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 The clinics feel outdated.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:
On 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.
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