Family, Relationships, School

“I left church and looked for love in all the wrong places”

By Nathanael Chong Yi , 10 June 2024

To an outsider, I led an enviable life that was smooth-sailing.

When I was growing up, my parents took my younger brother and me to church every Sunday. They told me that God is good, and He provides for the family, and we prayed together every night.

But the reality was different. I felt that my parents did not walk the talk at home, and that distorted my view of God. 

Nathanael Chong Yi

With my younger brother (left).

God felt unreal, even fake.

To compound matters, my dad disciplined me harshly.

While I admit I was a naughty and rebellious kid, I felt I was punished beyond reasonable limits when I didn’t do my homework, was late for class or talked back to my teachers.

I also was punished for breaking curfew and not informing my parents about my whereabouts.

Nathanael Chong Yi

Around the age of nine.

How I was treated made me hate my family. I avoided them by spending as little time as possible at home.

I didn’t feel that my parents loved me and felt very detached from them.

That propelled me into looking for love and acceptance in the wrong places during my adolescent years.

Spiralling downwards

Like many second generation Christians, I spent my growing-up years trying to understand this “Jesus” that my parents always talked about. 

But when I was 16 years old, I started a lifestyle of excessive clubbing, drinking and smoking.

Around that time, I left church due to some internal conflict. 

I also entered into a series of romantic relationships with non-Christians. 

Being emotionally immature and unable to handle arguments, I turned to substances to cope with the anger and stress.

I grappled with the principle of why we should not date someone not of the same faith. 

However, I felt sure that I could convert them one day by showing them the love of Christ.

Little did I know that being in these relationships pulled me further and further away from church and my faith. 

For instance, we did many things to hurt one another. Being emotionally immature and unable to handle arguments, I turned to substances to cope with the anger and stress.

Together with friends, I frequented drinking bars and finished two to three boxes of cigarettes a night, all along the streets of Geylang.

I was so devoid of love, my spirit was crying out for something more, something to satisfy my soul.

The ending of one relationship hit me hard. I had big plans with my then-girlfriend, including buying a home through the Build-To-Order scheme. But when they did not pan out as I had imagined, my life spiralled out of control.

Panic attacks in NS

I experienced many panic attacks during my National Service (NS) stint in late 2021.

Once, in front of my platoon, I broke down in tears and gasped for air as we were moving to the cookhouse for breakfast.

Life just seemed so dark. 

In front of my platoon, I broke down in tears and gasped for air as we were moving to the cookhouse for breakfast.

However, during one of my quiet times with God, I heard Him say audibly: “If you call me your first love, why haven’t you been treating Me like one?”

I started sobbing uncontrollably because it finally dawned on me that I had been searching for love in all the wrong places, and human love just could not satisfy me.

My Maker was waiting for me to come back into His arms.

That shift made me realise that God is sweeter and better than anyone or anything the world has to offer me, and started making decisions and life choices that were God-centred.

The first step towards rebuilding my relationship with God was going back to church regularly and taking my walk with Him seriously.

I also started going for counselling to address the potential root of the panic attacks. After about eight sessions, they did not return. And I have not experienced one since.

“I am home”

One of the most life-transforming decisions I made was to enrol in a three-month course at Tung Ling Bible School in early 2023.

I was taking a gap year, and wanted to focus on God and learn more about Him. I also wanted to seek His direction for my life, which I believe is to serve church or society full-time.

Bonding with classmates from Bible school over lunch. It was encouraging to see how so many people my age are passionate and zealous about the things of God.

I particularly benefitted from the Father Heart of God session led by Singapore missionary Joseph Chean (he passed away in a traffic accident in Turkey later that year). It aimed to surface and deal with wrong beliefs we had of God the Father that stemmed from the relationship we have with our earthly parents. 

Because of the way I had been harshly punished by my earthly father whenever I did anything wrong, I viewed God as one who dispenses love conditionally. I believed that when I sinned, I would be punished.

It resulted in me feeling shameful whenever I approached God. I felt unworthy and not deserving of His love.

We each prayed for and wrote a message to encourage a fellow classmate at Bible school. During the Father Heart of God module, each of us also had to write a letter of forgiveness to either of our parents or to God.

Through the session, however, it became very clear that God was proud of me despite my shortcomings.

I heard God say clearly to me: “My beloved son, I am proud of you.”

His words touched me deeply. In that awesome moment, God changed my perspective of Him.

This was critical as I used to feel guilty and extremely filthy about my past transgressions.

It was a wonder to be freed from this guilt and to know that God loves me and is proud of me.

I felt that I had come home.

The time at Bible school also put me on the journey of healing the rifts in my family.

Nathanael Chong Yi

Growing up, I led a reasonably good life with my parents and my younger brother. I know one day, my relationship with my parents will be restored fully and joyfully. I continue to trust in God for this miracle.

The Father Heart of God module helped me to realise that the hurts I was carrying were like the layers of an onion. As I saw God’s hand peeling those layers away, I was convinced that He was doing something in my life that I should not shy away from. I needed to forgive my parents and treat them in a more honouring manner.

Does it still hurt? Yes.

Is it going to be a difficult journey toward healing and complete forgiveness? Yes.

Yet I know God is changing my heart to love and forgive them, just like how He loves me and has forgiven me.

I know one day, my relationship with my parents will be restored fully and joyfully. I continue to trust in God for this miracle.

Nothing goes to waste

I am currently studying Social Work at the Singapore University of Social Sciences (SUSS), and am a cell-leader in the youth ministry at my church. 

My goal is to help give a voice to the voiceless, especially among the youth-at-risk in Singapore.

Nathanael Chong Yi

I am currently studying social work and my goal is to help give a voice to the voiceless in Singapore.

Having once leaned on unhealthy coping mechanisms, I empathise with the struggles of youth and want to champion their cause, bring understanding, and help them find their way to a better life.

I do not want to be a social justice warrior of my generation who does not walk the talk.

Nathanael Chong Yi

Befriending a brother (face obscured) during my internship with an organisation that seeks to bring hope, help and healing to a particular community.

I want to be part of a generation of people to ignite a spark and bring hope and positive transformation to many.

Whatever my future holds, I know my heavenly Father’s love is everlasting. 

I want to be totally obedient to my loving heavenly Father. My response to Him will be nothing less than “Here am I, send me” when He confirms how He wants me to serve Him.

Part of this story first appeared in Polished Shaft, the publication of Tung Ling Bible School. It has been adapted with permission.

If you would like to know more about Jesus, click here to find a church near you.

Click here to join our Telegram family for more stories like Nathanael’s.


“I hated Christianity even more because it was causing me to lose a friend”

“Church was the last place I wanted to be”

I was wrong about the Christian faith: 3 misconceptions I had as an atheist

Related articles
Tell Me More
Feeling lost in life?
This is default text for notification bar