Building Houses with Sticks and Leaves

“Good, but busy”

That was my standard response for the first 6 months of this year when anyone would ask me how we were doing.  Of course, it’s to be expected that having a new baby, caring for a 3 year old, finishing up one job, preparing for a new job, and moving to another continent is enough to keep anyone busy.  Not to mention the everyday tasks of laundry, cooking, grocery shopping, and cleaning (although to be honest I didn’t get around to cleaning too much during those months!)busy-mom-1
Upon arriving in Uganda, our pace of life slowed considerably, and for the first time in several years I can honestly say that I’m not busy.  I feel a twinge of guilt in typing that, and also a strong desire to justify myself so people don’t assume I sit around all day watching TV and eating chocolate.  After all, I have a job, a husband, and two young children, so my days are still full of activities.  It’s just that the pace in which those activities are done has slowed down considerably to a saner, healthier pace.
As I’ve been in the midst of adjusting to this new pace, our pastor in our home congregation, Aubrey Spears, has begun a sermon series on the unhurried life that I’ve been listening to via podcast.  The podcasts are here, and I would highly recommend this challenging, crosscultural message on the way we think about time.
 As I have been reflecting on my own suddenly slowed down life, I have been struck with the truth of our cultural assumption that busyness = significance.   Even as I was typing the first paragraph of this blog, I felt a sense of pride in all of the things that I had going on.  It’s as if I must be a competent, strong person in order to do so much and balance so many things.
But is our cultural assumption that busy = significant really true?  Are the things that we so frantically do every day getting us to where we want to go?  Do our many activities accurately reflect our priorities and our values?
One aspect of East African culture that I greatly admire is the conviction that people and relationships are of utmost importance, and that taking the time to simply be with others is a very valuable use of time.  When I first started working as an intern at Beacon of Hope in Kenya, I would grab a cup of tea during tea break and take it to my office, so I could efficiently continue with my work as I drank my tea.  I soon realized that I was missing an opportunity to gather with my coworkers, enjoy stories and laughter, and connect with others.  Tea break soon became one of my favorite parts of the day as I came to so highly appreciate the opportunity to step away from work and connect with people.
In this season of my life, I am very grateful for the opportunity to have a slower paced life and enjoy the gift of time that I have to just be with my husband and my children.  Imbedded cultural messages are hard to forget, and I still sometimes feel like I’m not busy enough and I should come up with more activities to fill up my time.
Yesterday, while I was putting Nathan down for a nap, Maureen, our Ugandan househelp, was sitting outside with Natalie.  When I went out to see what they were doing, I found that they had built a house for the ants out of sticks and leaves, and they continued to play contentedly with sticks and leaves for over an hour.  What an amazing gift, that I could have the time to be with my daughter and do nothing more than build houses of sticks together.  I pray that I will be able to recognize this slower pace for the gift that it truly is and embrace a slower, saner, relationship-centered life.

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