At the beginning of the year, I had high hopes that 2020 would be my year of more optimism and adventures. I also had hopes that I’d be able to get more dough, land a stable job (in the office) and get a boyfriend. But, the radical shifts that were suddenly introduced shook up my life.
Thanks to Miss Rona, I had to work from home, abandon grand travel plans and celebrate a quarantine birthday. Though the effects sounded negative, the most surprising things always came out to be more positive than I expected. I became more active in doing household chores, got creative, sewn face masks out of fabric scraps for charity, set deadlines, continuously kept in touch with the friends I truly connected with, spent more time with my parents and reached out to cousins I haven’t talked to in AGES. While I appreciate the special moments from creating magical memories whenever I was outside, I realized that when I went out on a near daily basis, it has made me become selfish, irresponsible and lazy. By being plugged into my phone, I also realized that the majority of the time I spent was mainly for the ‘gram, getting money on Vestiaire Collective, WhatsApps, e-mails and/or dating apps. I wasn’t aware that I sought SO much validation by burning my energy on it until I saw my screen time. But if there was one thing that continuously lifted me up on the bad days and taught me gratitude for the good days, it was my faith.
Raised as a Baptist at 8-years-old, my relationship with God wasn’t always the strongest. Getting to know my spirituality felt so foreign to me as I was told to go to Sunday school and youth classes, which I heavily disliked because of being around other kids (except for my best friend). I only read Bible stories for the sake of pleasure during my childhood. Instead of meditating on the Bible, I used free time to read Perez Hilton as the way, the truth and the life to escape the reality of being a socially awkward misfit in high school. Though I did attend church throughout my teens, I really didn’t feel *that* connected to The Word as I saw church as a weekend ritual with my family.
One day, I met a really cool gal in church when I was in LA. She asked me to hang out with her. Little did I know that God sent in an angel into my life to walk me though faith and humble myself. We’d read the Scriptures at each other’s apartments, have deep conversations about Jesus and hang out for HOURS over coffee, did our homework together, etc. From there, she introduced me to Jessica Tanoesoebibjo, a mutual friend/fellow Biola babe who has a Master’s degree in theology.
Fervently passionate about her faith on her blog, Jess inspired me to be open about keeping in touch with our spirituality since the day we met four to five years ago. Now that we are coping with the world’s weariness over social injustice, a global pandemic, crippled economy and lack of job security, I feel that nothing is more important than wanting to build your faith. Whether you’re a believer or non-believer, you have the freedom to choose what you wish to believe.
Here, we catch up about how faith has uplifted her, what it means to have faith, the struggle to balance faith vs. life, why we shall fear God and how you can encourage your friends to build up on their spirituality.
With so much unrest that’s happening in the world, plus the pandemic, how has your faith uplifted you?
Jessica Tanoesoedibjo: One of the most difficult thing about working in the social sphere is that when the pandemic happened, you hear first-hand about deaths, and deaths, and more deaths. Everything seemed so bleak. The first weeks of the arranging relief projects, I was all the more discouraged by the fact that there were so many people who were trying to take advantage of the situation—people who tried to make the most of others’ desperation for their profits and personal gain. Even with the riots and looting going around in the States — I feel like a lot of people are riding off the backs of this movement that is supposed to speak for the virtuous cause of equality.
But then[,] I realized that this is what my faith teaches about the state of humanity. We are so inwardly curved — our default is to want to seek personal gain. And though this seems like a very pessimistic view about humanity, I love the fact that my faith, too speaks volumes into this bleak reality. Death is the punishment for sin, and all of humanity have sinned. The death rates may make us grieve, but the state of our fallenness extends beyond this global pandemic. In essence, all of us need saving from ourselves—we need God to help us from our self-centeredness.
These months have been bleak, but my faith has really held me. Whenever I am discouraged by the craziness of it all, I am reminded by the simple truth that we all need saving. It helps me from becoming self-righteous and conceited in my relief projects. I am not better than others. We’re all sinners in need of redemption.
What does it mean to have faith?
JT: Many associate “having faith” as simply believing something better is yet to come. But even as we may hope for the best, we must come to terms with the fact that circumstances are ever changing. People, too, change. So how can we have faith? We must have faith in something, or someone, that never changes.
And so for me, having faith is not merely believing that things will get better, but that it has to be tied to that Unchanging One that we have faith in – and for me[,] this is God. God is the only one who never changes, and my mantra through all times would be “He is God, and He is good.” So regardless of whether things will get better, I know that this Good God will always allow all things to happen for my good.
Faith has been such a big part of your brand and I like that you’ve been so open about it. What made you want to share it on a public platform? Were there moments when you felt hesitant to do it?
JT: Oh man, there has been countless times that I’d hesitate sharing my faith so openly. Cause I feel like, people always have a certain stigma towards those who are “religious”. But again and again, I am reminded that my faith is really foundational to who I am. If I can’t share about something that important to me, then I am a hypocrite, a fake. I know not everyone will agree to what I have to say. But being publicly open about my faith allows open discussions with others—which I love. And it also allows others to hold me accountable for the way I live my life. That I must, too, “practice what I preach”.
