Airplanes are Time Machines

by Angie Washington on November 26, 2013

We joke that airplanes are time machines. When we come back to South America from North America it feels as though we step back in time. The clinics feel outdated. The cows on cobblestone streets look like the pioneer days in the movies. The open fires in homes and restaurants tended by women in skirts with babies slung on their backs set a scene of a bygone era.

I suppose we could also launch a mind bending conversation about the relativity of time. Like how you “skip” a day when flying from L.A. to Sydney. Or how you can “go back” to yesterday by flying from Tokyo to Honolulu. Such a thrilling life for international travelers! We’ll save all that for the science forums.

I’d rather touch on something even non-nerds can converse about: the cultural concept of time.

Yang Liu created a collection of captivating infogrpahics and put them in a book. After spending significant time in Germany and China she compares: standing in line, dealing with problems, social dynamics at parties, etc. You can see a larger sampling on Brain Pickings.  For the purpose of this post I want us to consider just this one:

Yang Liu's infographic on punctualityOn the left, in the blue box, we see the Germanic concept of punctuality. On the right, in the red box, we see the Chinese concept of punctuality. What would the image portray as an infographic on punctuality for the region where you reside?

The Bolivian rhythm is quite different than the Nebraska rhythm I was raised on. Adjusting my definition of “late” has relieved some tension. Others have tried to sanctify punctuality, as if it was included in the beatitudes. That is a mite too exhausting for me. I choose rather to ascribe to a different addendum to the Sermon on the Mount:  Blessed are the flexible for they shall not be bent out of shape.

Culture shock still creeps up on me every once in a while, though. It usually hits me when I think I have something all figured out. I thought for sure I had the slower place down pat. Then some challenges arose in a particular relationship with a Bolivian.

Consistently, my expectations were not met. I hoped for growth. I taught for growth. We went round and round the issues, and still I didn’t see what I wanted to see in the life of this other person.

When I was venting my frustrations to a very wise lady she helped me see this situation in a new light. She asked if I loved the other person. What good Christian would say no? Of course I love this person. She then said that it was time to lift the timeline. Oftentimes when dealing with relational issues we cannot put a timeline of expectation on the other person. When we are committed to the relationship we will trust that God is helping the other person to grow and change in His timing.

Since that moment, when I see myself become impatient with another person, especially this person, I remember that I let the timeline go. What a great freedom!

The Message bible says in Matthew 11:

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it.

Learn the unforced rhythms of grace.

I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”

The unforced rhythms of grace for others.

The unforced rhythms of grace for myself.

The unforced rhythms of grace to live in company with God.

Learn the unforced rhythms of grace

What is time like in your region of the world?

Are there some areas in your life where lifting the timeline expectation might relieve some pressure?

 – Angie Washington, missionary living in Bolivia, South America

blog: twitter: @atangie  facebook: atangie

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About Angie Washington

Co-Founder, Editor of this collaborative blog site: A Life Overseas
  • For the Mozambican women, the sun is their watch. After frustration, I finally realized with all they have to do in caring for their family it is not realistic for me to expect them to arrive directly at 2PM. Having realized that I encourage them to come no matter the time. Ten minutes of God’s word is better than none.

    • “The sun is their watch.” Beautiful. How glorious would it be if we all looked to the Son as our timepiece? Thank you for sharing about Mozambique, Debbie. Blessings on your times of fellowship around His word.

  • Tarwa

    I like “unforced ryhtms of grace”.

    Time here in Djibouti has an easy and unhurried pace. People have long discussions, long lunches/dinners, even walk slowly. Party invitations (wedding, birthdays etc.) for 8:30 pm means nobody arrives before 9.30/10pm and nobody is even surprised (arriving at 8:30 pm sharp, that would be surprising!).
    However more and more, days and weeks and months are getting shorter. Time spent at work increases and time spent at home and with friends decreases. We have to change our pace to this new busier, more hectic way of life. That’s even more true for those who are working in the private sector than in the public sector, and deal more often with international/expats clientele.
    But still, community and family values stay strong, meaning you absolutely have to find the time to visit and stay in touch 🙂

    • Ah, yes, the hidden code for invitations to social gatherings. One and a half to two hours later than the time stated on the invite is a good bumper of time to wait to go to a birthday, wedding, or concert here in Bolivia, too. Although, there are other events that are slightly more punctual, like only a half an hour after the invite time, such as baby showers, graduations, and celebration dinners. The most punctual places are churches and movie theaters. You are right, Tarwa, we must find time for family values.

