Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Pace and Patience: A conversation between Bob and Renita

Hi. Being here has meant much more frequent and steady communicating between Renita and me. We always have viewed communication as a pillar of our relationship, but I think we are talking and listening now more than ever. The enormous change in our lives makes it absolutely essential. Here is a somewhat reconstructed but typical conversation between us about what we are learning.

Renita: I remember once being wisely advised not to pray for patience. The danger being that praying for patience means being tried over an extended period of time. So I have stayed away from that prayer. It has dawned on me recently however, as we complete our first month here in Liberia, that I did ask several of the folks back home to pray that I would adjust to the slower lifestyle here. I remember stating that, in my typical desire to be busy and get things done, I feared I would find a way to make the slower pace of my life in Africa speed up.

Bob: I remember that too. And I see the tension it produces in you. You are being tried.

Yes, that particular prayer request is being answered, much to my chagrin. I have not been able to speed up the slower pace of life; I have realized that Liberia won’t be sped up.

Bob: Nicely put. Accomplishing single tasks take much more time than in the US. Three hours just to withdraw money at the bank! C’mon! I’ve always heard that the African pace of life is slower, but I could not get a handle on that in previous visits. Now, honestly, I think from my American perspective I’d say African life is less efficient. And as I say this I realize that efficiency itself is a product of privilege and access.

Our daily morning chit-chat over coffee and tea.
Renita: Whatever it is, inefficiency or pace, it has impacted me spiritually. Even the basic tasks of living at home won’t be sped up, at least not on our budget. As I do various home chores, I find myself grumbling about whether this is an effective use of my time…sweeping out the continual flow of sand that seems to rain in our house, doing endless chores relating to water, starting coal pots, in which the simple process of boiling water can take close to an hour. And I think about how the just the job of living is time consuming here. Not something I had to think about in the US. Is this what God has called me to? Is this how He wants me to spend my time? I want action. I want to report to our supporters the good work being done here. I want to see God in action through us, in the lives of Liberians. And, of course, I want to see it now. But when I stop and think that with all the modern efficiencies in the US, was I that much freer to be a better person, to use my time the way He would desire? So many people, including ourselves, complain about busyness in the US, with all the modern conveniences to make life easier.

Bob: As I listen to you I know we both know the answer. He has never called us to accomplish tasks or reach a certain level of efficiency, but to “make the most of our time, because the days are evil,” and to seek a certain kind of relationship with Him in the midst of that. And from that perspective, we work on our earthly task here: to simply be good neighbors. To love others as Christ loves us. Where inefficiency hinders productivity, love clears the way with patience and grace. Where ease of access and the luxury of privilege create a false sense of self importance and privilege, love demands justice and humility before others.

In the stress and busyness of the last few months, I have felt myself simply in quiet companionship with God. I am beginning to have the energy to ‘draw near to God’ once again, and look forward to Him drawing near to me, to continue a more active relationship. As this happens, I quickly feel reminded of the analogies between the work for clean water here, and the promise in John 4:14: “but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” (I also can relate better to the Samaritan woman who responds by saying, “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming to draw water”J).

Man can I relate to that lady now! Seriously though, I think just recently I am giving myself permission to slow down and meet African life on its own terms. And that’s hard for a guy like me who wants what he wants when he wants it. It means more time with conversations that we would have never had before, like with Mason last night or with the neighbor kids every day. Maybe He wants us to be ok with doing less and being more, as in doing fewer things in one day and being peace whenever we can.

Renita: Our wedding verse comes to mind, ‘Be still and know that I am God’ (Psalm 46:10)

Bob: What an odd coincidence.

Renita: Shush. And so, as I struggle with a lack of American-style productivity, I begin to realize that I am exactly where God wants me to be – learning to be satisfied with Him and myself as I do simple tasks; and taking the opportunity while performing these tasks to be still, drinking from this Well, replenishing my thirst in Him.

I don’t know what I have to offer Liberia or Liberians. I truly don’t. But I’m beginning to catch a glimpse of what Liberia has to offer me.

Bob: Couldn’t have said it better my self, m’dear. Now, when do we eat?