Don’t Limit God: Melanie Lee
The first story I thought I would tell is mine. But oh, where are my manners?
Why am I doing this? Well, because I feel that creativity is often treated with disdain in many churches, and it is something that is meant to be limited/contained/reduced/exclusively for Easter or Christmas musicals. There’s this notion that “creative people” will have a harder time cutting it out as a “good” Christian. Such notions have alienated many creatively-inclined people from God. I have seen many leave church, or worse, become actively hostile towards Christianity because of how they had been harshly rebuked, or shunned from the church they grew up in.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. God has given us all unique gifts and personalities whether in the arts or any other field.
For me, writing has always been my most comfortable mode of communication. I would create my own fairytales for fun, and had many pen pals, averaging perhaps 3–5 letters per week. The closest Sunday School teacher I had was the one when I was 13. She gave me a blank notebook and told me to write letters to God. She would read the entries every few weeks or so, where she would share a few thoughts on how God has been real to her in her life as well.
However, most of my teen and young adult memories in church involved people always telling me to “speak up and share more”, “to get out of my comfort zone”. At various points in my life, I have been a discipleship leader, a worship leader, and a children’s ministry leader. I was terrible with complex administration and keeping track of intricate church protocol. But I appreciated the fellowship with people of different ages and learning more about their life stories (when I was not wishing I was a snail who could hole up in a shell). I cannot say that these were bad experiences, for I learned new skills, made wonderful friends, and even had fun sometimes. But there was always such a strong sense of discomfort, which I interpreted as disobedience to God and I felt terribly guilty about it.
It didn’t help that as a teenager and young adult, I also began to probe deeper into sermons and doctrines, and asked questions. This was usually not received well. I was told that I was overthinking and was questioned on my motives for asking such “dark and complicated” questions.
At some point in my early 20s, I felt emotionally drained out by confusion and misgivings I had about being a Christian and serving in church. A Catholic friend suggested that I go for a guided silent retreat. She told me it was like church camp but I wouldn’t have to socialise, which sounded perfect at that point in time. It was during those few days that I began reading the Bible for long hours and writing letters to God again.
Subsequently, I would go back for these guided silent retreats every time I felt I was drifting away from God or needed to make important life decisions. It was during one of these retreats that I decided to pursue writing as a career and that is why I am now a freelance writer and part-time writing lecturer. It was in another of these retreats that while writing in my journal, I felt prompted by God to write a book on silent retreats, and this led to the co-authoring the book Quiet Journeys: Finding Still in Chaos (published by Armour Publishing) with my spiritual director, Sister Elizabeth Lim.
The realisation that writing can be a way to serve God and/or help others has been a huge relief for me. Before this, I was fixated on this idea that my love for writing had to be kept separate from my love for God. But there are wonderful Christian writers such as C.S. Lewis, Philip Yancey and Henri Nouwen who have touched the lives of many. I don’t profess to write as well as them, but it is pretty clear where my inclinations lie. I had been trying to fit my square peg into a round hole for so many years when God had actually been offering me square holes all along.
In fact, I believe that God has more than just round holes and square holes — He is our Creator who has woven so much variety into this world. This is why I’ve decided to start collecting these stories. It’s a reminder to myself that God is creative enough to have deeply personal relationships with each of His children no matter how we are wired.