‘I am a Gatekeeper for My CEO, but God is My Life Gatekeeper’: An Interview with Carol Ling, a Full Time Working Mother and Small Group Leader

Carol Ling wakes up daily with “100 things” on her mind. She manages a household that includes two primary school children with no helper, works full-time as an Executive Assistant to a CEO with a hectic schedule, and has been leading a Small Group for 20 years. In the seventh part of Everyday Christianity: Faith@Work, Carol shares how she balances her family and career while serving in two church ministries. We explore the source of Carol’s strength, who is not only a super mom and colleague but also a ministry leader. Originally from Malaysia, Carol has been worshipping with her family at Wesley for over 20 years.

Tell us your story, Carol.
I grew up in a family of five and became a Christian in lower secondary school. I accepted Christ through Bible study, using the materials from The Navigators led by a youth-adult from Methodist Youth Fellowship (MYF), Wesley Methodist Church in Sitiawan Perak, Malaysia. I served in MYF during my secondary school years and in a Christian fellowship during my university years at the University Science Malaysia.

I am a mother of a boy in primary one and a girl in primary six this year. My husband is truly my better half and much more. He is incredibly supportive of me and takes good care of our children. I have been worshipping at Wesley Methodist Church for 24 years, and my parents and sister also attend the same church. Sometimes, some church members mistake my younger sister for me when she attends church service while I serve at the BeTween service. Attending church together lets us enjoy a family lunch after the Sunday service. Work wise, I am an Executive Assistant to a CEO.

Carol and her family

What is a typical day like for you?
As I like routine and structure, I usually wake up at 6 am or earlier to prepare snacks for my children to take to school. I will then squeeze in time for morning devotion and prayer and try to exercise if I have more time. After a simple breakfast at home, we head to the office in town. During my commute, I listen to worship songs or sermons. Starting the day with a positive dose of the Word of God is important. At the office, I take the opportunity to talk to my colleagues, asking them how they are doing while discussing work matters. I will also go for lunch with my co-workers. Occasionally, a sister from Church might join me for lunch during the weekday, which is a great delight as that is the only time I could meet my friends individually. After office hours, I’ll visit my parents’ place for dinner, unwind, and then head home with my husband and children. I will tidy the kitchen or do laundry while my husband helps the children with homework and revisions. We also discussed the next day’s schedule, such as what the children must do after reaching my mom’s place after school. The children will share their stories from school, and we often have open conversations about their behaviours and speech that need improvement, especially after receiving feedback from my mom. My wise mother believes the parents should discipline the children, not the grandparents. I consciously refrain from switching on my laptop to work or scrolling on my mobile phone, reminding myself I need to sleep because I must get up early the next day.

Tell us about your career journey.
After my university education in Malaysia, I started working in Singapore as an administrator in a local company. I have worked in Singapore for 24 years and have experience in retail, logistics and payroll outsourcing. Now, I work in a non-profit organisation. Five years ago, at the peak of my career, I resigned from my previous job as it was taking a toll on my health and at the expense of my time with my children. I decided to take a pay cut and became a receptionist cum administrative executive in this non-profit organisation. At that time, I often questioned God about why He had led me here and where I was going. But God proved Himself faithful time and again. From the receptionist, I was assigned to be an assistant to our chairman, on top of my responsibility. Then, I progressed to procurement and assisted HR with staff payroll. Currently, I am the Executive Assistant to the CEO. I am also learning HR management from my colleagues and gaining experience in payroll processing and employee engagement. The journey has been exciting, especially since God is the master planner of my life.

What are your responsibilities as an Executive Assistant?
My main responsibility is to be a ‘gatekeeper’ for my CEO. The things my CEO oversees are endless. So, I ensure his calendar is properly planned, and the documents are given to him before the meeting so he will have sufficient time to go through them. I work with both internal and external stakeholders to understand their requirements. I also stand in the gap to ensure all parties are on the same page.

How do you live out kingdom values at the workplace? Can you share examples of how you evangelise to the people around you?  
I always remember God is a God of truth and peace. Therefore, my words must be truthful and always promote peace.  It is said that “it’s always loneliest at the top,” and bosses carry the weight of tough decisions. I often pray for my CEO, asking God to grant him wisdom to make the right decision, and protection. I also listen to my colleagues who share their work struggles. Sometimes, there’s nothing I can do except to pray. The song “People Need the Lord” by Steve Green speaks volumes to me. Recently, my colleague asked me to join her for a 30-minute morning walk before we started work. We’ll talk and share stories, and I realised she is seeking something. The philosophy of life does not lead to salvation, and I shared Jesus with her and what Christianity is. I also brought another colleague to Wesley Methodist Church and invited her to our Small Group meetings. She is now attending a church near her home. I used to be very shy and fearful of telling people about Jesus. Today, I share because people need the Lord, and the love of God compels me to do so.