For those who are open to coming back to their spiritual roots, what is some advice you have for them?
JT: I think, go for it. Ask questions. It’s okay to be critical. It’s also okay to not have everything figured out. It’s okay to take your time. And it’s okay to not believe. Faith is not something we can force on ourselves, or on others.
Dig through the Holy Book, the history (but also don’t take everything you read online as truth), find people you can have discussions with. Don’t settle for “blindly” believing. I think what’s worse than being critical about other people’s beliefs, is ignorance — not knowing what you yourself believe.
Prayer has been such a huge part of our life, but I feel that there are times when we tend to slack off on prayer. What are some ways that you maintain the balance between faith and life?
JT: Yeah, for sure. Prayer has had a huge impact on me through all seasons. I do agree with you, though, that we do find ourselves more prayerful at particular times—usually when we are faced with tough seasons. For me, what has helped is keeping a prayer journal. I don’t journal everyday, but journaling helps me keep myself in check through different seasons of my life. It helps me break down my thoughts, express my feelings, but also, reminds me to center my thoughts on God’s Truth. More than simply keeping a diary, a prayer journal helps me live life before God.
Secondly, what I find to also be helpful is to remind myself that prayer isn’t simply when you close your eyes and interlock your fingers — no, our entire lives are prayers unto God, when we live in light of Him. When I am faced with a difficult decision to make at work, I can pray in my heart for God to give me wisdom. When I am terribly upset at a person, I can silently pray for God to give me patience and the grace to respond kindly. At times when I find myself sinning against God (including telling a lie, losing my temper, coveting another person’s possessions), I also have to immediately repent, and pray in my heart for God’s forgiveness.
Lastly, community helps. I don’t think as humans we’re created to live life individually. We were born into families (regardless of whether the family is whole), and although people are often hard to deal with — our differences and friction sharpen and mold each other. I think I am blessed with a wonderful community and they really have helped me balance faith and life.
Sometimes, I forget that I should fear God more than the lack of likes, money, job opportunities, etc. Why do you think that it’s important to be afraid of God and what was the biggest lesson you got out of it?
JT: I can definitely relate! The problem is, with all those things (likes, money, job opportunities), they can change in a split second. If we place our identity and hope in those things then we’re really putting our identity and hope on sinking sand. But[,] fearing God puts all things in perspective. When we fear God: we know that the likes we get, or the influence that we have, is not for our own gain, but so that we can serve God and people.
Hailey Bieber and Miley Cyrus had this conversation about their relationship with God on Bright Minded. Hailey said: “I think there’s a difference between being raised in church and then being an adult and having your own relationship with God.” Do you agree?
JT: Definitely! I grew up at church, and was heavily religious. But I didn’t love God, nor had love for other people in my heart. I was simply wanting to perform, please my parents, and not go to hell.But[,] having a relationship with God as an adult is not like that at all. Yes, I still go to church. And yes, I still consider myself religious (I love reading Christian books, listening to Christian music, etc.) but honestly, it’s no longer because I wanted to perform, please my parents, or even out of a fear of hell. It’s simply out of an overwhelming sense of being loved by God, that I just can’t help but give my life to Him.
I’ve been beginning to realize that whenever I bring up God, it’s a set of mixed responses. Some have been positive and some have been negative or skeptical. What were your experiences like when you brought up God?
JT: Oh for sure. I feel like it’s easy for me to bring up God, in a setting that I feel safe in. But when I am unsure about the other person’s stance (whether the person is spiritual or not), I often hesitate to bring up God. But more often than not, for the times I have acted against my hesitation, and spoke honestly about my affections for God, I found others to likewise open up.
People want to talk about God. People want to talk about their faith. Their deep thoughts. Because ultimately, to be human is to desire to be known and to be loved. And so if only we made room to allow others to share with us their personal thoughts and even doubts about God — I think it would make the discussion much more worthwhile and meaningful.
I feel that nowadays, I want to inspire those I love to be more in touch with their spirituality. How can I encourage them without being pushy?
JT: I think the best way you can inspire others to be more in touch with their spirituality is to be honest with yours. We can never force anyone to be spiritual, nor to reason with someone into spirituality — I don’t think it works that way. But we can share with others our lives and how our spirituality means to us.
But opening up our lives to others might not be the easiest, nor the most comfortable thing to do. It takes up a lot of our time, our effort, and our affections. I am naturally an introvert, but I know that if I really believe in the claims of Christianity — I must live according to my belief. Otherwise, I am a hypocrite. And living in accordance to my faith means that I must lay down my life to love others, to serve others, to let others in.
DISCLAIMER: You don’t have to be a Christian to read this as the responses in this interview are meant to target people who are spiritual and include other non-Christian faiths.