I was raised in West New York, New Jersey, one of the most densely populated municipalities in the United States. Our neighborhoods were not only overcrowded and constantly busy with the influx of workers making their way into the area, but parking was a challenge. Northerners, unlike their southern neighbors, enjoy a quick and deliberately fast pace of life—everything and everyone seems to go by quickly. My daily schedule was carefully and precisely planned. I lived my life looking at my watch and keeping pace with time, always thinking that there was no time to waste.
Some years ago, I encountered an opportunity to serve in overseas ministry, where I moved to Spain for two years. It immediately became apparent to me that people in Spain did not hold the same “time” challenges that I did. I arrived there thinking that I could easily transition into the country without assimilating any of their ways.
However, I quickly discovered that my ways were not their ways. You see, the first time someone invited me out to have a coffee, we were gone for three hours, just for a coffee. Can you imagine my “time” concern? For three hours, I fought myself from saying something crazy like, “have you seen how much time we have wasted here?” “Can you imagine all of the things I could have gotten done in this same amount of time?” Emotionally speaking, I barely survived that day. For close to a year, I struggled with the thought of wasted time. In hindsight, I shamefully remember those thoughts and shake my head at myself for being wasteful of an opportunity to know someone. My prayer through those difficult days became one of knowing how to develop a sensitivity to the needs of those around me. By the way, this is still my prayer and my confession.
It was when I learned to develop a true love for the people who needed true love that I was able to adjust and conform to a new way of thinking. I began by embracing the culture of Spain. I ate when they ate, I conducted business when they did, I learned a valuable lesson on being a good steward of my time and I committed to my punctuality when necessary. Mostly though, I committed to a true, heartfelt desire to engage others in the most effective way possible. I found freedom and peace when I let go of preconceived judgments.
When I can, I still enjoy long chats over coffee or lunch with people needing a bit more sharing time. As far as people go, whether back home in the states or living overseas, we all have the same human needs, it’s just that some needs take a bit more time to explain than others.