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God first, then everything else – managing time and priorities

Jennifer Tan Hooi Peng is a 54-year-old Catholic who found her way back to the Church eight years ago. She lives in Penang with her husband and two children but currently she is in Ipoh with her elderly family members in this Covid-19 lockdown. She shares her journey back to the Lord in a series of articles. Her earlier articles are listed below.

By Jennifer Tan 
DEC 9, 2021

A gospel passage that I read sometime in 2016 left me puzzled. The reading said we had to choose between Christ and the secular world. I could not understand why as I wanted to have both. For more than three months, I tried to do both. I held on to a job that required me to travel extensively and at the same time I tried to spend time with my family, do house chores and my daily prayers, join the choir and learn new hymns. I also took part in the Little Rock of Scripture Studies, CCR Praise and Worship, spiritual seminars and attend daily masses, whenever I was back home. At the end, I admitted defeat. The answer was actually very simple – time. There was only 24 hours within a day. Thus, we must choose and prioritize Christ by giving up some activities to secure worldly possessions. 

The Trial

Christ allowed me to go through a trial period in the last quarter of 2016 when I tried holding onto the best of both worlds. He knew I was obstinate and would not give up until I learnt from this purification or training.

I had worked for 11 years as a food safety auditor in the Asia Pacific region. Being a low-risk taker and slow learner, I spent huge amounts of time checking my travel schedules, hotels, studying and preparing work, confirming with clients before and during travels since most work was international, and any mistake would be disastrous. With greatest effort, there were hardly any errors during the first 11 years.

During the trial period, my mind became highly distracted as I was doing too many things simultaneously. I would pray daily, complete homework for Little Rock Scriptures Studies, learn new hymns for the choir, do assigned work for CCR, organise a small group of us with a spiritual director to pray over the sick in addition to my work. All this while queuing at the airport, waiting for transportation to and from factories, on board flights, in transit, etc. The number of mistakes I made were horrendous in such a short time frame. In each case, our Good Lord protected, corrected, and helped me to recover. Thank you so much, Jesus!

Here were some of my major mistakes in the span of around three months:
– I had left my handbag with money, passport, identity card, mobile phone, credit cards, etc, in the Blessed Sacrament Room in my parish, in a coffee shop not far from church, and in the toilets of two different airports.
– I left behind my hand carry luggage with company laptop in a queue in the airport after check-in. My laptop is my OFFICE, highly essential for email and works since I only work from home. Our laptops are couriered to use from our US office and they have been installed with custom-made databases and applications.
– I left a lot of money at the ATM machine in a bank where I had withdrawn money although I remembered to take ATM card.
– In my first trip to East Malaysia transiting through KLIA2 airport, I misread my itinerary. I was late for an afternoon transit flight by 1.5 hours which should have departed. At that time, I did not know that on board the same flight were several corporate people who had joined to observe the audit session that I was scheduled to conduct at their co-manufacturer. Had I missed the flight, I would have likely been dismissed from work.

In cases where I had accidentally left behind bags, I miraculously found them much later exactly where I had left them, whether it was in Malaysia or overseas. As for the time I left the ATM without taking my money, the cash was swallowed up by the machine because it was left unclaimed for some time. Surprisingly, there was no other person using the ATM after me. When I went to the bank, the officer made an application and returned all monies to my account after investigation and verification. For the late flight, when I ran to the boarding gate, the door had closed. I knocked on the door and an airline staff asking if I were “Ms. XXX” and told me to run to the plane, as it had a delayed arrival and the plane door was about to close, Yes, I was the last to board. Budget airlines such as Air Asia flights normally do not wait for late passengers. Thank you, Jesus for clearing my mess! Praise the Lord! I came to realise that if we truly wanted Jesus, we must give up other things in our world with lack of time to fit in everything.

The Test

Christ paved the way for me to make changes when my organisation changed my staff employment status from full-time to part-time at the end of Nov 2016. Part-timers were allowed to work for the company and competitors, provided there was no conflict of interest. Now I was left with the choice of continuing or seeking new full-time employment. My superiors warned me that I could be without permanent work and if I remained as as part-time staff there would be a drastic pay cut. However, changing to a new full-time job would mean time away from God as it is never easy to relearn and adjust.

I chose to follow my heart and continue working part-time with a major pay cut although my mind objected strongly as I am the sole income earner for my family. In 2017 and 2018, I asked my company of the possibility of being reinstated to a full-time staff on my previous salary. That never happened, of course. My superior did warn me that there was every likelihood that the working hours would be minimal. As it turned out, I was given about 30 days of annual work for whole of 2017 and the same in 2018. But at the end of that year, things changed when much more work was assigned to me. (I will share more about this and how Jesus provided for my family for the two years in another article.) Thank you, Jesus! Praise the Lord!

The Choice

After mid-2019, Christ once again tested me when I was offered to return to full-time employment with a very good stable monthly salary and in a higher regional role which would have more than doubled my inconsistent part-time income. However, my love, faith and trust had slowly grown for God since 2017. Both my heart and mind were at peace when I turned down this position. I had to meet the Hong Kong-based general manager in a work trip to China in Oct 2019 to discuss why I was not accepting the post. It was not difficult explaining to him as he too was a Catholic and saw that my priorities in life had changed.

I was very sure of my decision despite his coaxing and the perks presented to me. I had finally chosen God over financial security by breaking this strong bondage that I held for a very, very long time. This time, there was no doubt over my choice unlike earlier in 2017 and 2018. Thank you, Jesus!

Christ could have returned me to full-time work earlier and I would have jumped at the offer, but He did not. Jesus gave me time to grow and mature in my faith until I was more prepared, six-and-a-half years after returning to Him after being away 29 years. The timing was just as He had planned. Thank you, my Lord, and my God! How great You truly are!

More articles by Jennifer Tan:
Being away from Christ was the greatest mistake of my life – the story of Jennifer Tan
Tears would roll down my cheeks each time I receive Holy Communion
‘Our return to Christ as husband and wife happened just as how God told me’
Discovering Christ through prayer
‘How I used the Rosary and Divine Mercy Chaplet to Intercede for others’
Why my husband and I were drawn to attend daily masses
Jesus cleansed and healed me at the confessional
Praising Jesus through words, actions and thoughts