Have you ever caught yourself longing for the “good ol’ days”? Longing for the times when life seemed simpler and days were long and easy? (I think I feel a song coming on!)
I remember when you had to take time to walk up to the corner store for a quart of milk, when there were only four selections on TV (3 national and 1 local and that was enough), and when washing the family station wagon was an afternoon event with the garden hose and lots of old towels. Life was simpler then.
Recently, I took furlough in Tanzania and was able to spend time observing a lifestyle so much simpler than our own. My friend and I chose to stop our regular activities and allow time just to watch the sun set over the Indian Ocean. I then realized that many of the people in Tanzania always had the time to watch a beautiful sunset because they had no employment. (Tanzania, according to their national “Report on Poverty,” only has 14% employment.)
Still, in spite of the fact that their very simple life was not a matter of choice, they knew how to enjoy it! There seemed to be a peace and gentleness about them, which caused me to respond more slowly and take more time to do everyday tasks. It wasn’t unusual to see groups of men and women just talking in the streets or sitting together at the front of their one room house cooking a pot of soup or beans and rice. The children worked together making a toy car out of sticks, old rubber pieces and cut-up discarded flip-flop sandals. (I managed to bring one home.)
And while yes, some consequences of the poverty are devastating to their society, there is also the opportunity to live a simpler life, enjoying simple things and taking time to really develop deep and lasting relationships.
I have returned to my life where every moment of the day has a self-assigned purpose or task. Alas, the Palm Pilots, cell phones and e-mails have once again invaded. The contrast has become even greater as each day is filled with activity, television and too little sleep.
A few years ago the prevailing cry was “Back to the basics,” “Keep the main thing the main thing,” and “Take time to smell the flowers.” Today we hear “Just do it,” and “Treat yourself, you deserve it,” and the newest cliche, “24/7” (twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week). Every hour, every moment we must be doing something. It’s almost sad that if we want to take a moment out for ourselves, we have to look at our schedule and find the time, squeezing it in between work, appointments and errands.
As I think back on my time in Tanzania, I know I have some lessons to learn. One makes me realize how fortunate I am to have a job to go to, food on my table, and a bed of my own. But another is beginning to show me that I am too busy keeping track of my life, organizing my time, and filling each moment of the day. This forces me to “re-act” to the invasions in my day, rather than to “re-lax” and let each moment carry me to the next. I ask myself, “Can I find a balance?”
Most of my life is centered around the Army and it brings me great joy. But it also fills my days and thoughts and often is the cause of my too busy days, by my own choice. Lately, it seems as if there have been a lot of interruptions in the normal Army day. Where we used to have time to make prayer the priority and we could plan for a program or worship service, our days are now becoming filled with reactionary moments to problems, issues and concerns. And so often, a reaction becomes a wrong action because there just isn’t enough time to really think and pray it through.
Life, in general here in this western world, has become so complicated, so issue focused, so rights oriented, that naturally we, the Army, are pushed to respond. But I wonder if we always need to? Can we be a “simple” church, a “simple” people that stays focused on the basics of life?
Early on we had the slogan, “Soup, Soap, and Salvation.” Does that fit into the Army of today? I think it does. But I often find myself dwelling on the problems and not celebrating the joys of the work we do. Imagine, if each one of us brought the simple joy of a moment to each meeting we attend, each council that meets, and each job that we do. What if, as the day ends, we could see the sun gently set rather than try and finish each task? Could that make a difference?
I believe that we, The Salvation Army, are part of the church, and the church is the body of Christ, alive and breathing. Together, we grow and learn. The lessons are still coming. But sometimes we individually need to stop and take a moment (or more!) to enjoy just who we are and what we what we were created to be.
Can you imagine the difference it would make? We would step out of the chaos of daily life, one by one, finding again the simple beauty of this world we are in. And together, this living, breathing body of Christ we call The Salvation Army would be able to relax and rejoice again.