Monday, September 29, 2014

Got a minute?

Author's note: This post originally appeared on, and is gratefully used with permission.

There’s a saying here in Uganda: “Mzungus”—Westerners—“have watches; Africans have time.”
And it always makes me grin, because it’s so often true. One of my most-loved aspects of Africa remains the stretching, spacious time for relationships. Ancient rhythms of chatting while sorting beans, farming, sweeping, and walking find their modern counterparts even here in the city. My African friends talk about everything, or nothing at all; they joke, and relate lengthy, winding stories. They swap anecdotes over steaming cups of black tea with as many heaps of sugar as they can afford. It’s as if the whole continent expresses love through long, easy conversation.

Slowly, this has wiggled its way into my distinctly American DNA, too. My patience since arriving two and a half years ago has grown with every meandering chat, every friend who stops (often without calling) by my gate. I’ve learned to stop my car to speak with friends on our lane; to walk when I don’t have to drive in order to exchange greetings and snippets of conversation with our community. Their three-or-more part greeting process has become a natural part of my, yes, slightly slower-paced, margin-widened days.

It might sound tedious. And at times, it is. There are definitely a few zigzagging narratives through which I would love to find a convenient shortcut, and more than one rambling conversation has plopped itself in the middle of my mzungu time commitments, when I must resist glancing at my clock, blinking the seconds away.

And yet—it seems this is well-timed for my family and me. When I visited the U.S. recently, I was amazed by how the pace of American life had quickened even in our short span away from the continent—while my own stride had decelerated. I found myself wanting my children to be able to walk in step with American ways whenever God calls them back there…and yet, to carve out generous spaces to feed real, face-to-face relationships uninterrupted by headlines, tweets, status updates, or handheld devices. Personally, no matter in what zip code (or lack thereof) I live, I want to curl my feet beneath me on my back porch, truly listen to a friend, and be listened to. I want to consistently make time for people.

More importantly, as I age in my spirituality, I’m uncovering more and more that healthy, thriving depth of spirituality is found less in doing for God than it is being with God.[1] My Type-A cultural bent doesn’t foster natural environment for a rich, contemplative relationship with God to thrive. More often, I want to hand God a slot of my time and pat myself on the back for leaving Him some white space: “Here’s your time, God. GO!

So, yes, I’m still learning these unhurried, attentive rhythms. Truth be told, I’m sure that most witnesses to my life would hardly describe it as “unhurried”! But in my relationships with people and with God, perhaps a little Africa is just what this mzungu needs.
[1] The author recommends this and further thoughts discussed in Scazzero, Peter. Emotionally Healthy Spirituality: Unleash a Revolution in Your Life in Christ. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson (2006).

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