Wednesday, February 24, 2016

LENT & LEARNING TO GO SLOWLY

David and I were told during our pre-field training to remember that in the developing world, accomplishing just one thing a day is, well, an accomplishment. We channeled this when we first arrived. We needed to find an apartment, decide on a language school and get registered, find grocery stores, finish furnishing our house, etc., etc., etc. There was a lot to be done, and everything took so much more energy than we ever thought it would. We reminded ourselves: just one thing a day is an accomplishment.

Life here slows you down. It doesn’t matter how fast you want to go, or how efficient you are in your ideal environment. In our lives here, we are dependent on so many forces that are out of our control—from public holidays to traffic to Google’s limited reach in Cambodia. We have to schedule things loosely. We have to plan one thing at a time (with plenty of buffer) or watch our scheduled tasks pile up in front of us like a Phnom Penh traffic jam.

Now that we are four months into our lives here, I can say that slowing down has been good for me.


Over the past few years, leading up to our move to Cambodia, I’d become almost an expert at multitasking. Some of that was necessary as I juggled getting married and writing a book and preparing to move around the world. Other times, I filled up the margins of my days and weeks with a plethora of activities just because I thought I should. They were mostly good things. I enjoyed myself. I was wowed at how much I could get done when I was on my game. But I was also getting tired and finding it harder and harder to rest. Even when I wasn’t being productive, there were things looming over me that I knew I could be doing. Even more so, I can look back and realize there was less and less time in my life set aside to just ponder, to just be. 

At the beginning of this year, I decided my word or focus for the year would be “slow.” Slow and steady. We are planning to be here in Cambodia for the long haul, and we know that it’s important for us to think about what it will take for us to stay here for years and not burn out. I’m learning to respect my limits. I’m learning to rest. I’m focusing on Sabbath. I’m taking on one task at a time. 

Right now we are focusing our energies on learning the Khmer language. We feel called to be advocates and friends of Cambodian pastors, and we know that in order to do this, we will need to speak their language. We know that if we start our work here without understanding the culture and context, we will just make a mess of things. We know this. We are going slow and doing this work up front. We are focusing on one thing at a time, and right now, that one thing is language. It's one big, slow task.

Yet, even as this new slowness begins to heal me from the frantic pace of the last few years, as I end each Sabbath feeling refreshed, as I focus on going slow, I've found myself starting to think about all the things I could be doing. I understand why the slow task of language learning is our first task, but I also hear about needs in this country each morning as I read the newspaper. I meet people each week who are struggling. I hear about start-up initiatives that have the potential to make a big difference. My problem-solving brain goes to work and starts to dream up programs. I want to start tackling projects. I want to do tangible things. Maybe, in the shadowy side of my desires, I also want to feel useful.

These last few days, as I give these thoughts the time to sink in rather than give in to their impulses, I’m reminded that we are already two weeks into Lent. In the church, Lent is the season during which we wait and prepare for Easter. For me Lent is a time to pause, a time to go slowly. It’s a time to wait, prepare, dig deep and be honest about what I find there. It’s certainly not the most fun part of the Christian calendar, but it’s important to for me to reflect like this in order to prepare for Easter. I know that taking this time to slow down and reflect is how I learn and grow.

I'm starting to find the connection between my new life in Cambodia, my language goals and this Lenten season. The limiting slowness of our language learning reminds me that I’m one small piece of the Kingdom work that is going on in this place. The slowness of my days gives me the space to think deeply and actually listen and reflect. This season in the Christian calendar is the time to pause and recenter.

I’m realizing that in our ministry here in Cambodia and in our spiritual lives, going slow and going deep is our way forward.