Breathe In. Breathe Out. It is Friday
Ryan Ang, a new member who has started worshipping with GBC this year after graduating from college, testifies of God's glory and grace in his life as he writes of the struggles and blessings from God that make him thank God for Fridays.
It is Friday: a day that has an acronym and a restaurant named after it—TGIF (Thank God it’s Friday).
For many, Friday is the day of the week that is often looked forward to.
It marks the end of the work and school week.
It marks the beginning of the weekend.
And it marks the day of rest.
Significantly, for the Jews and certain sects of Messianic Judeo-Christianity, Friday marks the start of the Sabbath (or Shabbat in Hebrew): a time of spiritual renewal through resting in the Lord.
For me, however, Friday was the most dreadful day of the week: it was a day of trepidation, anxiety, and absolute fear. Fridays were the days of the week where my dad would come home and exercise all his pent-up frustration from the work week on my mother and I: I was often beaten for no rhyme nor reason, and the beating tools ranged from rattan canes to leather belts or wooden stools. My dad was a Christian, or at least he said he was (although he didn’t go to church), and through him I formulated my first impressions of Christians, as well as what a Father is like—angry, domineering, and unmerciful—and my home often felt nothing more than a prison, in which the only thing I could do was breathe.
It is Friday: All week long, my schoolmates who claimed to be Christians bullied me. On Monday, they threw my wallet over a fence and I couldn’t retrieve it. On Tuesday, they pushed my body against the latrine and caused the entirety of my white pants to be stained with pee. On Wednesday, they sang their favorite song to me: “Roly Poly Ryan, rolling all the way home. Smelly Smelly Ryan, stinking all the way home.” On Thursday, they threw my bag in the dumpster when I was away for recess. And the bullying was the most intense on Fridays…
Either way, life during secondary school was hard. My relationship with my dad worsened. My mom started to consider getting a divorce. My grades suffered because of the bullying. My uncle committed suicide (when I was in secondary one). And a year later, after my uncle’s death, my grandmother died from a stroke.
In many ways, I felt incredibly helpless, and it wasn’t long before I developed severe depression and insomnia, and turned towards binge eating and licentious activities (pornography and masturbation) as sources of escapism. And thus, at fifteen, I found myself friendless and incredibly obese, with my terrible habits only destroying my self-esteem further with each and every passing day.
For all that I can remember, the only thing I could really exercise any agency in was to breathe. And for a moment then, I considered and tried stopping my breath through a suicide attempt. Thankfully, I didn’t step off the ledge… In retrospect, this feeling of incredible lack in my agency was clearly a mere lie. Whether this lie was something planted by the Opposer in my head or something that I simply told myself, however, I do not know… But there is one thing I know for sure: back then, reality felt harsh, I increasingly detested Christians and their faith, and for the most part, the only thing I felt that I could do was breathe.
It is Friday… except no it isn’t… it wasn’t… but the day was so particularly bad that it felt like one. It occurred during one of the days during the weekend: I came home from the market with my mother only to discover stickers from the bank all over the house’s furniture and appliances. As it so happened, my dad had become bankrupt.
I was deeply shocked, and so was my mother. My mother was still recovering from the loss of her brother and mother back then, and this incident only sought to make her more stressed. Granted, in what can ostensibly be seen as both a blessing and a curse, my mom had separated her bank account from my dad a couple of years prior (which meant that we still had significant savings in her account), but incidentally, that also meant that she could not keep my dad’s finances in check.
In any case, shortly after my dad’s bankruptcy (which occurred when I was sixteen), I took leave from school altogether and started working to support myself and the family.
As much as twelve hours a day, I laboured in the banquet halls and kitchens of Mandarin Orchard, often coming home with sores on my feet due to the ceaseless walking. Many times, in order to save more money, I skimmed off the leftovers of people’s meals as well… Anyhow, the juxtaposition between my struggling financial background and my foreground reality of working in a glitzy five-star hotel that purports to sell the best chicken rice in Singapore for about twenty dollars a plate was deeply embedded in my subconscious mind then. For days on end, I felt that my life was purposeless. At times, I would overhear people talking about God or gods or deities and praying to Him or them to have a better life, but for me back then, religion, especially Christianity, felt like a farce. The likes of Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, and Bertrand Russell were my heroes, and in a world which I felt was obsessed with religions, they felt like a breath of fresh air—they helped me to breathe… or so I thought, but little did I know…
It is Friday. Good Friday, in fact.
I was at a church—a pentecostal megachurch. I wasn’t expecting myself to be at a church, but things worked out that way.
A little over two years have passed since I left school to work.
It was a truly “bizarre” year. I started serving in NS (Army)… and my dad started going back to church. Simultaneously, however, my mom began her divorce proceedings. A Buddhist for over five decades, she had lost all her patience with my dad over a number of things: principle among them was religious differences. Granted, through regular church attendance, Bible studies, and daily devotion to the Word, my dad changed almost radically. He made a considerable effort at paying off his debts and no longer was he plagued by anger issues. Nonetheless, my mom was adamant about divorcing him, and that exerted significant stress when I was serving in the army. It wasn’t long before I suffered a mental breakdown and got sent to the hospital. Interestingly, during the ambulance ride on the way to the hospital, a sergeant accompanied me and struck up a conversation, which eventually led to a talk about Christ.
As it turned out, my sergeant was a Christian. From the get-go, he was incredibly kind (the first Christian who I met who actually walked the talk in fact). He made an effort at getting to know me, was confidently vulnerable about his struggles, and although he talked about Christ, how Christ has shaped him, and invited me to church, he didn’t pressure me and was gentle throughout the process. Effectively, he had made me feel loved and cared for… and so that was how I found myself in church on a Good Friday. Because of my sergeant’s care, concern, and attentiveness, I decided to accept his church invitation and give Christianity another look.
