To the Chinese brothers and sisters in our Methodist Family, blessed Lunar New Year!
Food is often at the centre of our celebrations, and many of us know the value of food hospitality. We will go to great lengths to make sure our guests and family members are well-fed, and take great delight in their enjoyment of what we have prepared! In many families, food can even be considered a primary love language, sometimes even helping us “say” what we find hard to convey in words.
As we prepare our homes for the coming family celebrations, it may be good to also ask the Father what else He might want us to do to be bless our loved ones. Here are three ideas.
1. Better culture
The culture of our families is made up of all our values and practices. I have heard many young people complain about how boring visitations can be. After eating all the snacks and getting their angpaos, they find themselves just staring at their phones until the visit is over. Other times, the TV is on, and everyone is half-watching a holiday movie or some grand variety show. Still others may be playing something, be it mahjong or a PS5. How many of us still have separate “adults” and “kids” tables?
Usually, no one knows how these things became the norm. But what if these “default practices” were up for us to change? What if all it took was for someone to be more intentional?
We can be the one to suggest new things that promote interaction. Play Heads Up! (a mobile-device-based charades game) with them! Bring a board/card game (like Sequence, Singaporean Dream or even UNO!) that can bring generations together. Pull some family members to help out in the kitchen and peel oranges for everyone. Take a walk to the neighbourhood store with the kids to buy ice creams or go to the playground.
Be that Uncle or Aunt they remember as the “generous one”, who really cared about them. Perhaps what you do this year will contribute to the new culture your extended family is going to have for years to come!
2. Better conversations
One of the most important elements of our family culture is how we talk to one another. A good conversation is a combination of good listening and thoughtful responses, and it is how we engage and value people.
I was once asked, “So when is it your turn?” in reference to a relative who got married that year. I must have been in my late twenties or early thirties then, and had spent the last season learning to be happily and healthily single. While the question was not asked with malice, I must admit I was not amused. I cheekily wondered what would happen if I asked that older relative the same question the next time we met at a funeral.
Funny (and inappropriate) as that thought was, I am keenly aware that good conversations do not happen by accident. Casual conversations that do not start with sensitivity and tact can often begin with careless observations about a person’s weight, grooming, dressing, singleness or presenting energy level for the day. Though well-meaning, these statements can be jarring, even hurtful. We certainly can hope for better.
I have also noticed many conversations revolve around our complaints (“wah the restrictions nowadays ah”) and our fantastic or funny stories (“wah do you know what I saw that day?”). We might even unknowingly retell the same stories year after year.
While all this can be fun and informative, they rarely help us to show care, or know one another better. Can we listen better and be more thoughtful in our responses? Here are some pointers that may help.
a. It is up to us to make a difference if we seize it
I am old enough to know you may not see everyone again next year. Some might drift away, others may move away and still others may pass away. We will never regret making the most of every opportunity to be wise (Eph 5:15–16), to show love, and build that deeper connection with our loved ones.
b. Move from information to knowing
Start with specific questions about something someone does (job, CCA, course of study) and more towards why (Interest? Passion? Obligation?) and how they are experiencing it (Fun? Tedious?). These are breadcrumbs for us to follow, with the goal of finding out not what this person does, but who this person is.
c. Beware of conversation stoppers
To the younger ones
Do not be afraid to engage an older person! You would be surprised how willing they are to find out more about you! Be a master at asking good questions that let them talk about their areas of expertise, and ask follow up questions to ask them to explain even technical or complicated things in layman’s language. Don’t forget one of the most powerful tools you have, which is to ask, “When you were my age, did you ever…?” Be bold to ask them questions not only about what they did, but what they learnt from those experiences.
To the older ones
Most young people are open to talking to older people. What they dread is to be made a captive audience of your stories or a student of your lectures. Because our culture tends to defer to age, it takes double the effort and self-awareness for older people not to jump in with their opinions, or stories, or make general statements about younger people. If you can really listen, make a young person feel what they say matters and ask them insightful questions about what they share, chances are you might even learn something—or better, be given the privilege to hear the heart of this precious young person.
d. Aim for a genuine heart connection
It is amazing what a little vulnerability can do to spark a deeper conversation. We share not only our victories, but also struggles, and give others permission to be real too. Our hearts can really connect, and we can show care, and even pray for one another.
I have personally seen how good conversations that can “add up” even if we are meeting only once a year. Our intentionality, openness to the Spirit’s leading and skill in conversations can even result in a life changed (Jn 4). So, let’s get ready for better conversations!
3. Better channels of God’s love
Some of you who have read thus far might be wondering: “My family is broken. We are not even on talking terms. How can we aim for anything like this?” Maybe these holidays are actually the hardest days of the year, and a constant reminder of the hole in your hearts. I have talked to people who are from the “black sheep” of the family, shunned and not invited to any family gatherings. I have seen conflicts over money or careless words and actions last for decades.
I am reminded in these moments, that our Heavenly Father is close to the broken-hearted (Ps 34:18). He is one who is the Father to the fatherless, and the one who sets the lonely in families (Ps 68:5–6). He is also the God of all comfort (2 Cor 1:3–4), and the comfort we receive from Him in all our troubles can also be used to comfort others.
Maybe one other way we can make Lunar New Year better is to make it better for someone else. Someone who is painfully aware that—this year, this season, this holiday—is not one they particularly feel like celebrating. For them, a text, a phone call or a visit can help us become the blessing that God wants to bring them.
As believers, our mandate goes beyond comfort and celebration, and certainly beyond Lunar New Year. For some of us, meeting cousins outside of family gatherings will be a big step. For others, being a peacemaker, or an intercessor for your family might be the hardest thing, but the most needed thing.
In this year, my own extended family experienced both the devastation of a lost loved one, as well as the tear-filled reunion of relatives who have not seen each other for decades. As the blaring speakers at our supermarkets welcome the arrival of the god of wealth, may we play our part in welcoming the God who still does miracles, still heals relationships and brings both comfort and celebration into our homes this year.
Ps Ian Wong is the Youth & Young Adult Pastor at Kum Yan Methodist Church, where he’s been serving full time for the last 19 years. He and his wife Eeleen have been married for 11 years, and they are parents to four wonderful daughters aged one to nine. He is passionate about music and worship, and loves building community, investing in relationships and seeing people grow in freedom and purposeful living. / Photo courtesy of Ps Ian Wong