Sunday, November 24, 2013

Saving Time vs. Conserving Energy

I’m going to write something that may be controversial. Your life as a missionary is in many ways probably a lot harder than it would have been had you never left your home country. I say that this might be controversial because I join with many of you in believing that we as missionary women need to be so very careful not to get caught up in “the grass is always greener” fantasies about life back "home." I think these fantasies, which many of them really are just fantasies and not reality at all, can damage our contentedness while on the field. Many things are in fact harder in the States! The grass is not green anywhere other than in heaven! It’s dying everywhere on this fallen earth.

BUT, I do want to write in hopes of helping to free some of us from feelings of defeat that are common to us as missionary moms when we sometimes look at our day/week/month/year… and wonder, how on earth is this that ALL that we’ve managed to do?!  One thing that I do think is generally true is that we get to enjoy more conveniences in the US and therefore can often do more in less time there. Now we're on the overseas mission field, with a huge passion to see much supernatural eternity-changing transformation, yet at times it is all that we can do to keep up with the basics. Sometimes we can’t even do that without help!

(One daily reality of my life in Russia is that for much of the year, I spend a lot of time dressing kids in countless layers of clothing, shoveling snow, struggling to park at home/school/preschool/the grocery store... it takes a lot of time!)

I remember a revelation during our first year overseas. In my previous life in the States, I was all about time management and efficiency. I also loved to multi-task. I tried to carry these values over to life here in Russia and within a couple of months I was DEAD TIRED. I had been thinking things like “Oh, my daughter needs a walk and we need groceries. We’ll walk to the grocery store and play a bit on the way home and, bingo, I’ve lumped both needs into one trip. Time saved!”  But this simplification left me laying on the living-room floor feeling like I was going to die by 7:30pm at night. What was wrong with me?!

Well, I had failed to factor things in like the stress of a language, the stress not knowing what things were in the grocery store, the work of trying to figure out what to cook with such unfamiliar foods, the challenge of trying to figure out how to quickly bag my own groceries, the added physical work of having to carry the stroller/child/groceries up and down multiple flights of stairs, the stress of trying to keep my newly walking little one away from the broken glass strewn all about on the playground, the stress of being scolded by strangers for my child being inappropriately dressed for the weather (despite my best attempts to do what was culturally right)…. All of these little things add up into a huge amount of energy spent that I just didn’t think to factor into my “walk+groceries=time saved” equation. 

It was just too much stress at once. I eventually realized that I needed to change my value from “time saved” to “energy saved.” I had to accept that to save energy, I likely was going to need to spend time, multi-task less, and drastically adjust my expectations on how much could get done in a day.

 (This walk with two of my kids occurred after learning that walking with the kids and errands often needed to be separate events. We're all peaceful here rather than feeling like we're all about to be reduced to a puddle of tears. Taking the kids out for walks went from my most dreaded experience to a most joyful one, and one where I was also available to spend time interacting with neighbors rather than just speeding through my checklist. )

Of course now that we’re in our 8th year overseas, these stresses have significantly lessened, but in all honesty, life does just take more energy than if I were to do the same things in my home culture. Sometimes I still forget that as I calculate my capacity for a given day. The language is still not my own, I’m still not a cultural insider, appliances and things around the house are still poorer quality and break all of the time, we go through longer seasons without common conveniences (hot-water, a vehicle, a dryer…), we don’t have the support of extended family, etc.  I forget about these things all of the time because I truly love my life here and would not trade it, BUT, it does affect how much I can do in a day’s time.

(Doing dishes in the bathtub... The water in our kitchen had a habit of going out frequently for a season, so dish-doing at that time was quite a time-consuming task.)

Sometimes when I look at my friends’ lives back home via facebook, or when I read blogs, or see things that people have posted from Pintrest, I feel defeated and wonder, “Why can’t I do things like that?” God kindly has been reminding me lately that one of the sacrifices that He has asked me to make in order to serve Him here and to receive the many blessing of this life on the overseas mission field is that of efficiency. I have often fought feelings of frustration about my reduced capacity here, yet when I think of it rightly, I remember that God called me here and He is the one who gave me the capacity that I have and allows for life to be as time and energy consuming as it is. My all, no matter how small I may feel that it is, is enough for my Almighty God who is more than able to make it count greatly for eternity.

Have you noticed a shift in your prioritization of time/energy since moving overseas? How have your average daily tasks changed as compared to your life back in the States?

(Also, check out this great post by Laura Parker. It has some very interesting things to say about the average stress levels of missionaries.)

9 comments:

  1. Something that is slightly related is a phrase that some new friends of ours repeat. Apparently their mission leadership taught it to them, after a time that they wore themselves out, driving a long distance when they should have gone and bought (more expensive) plane tickets. It fits in a lot of missionary situations, though: "Save the money, spend the missionary, or save the missionary, spend the money." Or, more along what the lines of what you are saying here, it could be more like "Drop the efficiency and save your sanity; strive for efficiency and lose your sanity."

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    1. I've not heard that exact saying before, but yes, it can be so true! Money needs to be stewarded wisely, but so does our health and capacity!

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    1. You're sweet, Jolene. I hope you and your family are doing great!

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  3. Great post, good food for thought!

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    1. Thanks for the encouragement, Alyssa!

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  4. sounds so much like me in our first year, trying 'multitasking errands' and save the world with 2 kids, and I was so exhausted after 9 months! So encouraging to hear others that truly understand. I have lowered my expectations since, because it was either that or die! Definitely a painful process, but God is teaching me true joy and contentment even when life feels so very unproductive!

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    1. Yes, it is such a painful lesson, isn't it? But it's one that is sure to bring with it lots of refining and growth, just like you said, and I doubt we'll soon forget it! Praise God for the ways that He has blessed you (and me and probably all of us!) as a result of this tough learning experience!

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  5. I can definitely relate to this, Ashley. I get worn out here by daily tasks here than I do in the States (whether it's running errands, doing housework, leading Bible study, or taking the kids to the doctor). Everything takes more time and effort. I have been realizing lately, though, that in response to this, I've become almost too guarded with my time and energy, feeling like I need to reserve it so that I don't get too burnt out or exhausted. Can anyone else relate to that?

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