Accepting this invitation would change my life… during the first service I attended, the pastor spoke about suffering. He said that oftentimes, when we suffer, whether we are a Christian or a non-Christian, we are inclined to find something to blame for our suffering.
If we are a Christian, we might turn to God and ask “Why God? Why Jesus? Why me?”
And if we are a non-Christian, we might choose not to believe in a God who allows for suffering in the world.
“But suffering exists largely because sin exists,” the pastor stated.
“And God doesn’t want us to suffer, but He also didn’t really promise us anything either. The only promise that He gave us was that He sent His one and only Son to save us from the world.”
And with that, the pastor cited 1 Peter 5:10: “And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.”
Knowing very little to nothing about Christianity, this perspective of suffering was somehow intriguing to me, and soon enough I found myself hungry for more. Week after week, I headed back to church to learn. I voraciously consumed the Word as well, studying the Bible whenever opportunity allowed… and then for some miraculous reason, I recovered from my depression and slept eight hours for the first time in a number of years without the assistance of medication… and my mom called off her divorce—after seeing how much my dad changed…
“Maybe Jesus is real,” I remember thinking to myself.
Certainly, I felt incredibly liberated… I felt alive… and I felt like I could ACTUALLY BREATHE… and then my dad died.
It is Friday, September 4th 2015.
My mom and I were in the hospital. We had received a call the night prior informing us that my dad passed away… he died from a random heart attack.
Although my relationship with my dad was mostly sour throughout my life, it became better during his final years when he went back to Church. Things were turning positive. He made efforts at changing, attempting to love my mother and I… so I felt thoroughly confused at his sudden demise…
“Why God? Why now? Why me?”
I couldn’t comprehend why God had suddenly taken my dad away when life seemed to finally be on the upswing… for a moment, I doubted the existence of God again, but then I remembered:
I remembered how much had changed in the past year.
I remembered how much He has blessed me in that year: helping me to recover from depression and insomnia; helping me to gradually edge away from my bad habits of lust and gluttony; helping me to fix my parents’ broken relationship when I was helpless to do so; and helping me to get to know what He is like.
And on that very weekend, I gave my life to Jesus… truly believing and embracing the belief that “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)
… Whereas my heroes before knowing Christ were Hitchens, Dawkins, and Russell etc… Now my heroes are…
David, who uplifts my soul through his literary prowess in the Psalms.
Solomon, who reminds me that all else aside from God is vanity through Ecclesiastes.
Paul, who inspires my walk in Christ through his tenacity and passion for the Kingdom, as outlined in Acts and the Epistles.
And beyond these men… Jesus Christ, who loves me more than I could ever comprehend, and who saved me, despite the damnation that I deserve… who is the bread of life, and who provides the breath of life.
… and He loves you too, as well as the neighbor next to you, and every single person all over the world who is created “in his own image” (Genesis 1:27).
It is Friday: June 18th, 2021. I am writing and finishing this testimony for submission to Grace Baptist Church in Singapore, praying and hoping that those who read this can see God’s glory and Jesus’ abundant grace in my life.
A lot has happened since my dad died.
With the assistance of my American relatives, I went to Canada and the United States for school, and by the Lord’s sovereign blessing, has excelled academically and graduated with First Class Honors from UCLA—something I would never have expected to occur. Hallelujah.
I have been sponsored to travel to Israel and Palestine four times during the same season in the past couple of years—walking in the places that Jesus walked (Bethlehem, Galilee, and Jerusalem) and soaking things all in… truly a blessing indeed. Hallelujah.
And above all, my mother has come to Christ. Hallelujah.
Effectively, God has blessed me in ways I could not have imagined. He has also transformed the deep sorrow and anguish in my heart to one of great hope and joy, especially with my mom’s conversion…
As stated in Revelation 21:4: “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”
Through the past couple of years of walking with the Lord—a little over half a decade—He has taught me a lot and continued to prune me as well. During my time in America, He has revealed to me the many broken aspects of myself. Among them, He has revealed to me my unhealthy distaste for Singapore… Perhaps due to the many broken memories I had here, I had grown to dislike Singapore intensely… But in the final years of my time in America, and since returning to Singapore, He has cultivated my heart and helped me to remember that Singaporeans are just as in need of love and grace, and of Christ, as any other people group.
Since returning, I have spent a lot of time with the Hamiltons (Thomas and Julie) as well as the Sungs (Andrew and Esther): from spending time with them, I have learned to love Singaporeans more and more. Every week, I head out with them to share the joy of the gospel. Through interactions with strangers from all walks of life, I have developed a deep affection for the vibrancy of Singaporean culture and its people: my culture and my people.
I know not how long I will be in Singapore or how many days I have left in my life on earth, but I am grateful and glad for the many blessings I have received and the many blessings I possess here.
My favorite verse by far has got to be Philippians 1:21:
“For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”
Although the verse is really short and really simple, it reminds me of my true priority every day: to love God, to love Jesus, to love people, and to spread the gospel.
It also reminds me of how much a gift it is to be able to breathe: for as long as I breathe, I am granted the opportunity to be used by Him and work with Him to love people and spread the gospel.
Above all, I am so thankful for Fridays… I am so thankful for the Father’s love.
In His love for us, Christ died on the cross on a Friday, and rendered victory for us over death two days later, on a Sunday…
Today is a Friday:
It is the day where my Bible study group meets and I get to spend time in joyous fellowship with my friends and my family in the Kingdom.
It is also the day that marks the beginning of the weekend—a time of rest, a time of Sabbath, and a time where I get to wait in hopeful and excited anticipation for Sunday, when the body of Christ meets.
It is Friday.
Thank God it’s Friday.