Three and a half years ago, my husband and I spent a little over a month in Uganda while we went through the process of adopting two of our children. We stayed in the home of a Ugandan family, on a beautiful hillside between Kampala and Entebbe.
And we learned a lot about how very American we are.
Much of the time we did not know when or how something would be done. We would be told at dinner time, “tomorrow we will go into the city” to do this or that. Or “we will have to wait to do that.” Our question of “what next?” was frequently met with “we just wait.”
Many times we’d plan to get a document signed or go to an appointment, only to have an official not show up, or be told we had to go somewhere else. Our plans for the day were often thwarted or postponed. We had no control and often had no idea what to expect.
I’d like to say we were very patient and adaptable and that we went with the flow and handled it calmly. But it was more like “LORD JESUS ALMIGHTY WHAT IS GOING ON I CANNOT DO THIS,” on a daily basis.
We were used to feeling like we were in control, and during that month we lost that sensation completely. I say “feel like,” because, of course, control is an illusion and we are in no more control of our days when we have them carefully planned out than when we are at the mercy of someone else’s plans.
But we felt frustrated, nonetheless. We laugh now, as we remember the many times we expressed this frustration to our host and he would reply jovially, “this is Africa!” by way of explanation. We began to see that our frustration wasn’t because of anything that was happening to us. It was because of something within us.
As Americans, we are accustomed to an on-demand society. When I want it, I get it. I want my 2-day shipping with Amazon. I want my streaming TV at my fingertips. I hate traffic. I hate waiting in line. I want things to happen when I’m told they will happen. I do NOT want to wait.
The more time we spent in Uganda, the more the Lord opened our eyes to this reality. We saw that even in Kampala, a huge, bustling city, we were the only ones growing impatient. In spite of insane traffic, no one ever had road rage. In spite of long lines, everyone was calm. This is what was meant by “this is Africa.” We’re used to it. We’re fine with it.
I’m thinking of this experience today, as the busy holiday season winds down and I start making all of my plans for a busy January. I have that familiar, anxious feeling building inside of me. So much to do, so little time. How will I fit it all in?
Maybe if I just carefully map out all of my plans, I’ll feel better!
So I pull out my planner and my new iPad (my family’s incredibly generous Christmas gift) and get to work, trying to grasp at control through carefully made agendas and lists. Perhaps you can relate to this urge, as the new year approaches, to simply plan your way out of an uncertain future.
But this is not the way of the believer. I think that because we are Americans, we have accepted this busy, frantic grasping at control as a way of life. But it ought not be a way of life for us if we have placed our hope in Jesus Christ and his saving grace.
Along with His grace comes peace, a promised experience that frees us from this anxious striving. Throughout the New Testament, we can see that peace goes hand in hand with the sustaining grace we receive when we are filled with God’s spirit.
Grace and peace to you, Paul tells us at the beginning of most of his letters (see this great post from John Piper on this subject). This experiential peace is what we are looking for, deep down.
When I obsessively plan my days and weeks it’s because I want to establish peace. When I am frustrated with waiting, it’s because I feel it’s interrupting my peace. Peace is what I long for, but I can’t get it on my own.
As Piper says in the post mentioned above, “the word of God will be the means of multiplying grace and peace to us.” The thing that pushes my anxious controlling nature out and makes room for peace is God’s word, day in, day out, expelling the flesh, installing new life.
As I begin all of my 2017 plans, my prayer is that I would see more grace, more peace, and ultimately, greater contentment in His grand redemptive plan in my life, whatever that means. I am praying the same for you, reader.