief turned to violence.
It was devastating to see the bubbly sister I had shared a room with all my life completely ripped apart by her circumstances.
As tensions ran high at home and people were constantly upset, I threw myself into work to help alleviate the financial burden. I started taking on odd jobs as soon as I could legally work. Retail, waitressing, research, freelance writing, toilet cleaning, housekeeping, tuition, facilitation, administrative work, giving out flyers … you name it, I’ve probably done it.
I tried almost every job that I could take up, even with school and multiple CCA commitments. My A-level year was the toughest because I was training for two competitive sports, juggling two jobs, trying to study and caring for my niece while my sister was at work. I was barely surviving on less than three hours of sleep a day.
I kept this routine up for 8 months before I collapsed from exhaustion during a training session. I knew then that the vicious cycle my mother was caught in was now my own.
I’ve been working at least two jobs or more for over 10 years now, just to remain financially independent and to pay off my own school fees.
I often stick to one meal a day just to save money and be able to afford little gifts for my niece. I think they hardly make up for her perpetual loneliness, but it’s the least I can do on top of squeezing out pockets of time to play with her or to help her through schoolwork.
On the outside, it seems like the Singaporean dream: Stocked to the brim with productivity, every hour efficiently spent. But most days I just want to lie on my bed and cry.
As work gradually became my escape, busyness heavily defined my life. In the face of overwhelming pressures at home and in school, I’d work myself to sheer exhaustion. I’d fall asleep spontaneously, whenever my body finally cried out.
And yet, people envied my life.
On the outside, it seems like the Singaporean dream: Stocked to the brim with productivity, every hour efficiently spent.
What few understand is that most days, I just want to lie on my bed and cry for hours. I sit in hopelessness desperately praying for a way out. I wonder if there’s anything else to life other than work. There are days I get up and just do it, but there are days that I mull over my existence in desperate despondence.
But this is what I’ve learnt about work in the light of my knowledge of God: If not for Him who supplies breath in my lungs – Spirit of power, love and a sound mind – I am broken.
Imperfect. Fallible. Weak.
That is why I need Jesus.
When I work for His glory I am solely accountable to a loving Father who’s not simply concerned about my productivity but my quality of life – at work, outside of work, with family, friends and co-workers. He cares for me completely.
We are not meant to face chronic stress, anger, anxiety, frustration, bitterness, exasperation or exhaustion from the work that we have been tasked with.
In a world obsessed with expectations, KPI, quotas, relational reciprocity, where anything short of perfection is scrutinised, judged and condemned, He frees us from the curse of painful toil. He teaches me to love my work.
His abundance keeps my cup full, even when it’s perpetually broken.
Have you ever tried pouring water into a broken cup? The water keeps leaking and you can never keep it full.
When I work for His glory I am solely accountable to my loving Father.
My cracks reveal His glory. God is so abundant and good that His inflow of grace, mercy and strength does more than just keeping my cup full and overflowing.
It cleanses me thoroughly as He creates a clean heart, and renews a steadfast spirit within me.
I refuse to live in the old me, and I choose to live in the promises within me.
The old has gone. The new has come. Each day of work is a good gift. And all will be worth it.