I love people. From a young age, I poured my life and heart onto others, especially the boys I was leading in church.

As their mentor and older brother, I tutored them, played sports and music with them, and hung out with them late into the night before I would head home on the last bus.

Parents would call me concerning their child at odd hours. As soon as I could, I would jump into a cab and be there to save the day. I was barely older than them but the youths were usually willing to listen. Most of the time, they responded positively to the advice I doled out.

You could say I was a hero in their eyes – and mine.

I didn’t realise it then, but this was the start of a dangerous saviour complex that would slowly cripple me in my adulthood.

When I became a secondary school teacher, I loved the students in my form class. They were an awesome bunch. Because of these kids, I found so much meaning in my work and would stay back in school till late to help them prepare for their O-levels.

Some days, after class, a few of my students would jump into my car and we would head to East Coast Park. They would relax at the beach for an hour, wash up and then study at Carl’s Junior till their parents picked them up. I adored them and felt loved in return.

Whether at church or in school, I was all in. To me, being a mentor to young people was what God called me to do – so I did it with every ounce of energy in me. That’s what youth pastors or leaders are meant to do, no?

But deep within, a dark problem was brewing. In my head I was serving God – but the truth was that God was nowhere to be found.

Because I was god.

Photo: 3:16 Church / RY

My passion for nurturing youth sounded great on the surface, where no one could see how self-serving I really was. The admiring responses of all those around me made me feel like I was living a worthy existence. Loving these youngsters made me feel loved.

And on the flip side, when I felt like I wasn’t loving someone well, I felt like life wasn’t quite worth living. Looking back, I should have seen the signs.

I found myself closely monitoring those I taught or mentored through social media, just to make sure they were doing alright. I spoke with them often to ensure that I knew everything about them and could keep them from falling into trouble.

When I felt like I wasn’t loving someone well, I felt like life wasn’t quite worth living. Looking back, I should have seen the signs.

If I found out they had kept something from me, I felt betrayed. Like I no longer had control over them. I told myself this was love. But was it?

Whenever someone I cared for went wayward or lost touch with me, my heart shattered and I found myself fending off bouts of depression.

Did I not do enough? Didn’t I love him enough? Wasn’t love supposed to make him turn out fine?

In my anguish, I busied myself with caring for other people instead; it always made me feel better. This vicious cycle went on for more than 12 years.

About two years ago, I had a falling-out with one of the youth I mentored in church. In my genuine care and concern for his life, I had become overly protective, controlling and simply overbearing.

I was the typical helicopter parent, without even being his parent.

Needless to say, he pushed me away. I instinctively tried to rectify the situation, only to make it worse. It was a disaster.

Eventually, his mum took the whole family and they left church altogether.

My world fell apart.

I remember lying in my bed in the wee hours of the night, tears streaming down my face. I woke up every morning with a weight on my chest, making it hard to breathe.

I felt like a complete failure.

He comes to us when we finally desire to be loved by Him, not when we’re obsessed with trying to be loved by the world.

Suicide was a serious consideration and I felt frequent impulses to jump off my balcony or consume the sleeping pills in my side drawer. I was a wreck. And I was so angry with God.

“Didn’t You call me to reach out to him? Wasn’t it You who made our paths cross? Wasn’t I just doing Your will to care for Your sheep? Why would You do this to me?”

People struggled to understand my predicament. They couldn’t understand why I was so down over a youth. They told me not to overreact and just move on.

Their advice caused me to sink deeper into the despair of what had happened and I would drive home on the highway at dangerous speeds, enraged. In the dead of the night, to numb my pain, I turned to pornography. But it only left me feeling emptier than ever.

It was at this lowest, most broken point of my life that I encountered God in ways I had never experienced before – through people I hardly knew.

The recovery process was miraculous, though not immediate. One Sunday, I sat through a sermon on the power and destiny of names. At the altar call, the Spirit whispered a question into my soul.

“Darrell, do you know what your name means?”

The answer arose from within.


My knees buckled and I crumbled to the ground, sobbing uncontrollably. Perspiration soaked my shirt through. Completely overwhelmed by a myriad of emotions I couldn’t make sense of, the world around me came to a standstill.

All along, I was looking for love in loving others. But all along, the answer was in my name.


As I knelt there with my head bowed low, I felt God’s love filling every corner of my being. I knew that in that moment, the dead bones in me were raised to life (Ezekiel 37:4-10). And the God-encounters didn’t stop there.

He comes to us when we finally desire to be loved by Him, not when we’re obsessed with trying to be loved by the world.

Photo: 3:16 Church / Tay Yi En

Since that day, I find myself in the school of life – a student all over again, sitting at the feet of Jesus, learning from the Holy Spirit what it means to love. I used to think I knew love, but I’ve realised that love is much more than just meaningful words or noble actions.

Love is more than you and me “being there for someone”. Perhaps sometimes, loving someone even means letting them learn important lessons on their own.

Loving is not by might, nor by power, but by the Spirit (Zechariah 4:6).

It’s almost impossible to love as Christ loves if we have no idea what it’s like to be loved by God. So perhaps that is where many of us need to start, or return to, so we can start afresh. To let ourselves be loved.

I hold a piece of advice from a dear sister close to my heart and utter this prayer whenever I spend long hours with a troubled young person:

“God, connect His heart to yours, not mine. Connect my heart to Yours, not his.”

With the redeeming love and encouragement of many, I’ve found the courage to mentor young people again and even lead a campus ministry.

I no longer find love in loving others, because I’ve found Love Himself.

Darrell currently leads the Campus Ministry at 3:16 Church and is an educational consultant who trains teachers and mentors students. He is an advocate for emotional honesty among young men.