What are some of the challenges that you face, including finding work-life balance?
Finding a work-life balance with two young kids at home is difficult, so I must intentionally maintain my sanity. I prefer being a working mom as my husband, and I knew I was not cut to be a full-time housewife. In June 2022, I was diagnosed with agoraphobia, a condition where one has an irrational fear of going to very crowded places and leaving one’s home. The stress of working from home, managing home-based learning for my children, preparing meals and looking after the children 24/7 was more than I could handle. I could use only two words to describe the home: noisy and irritating. Gradually, I switched to a state of depression and withdrawal. I was grumpy. I prayed for God’s healing and for Him to set me free from this downward spiral into darkness. I also sought professional help after much encouragement and support from my HR Director who constantly checked in with me. My teammates were understanding too. After a series of counselling sessions, I was discharged at the end of 2022. I also received assurance from God that I was completely healed.

Carol and her husband

How do you take care of your mental wellness now? And how do you deal with stress?
Since the episode, I have been more mindful of my mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being. Now, my husband and I carved out our roles: he helps the children with homework while I handle household chores. We delegate minor tasks and house chores to the children, explaining why they must do them. Because of the anxiety I went through, we all learned the importance of respecting each other’s space at home. This is crucial because even the children need space to play, daydream and do nothing. I will also check my emotions and feelings. I will sleep because stress drains my energy

I will also go to God in prayers, questions, and even complaints whenever I feel stressed. Whenever I am stressed, my prayer is: “God, sometimes I like to wander away, lost and unable to find my way back. Please do not lose sight of me and always lead me back to where I can find You.”And I have started journaling again. Somehow, God will show me how or convict me of my wrongdoings. Sometimes, to de-stress, I will also bake bread. The kneading, the rising of the dough, and the smell of freshly baked bread are fulfilling and a good workout. Another extreme indulgence is binge-watching anime in one sitting, regardless of the hours. I prefer those that contain touches of humour, love, and family that uplift the mood.

Speaking about children, what is your parenting style?
As parents, we are often guilty of telling our daughter, “Don’t waste your time doing nothing”. We say that because we’re concerned about her studies. My Small Group members always reminded me to enjoy the process because the years will pass quickly. Parenting is like a tug of war; no single solution always works. I try to take things in stride by laughing and listening to them more and still discipline them for misbehaviour.  We also try to be more authentic and vulnerable, which resonates with many struggling parents.  Since the COVID-19 pandemic, my family also started family meetings and devotions because we wanted to place God at the centre of our family intentionally. We will have a family devotion with the children on Saturday. We talk about the week – what we are thankful for, what we have done right, what we could do better, what things we have done that are pleasing to God, etc. My organisation implemented a trust-based working model after we returned to the office after Covid-19. This model provides more flexible working hours. However, our working hours are often stretched beyond the regular office hours, requiring discipline on my part to segregate work and family time. I sometimes work from home at night when it is quieter, especially when I need to process payroll. My parents also are a reliable source of support for my family. I’m thankful for my mother who helps to look after the children after school hours. It indeed takes a whole kampung to bring up children. The ‘Rest from Work’ pulpit series gives me a deeper understanding of the Sabbath. “Tiredness does not necessitate our rest; our Creator necessitates our rest” is a great reminder to set my priorities right.

Do you currently serve in any community activities or church ministries?
I have been a Small Group leader for about 20 years. Time no longer matters when God is in charge. Our Small Group started 38 years ago, and I’m the second-generation leader. We meet regularly on the second and fourth Friday of each month, usually at my home, a HDB flat in the Paya Lebar area. My Small Group is my spiritual family; we gather to study the Word of God, and fellowship is a delight. Although I am a Small Group leader, my Small Group belongs to the Lord, the greatest Shepherd of us all. To this day, some core members are still attending my Small Group. They witnessed my wedding, and they have seen my children grow up. and now they are grandparents and retirees themselves. God is good! We take turns leading the study, and everyone contributes in their way. When everyone gives selflessly, the community thrives.

