By Leow Sue Yu
21st March 2020.
That was the day I landed in Singapore, though I was supposed to on 15th June.
In January, I flew to Europe for my university semester-long exchange. Prior to my exchange, I told myself that this was going to be a season of rest and getting closer to God. Before I headed to Europe, I made sure to clear myself of all commitments.
To say I was excited would be an understatement. I was excited about the cold weather, and I was thrilled to explore Europe. I really thought it would be an experience of a lifetime. And what an experience it truly was.
However, a week before my flight, my heart grew increasingly anxious. My excitement evolved into fears. I was afraid of racism, of pickpockets, of so many things. The two weeks after landing in London did not get any better. My body could not get used to the cold and the time difference. The lack of sun and constant wet weather severely affected my mood as well.
I remember praying and asking God, “Why am I feeling this way? I thought this was supposed to be a life-changing experience!”
Heavy emotions followed me as I travelled around Europe. I did not have the desire to get to know God. In fact, I was angry at Him that I was not enjoying my exchange as much as I wanted to. Ridiculous, right?
In the middle of March, I finally started to settle down. I was not travelling around Europe. Instead, I spent more time in my exchange city, Cardiff.
I’d gotten used to the weather and the lifestyle, and started feeling encouraged again. I’d felt awful about being angry at God for my own emotions and hence, was more purposeful and intentional about my relationship with Him.
All of these were, of course, happening against the backdrop of the Covid-19 situation. Feelings of encouragement and purpose were often mixed and interrupted with apprehension about the worsening pandemic. Every morning, I woke up to news about the increasing Covid-19 cases in the UK. One evening, I saw that a friend, who was in Spain for his exchange, got recalled as well. In the same evening, I found out a group of friends who were in Germany were already on their flight back to Singapore.
When I spoke to a friend who got recalled, he warned me, saying that he believes we would all get recalled back.
It was an awful rollercoaster ride but all I could do was just wait.
On Sunday, 15th March, I woke up to a press release from MOE. It was the letter I was dreading: the official recall of all overseas students. My heart was flooded with mixed emotions. I felt relieved as the UK had a surge of Covid-19 cases and I no longer felt safe. But I also felt immense sadness as I was forced to leave this beautiful continent. I remember even asking God, “Did You not want me to get closer to you? Did You not want me to rest? Why are You doing this just as I started settling down in this foreign land?”
That day, my friends and I went to our evening church service. It would be our last. How amazing it was when we found out the sermon was about God’s faithfulness and how He would be with us through all our trials. My friends and I shed silent tears. Nobody else in the congregation knew what we were going through, but God did. He knew. He understood. He comforted us.
I’d still felt anxious every now and then but after that service, the storms in my heart were stilled.
Three months worth of anxiety and fears and a build-up of all negative emotions were comforted by God.
While forced to remain at home during subsequent months, I started reflecting on my exchange experience. I realised how negative and ungrateful I was throughout the entire process. I didn’t trust or remember that God would provide. I forgot that at the end of the day, God is love. He would never do anything to harm me. My feelings of anxiety and fear, while completely understandable and valid, were not followed up with reflections on how faithful God is.
Upon realising that, it seemed essential that I intentionally adopted a spirit of thanksgiving.
What is a spirit of thanksgiving?
I suppose everyone has a different definition. For me, it is not about denying or avoiding the bad, but about being hopeful despite the bad. It is choosing to focus on the good in your life. That’s different from thinking “At least xxx did not happen to me,” which still focuses on the bad!
I started counting my blessings.
I am thankful to even have had the opportunity to be overseas.
I am thankful that despite the chaos, I encountered lovely flight attendants and people working in customer service.
I am thankful that I managed to land in Singapore safely.
There were so many things to be thankful for, but I did not realise it until I chose to be intentional. In fact, I realised that God’s love and faithfulness were present in every single moment. I just did not see it until I adopted a spirit of thanksgiving.
When I had video calls with my friends, we often talked about my exchange, getting recalled back, and the Covid-19 situation in general. Even then, I was intentional about sharing the good as well.
Having this spirit of thanksgiving doesn’t mean that I don’t feel sad or frustrated anymore. Sometimes, I still feel sad that my plans were ruined. But rather than sitting in a pit of overwhelming negativity and self-pity, I wanted to remember God’s faithfulness in my life.
Adopting a spirit of thanksgiving is a conscious decision that can be hard, especially when the going gets tough. But it comforted my soul tremendously. I hope that by reading this article, you too can experience the amazing shift when you adopt a heart posture of gratitude.
And so while we’re on the topic of thanksgiving...
Today, I am thankful that you read this article to the end.
What about you?