  • Jeri

    Our rural setting in Mediterranean Turkey means that people have plenty of time. Most work is seasonal. So community is strong and friendships, conversation and mutual support are savored. At nearly 60 I find the cultural environment delightful.

    But I do struggle with time urgency. With myself. For most of my life I would have found this environment impossible and no doubt would have created an organization or pursued a doctorate or put together a program or otherwise filled my time with “productiveness.” People would have been impressed and praised me.

    But lately I don’t care. Structure and organization-building seem silly, as does any pursuit of more productivity. People who never have time because of the important stuff they have to do seem to me to be missing the point. I tire so very easily and my energy is low, so that I get a fraction of things done that once would have seemed just normal. This morning as I read FB posts I was so grateful that all the trappings of commercial Christmas and church Christmas tradition don’t happen here. Because I would have to add it to the to-do list. Western visitors and guests suggest how we could multiply the good things we do here, institutionalize and publicize so that ever more people come. Producing in me anxiety and insecurity, a sense of inadequacy. Because I don’t want those things. I savor a life of being over doing, of having time to invest deeply in a few, and time to watch a movie or play a game or go for a walk with my husband. And even things I long to do…so often I just don’t have the energy. Is something wrong with me, I wonder? Am I defective in health, or in zeal? What changed?

    I just know that I get oh-so-tired. And that I am content to care for the people God organically brings without going out to beat the bushes to see if I can drum up more.

    And now I will close this explore because my neighbor is chatting with my helper over the balcony about whether now is a good time to pop in with a special treat she made. I’d best go get the tea on….

    • This was so pleasant to read, Jeri. What fun that you were called away at the end to spend time face to face with your community. Lovely!

      I appreciate your gracious telling of the growth you have seen in your life. I feel like I am starting to become disillusioned, as you described, with the whole subject of “production” in regards to ministry. We are not making products, we are making disciples. Thank you for sharing your path. You are a dear one!

  • Marilyn Gardner

    Anytime a cross-cultural discussion on time comes up, I love it! I’m a sun dial and I married a Swiss watch. If we did an infographic of time in the Northeast of the United States it would show that people give punctuality high marks, and have not tolerance for ambiguity. The contrast between this and the way I was raised, as well as where I’ve lived for the majority of my life is significant! Working with immigrants and refugees this comes up repeatedly. Things like doctor’s appointments, being ‘late’ for work — all of that can cause tremendous conflict. I have to make a conscious effort to do two things: 1. Be willing to observe the cultural rules of the place I now live, instead of fighting them. 2. In my private life, be able to revert back to the unforced rhythms of grace. Thank you Angie.

    • Sun dial and Swiss watch – perfect! I love the two point strategy that you shared here, Marilyn. Did you click through to see some of the other infographics on the Brain Pickings link? Or maybe you had seen Yang Liu’s work before. Some of them are very amusing.

  • Time in Laos … totally on the red side of the infograph. My natural inclination??? Blue all the way. And the area where lifting the timeline expectations would help me the most is in relation to myself and what I think I “should” be achieving professionally as a writer in a certain amount of time.

    • Grace, grace to you dear Lisa. Not only are you learning time in Laos you are also learning time with two wee kiddos. This is not a feat for the faint of heart! No ma’am. Such a great challenge for goal driven people such as ourselves. Grace, grace to you.

  • Tara Porter-Livesay

    Time is not a thing in the Caribbean — and that works better for me 🙂 Great post, Angie.

  • Andy DeShon


  • I loved this post. Loved the reminder that love trumps the timeline. YES. Great post here, friend.

  • Pingback: Killing the Deadline()

  • Elizabeth Trotter

    I just wanted to tell you that I read this back in December, and I cried and cried. The holidays are a classic time for me to be frustrated with where people are on their own personal timeline. Oy. Also, I love that Bible verse in the Message! I wrote it in my journal.

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