Can we find a remedy to this condition that has plagued modern Singaporeans and spiritual forefathers?

Eliza Tan

Be reminded of His truth daily.

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While clearing my leave at the end of last year, I filled my calendar with appointments to catch up with many friends. Inevitably, most of our conversations turned towards trying or looking forward to something new and different, such as a job change, education advancement, or a plan to travel in the new year.

Talking about the future always made us happy, because life just seemed too, as all of us agreed—sian.

This well-known Singlish colloquial term is difficult to translate. It conveys a restlessness that arises from boredom, or a sense of resignation because one no longer has any control over events in life. It expresses that stuck-in-a-rut feeling that comes during seasons in life when responsibilities feel wearisome, efforts go underappreciated, and prospects seem limited.

Perhaps the closest English word isennui, which describes a feeling of listlessness and dissatisfaction because of a lack of occupation or excitement.

In ancient Greece, people also coined a word to describe a similar feeling—acedia, or a state of listlessness or torpor.

Sian—More Than Just A Feeling?

For some of us, feeling sian might be just a temporary condition caused by our routine or environment. Our feelings of restlessness and boredom might well be resolved by a search for something new and exciting—a new job, a new hobby, or a new diversion.

As ancient Christian monks have observed, a feeling of listlessness and lethargy, when allowed to fester, can potentially lead to something more significant. 

These monks used the word acedia to describe how we can become numb to God and allow His energy to drain out of us. We could end up not paying attention to His calling to abide in Him. We may no longer rejoice in following God. As restlessness and dissatisfaction continue to breed in our hearts, we may fail to be grateful for the gifts we have received in our lives—including those we love.

The feeling of acedia can also make us neglect the responsibilities that God has put before us, and the people whom He has placed in our lives. Our zeal and spiritual fervour for our service to Him can fade into a lukewarm attitude or apathy to what He has entrusted to us.

A Feeling that Needs a Healing Touch

In the booklet, Walking Free: Overcoming What Keeps Us From Jesus, Our Daily Bread author Winn Collier testifies about how his acedia revealed places where he needed God’s healing touch:

I once endured a long season (over a year) of melancholy that drained my vitality and my hope. I felt useless to my family, to God, to my work. I was also restless, obsessively grasping for distractions. I could not pull myself together; and I despised myself for that. Though it came slowly, healing occurred when I simply became curious about why I felt so empty or so desperate, why I felt so disconnected to God’s kindness and mercy. I began to recognize how hungry I was for God’s love to touch me; and in time this love renewed my hungry heart.

Is this what we need? Do we, too, need a touch of God’s healing from our sian feeling?

Our moments and seasons of dullness and dissatisfaction might be God’s invitation to draw near to Him, to ask for His renewal and refreshment.

Our moments and seasons of dullness and dissatisfaction might be God’s invitation to draw near to Him, to ask for His renewal and refreshment.

As we turn to Him, prayer will direct us to the God of hope who infuses us with joy, hope, and the peace through the Holy Spirit that will replace the hopelessness and powerlessness that we may feel (Romans 15:13). 

We can, as the psalmists did, go to God and openly and honestly express our longing for His joy and satisfaction:

Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.
(Psalm 51:12)

Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love, that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days.
(Psalm 90:14)

Take delight in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart.
(Psalm 37:4)

A Gift of Refreshment

While pondering over the futility of life and the vanity of all kinds of pursuits, King Solomon concluded that true joy can only be found in our Creator. “For without him, who can eat or find enjoyment?” he pointed out in Ecclesiastes 2:25.

As we continue to struggle with the effects of sin in this fallen world, God gives us divine grace that enables us to find joy and satisfaction in our everyday lives. He is always ready to draw us more deeply into the life that He has given us. 

We can ask God to grant us an undivided heart to live wholeheartedly as He has purposed. After all, Jesus came to give us life, and have it to the full (John 10:10). 

For us who are born again, wholehearted living is possible. God’s Spirit who is in us will enable us to fulfil the call of Colossians 3:23 (emphasis added): “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters.”

And as we experience the godly satisfaction that comes from living by the Spirit, we will begin the virtuous circle of rejoicing, remembering, and thanking God for all His gifts in our lives

(1 Thessalonians 5:16–18).

And as we experience the godly satisfaction that comes from living by the Spirit, we will begin the virtuous circle of rejoicing, remembering, and thanking God for all His gifts in our lives

(1 Thessalonians 5:16–18).

Dare to Daydream . . . for God

Feeling sian can seem like an undesired malady, but social scientists have also found that feelings of boredom can sometimes be a catalyst for

creativity and imagination

Have you ever thought about dreaming for God? Have you considered inviting God more deeply into your life, and letting it be filled with His joy and presence?

God is always waiting for us, His children, to go to Him. When life feels sian, we can tell Him about how we feel. We can ask for His joy, and experience the full life that Jesus has promised.

Dear Lord,

You love to give good gifts to Your children, and I praise You for Your generosity and goodness.

You know that I’ve been feeling sian in life.

Forgive me if I’ve neglected what You’ve entrusted to me because of my feelings. 

Forgive me if I’ve replaced thanksgiving with murmurs of dissatisfaction.

Thank You for inviting me to turn to You.

Thank You for the gifts of joy that I may have taken for granted. 

Help me to take time to savour them and remember Your goodness.

Renew my joy in You and Your kingdom matters.

Enable me to live not with half-hearted submission, but with wholehearted love, trust and obedience.

In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Dear Lord,

You love to give good gifts to Your children, and I praise You for Your generosity and goodness.

You know that I’ve been feeling sian in life.

Forgive me if I’ve neglected what You’ve entrusted to me because of my feelings. 

Forgive me if I’ve replaced thanksgiving with murmurs of dissatisfaction.

Thank You for inviting me to turn to You.

Thank You for the gifts of joy that I may have taken for granted. 

Help me to take time to savour them and remember Your goodness.

Renew my joy in You and Your kingdom matters.

Enable me to live not with half-hearted submission, but with wholehearted love, trust and obedience.

In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Dear Lord,

You love to give good gifts to Your children, and I praise You for Your generosity and goodness.

You know that I’ve been feeling sian in life.

Forgive me if I’ve neglected what You’ve entrusted to me because of my feelings. 

Forgive me if I’ve replaced thanksgiving with murmurs of dissatisfaction.

Thank You for inviting me to turn to You.

Thank You for the gifts of joy that I may have taken for granted. 

Help me to take time to savour them and remember Your goodness.

Renew my joy in You and Your kingdom matters.

Enable me to live not with half-hearted submission, but with wholehearted love, trust and obedience.

In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Eliza Tan is known by many names, but her favourite is 'My beloved child'. Though she eats to live rather than lives to eat, she still enjoys her food and wholeheartedly agrees with Ecclesiastes 3:13, "That each of them may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all their toil—this is the gift of God."

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