Carol (extreme right, 2nd row) and her Small Group Haig View SG

I also serve at the 9.30 am BeTween ministry. Two years ago, God impressed upon me to serve in the Children’s Ministry (CM), and I volunteered at BeTween because teachers were needed there, and my daughter would attend BeTween. Again, I struggled with God. Would I have time to serve, care for my family and manage my work? However, my husband supported me, and I believe God will provide for and enable those He calls. As a mother of young children, I want to help young children and teenagers grow in the Lord. And I fondly recall the joy I experienced while serving during my youth. I see God at work in them and through them. Serving in BeTween motivates me to pray more for them; God loves them more.

In what ways can you glorify God where you are? 
At work, I do my part and try to remember that I am the testimony of God’s love and strength. I keep a cheerful countenance and positive spirit at work. One of my colleagues recently remarked that she does not understand how I always keep a positive attitude amid uncertainties. Another colleague remarked he does not understand why I’m always happy. Every day, I do my part as God’s vessel in small things like greeting my neighbours in the lifts, garden, and MRT station officers. I make friends with the neighbourhood aunties through morning exercise in the garden beneath my flat.  I once noticed an elderly man who always exercised alone. At first, I tried smiling at him, but he glared at me instead. However, over time, the ice melted. Now, he nods and waves whenever I greet him in the morning. The officer at the MRT station will wish me a good day when I say good morning and goodbye to him.  When you smile at the world, the world smiles back at you.

What are your views towards work and rest? Do you keep a rhythm incorporating regular Sabbath once a week?
It’s hard to observe the Sabbath in this busy world. Busyness is a part of life in Singapore, from young children to grandparents. I wake up daily with 100 things to do on my mind. Committing the desire of my heart and mind to rest in Jesus takes discipline. I love taking a day off from work occasionally on weekdays to rest or simply laze around. I will not let anyone disturb me; I will do nothing. Recently, I have taken more time to be still. I also like to just look at the blue sky (when the weather is not so hot) and admire God’s creations, and I will take my Sunday afternoon nap as I need to make up for the insufficient sleep over the weekdays.

How and where do you find God in the mundane and ordinary?
God speaks to me in different ways, such as in the morning devotions, worship songs, sermons, and the sharing of my Small Group members. One brother always reminds us to “read your Bible”. God also teaches me through my struggles at work. Sometimes, God uses meaningful movies or stories with good values and depict the realities of human relationships and life to speak to me. I like the quote from “Alice Through the Looking Glass”: “I used to think time was a thief. But you give before you take it. Time is a gift. Every minute. Every second”. God reminds me that time is precious, so I must use it wisely.

How have you seen God work in your life so far?
God is always at work in, through and for me. I am a gatekeeper for my CEO, but God is my life gatekeeper. Let me share this incident with you. When I started working as an Executive Assistant to my CEO, I could not get used to his jam-packed schedule. His diary was perpetually full of back-to-back meetings and events to attend. I could not handle his busy schedule or arrange additional meetings. Stressed with the demands, I cried out to God, and He told me, “Wait”. It was difficult to wait because of my impatience, but that was all I could do. He will be with me since He has called me to take on this role. A few days later, I was told that one of the major meetings and a four-hour event were cancelled. I didn’t imagine a large event could be cancelled a week before the date. He is indeed Lord over all things.

Read also: ‘The Crucifixion and Resurrection of Christ are the Ultimate Lessons in Unconditional Love and Forgiveness of Sins’: An Interview with Cheryl Seow, Homemaker; ‘Our Faith Needs to Permeate All Aspects of Life and Work’: An Interview with Aw Choon Hui, Deputy CEO of a Financial Advisory Firm

Everyday Christianity: Faith@Work is an interview series with Wesleyans from diverse age groups and walks of life. In this series, published in conjunction with our Church’s theme for 2024 – Directions 2024: Discipleship in the Workplace , we hope to discover more about the perspectives of Wesleyans in different vocations on how they live out their faith every day, specifically in their workplace, homes, or communities they serve. More than just stories of success in victory, we also want to hear their stories of perseverance that point to the reality that our Father is a living God who is ever present in the mountain peaks and valley lows of our everyday lives. For more on Workplace Conversations, please listen to our podcasts by Rev Raymond Fong at Wesley Podcast • A podcast on Spotify for Podcasters .

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