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October 18, 2012

The Surprising Blessing of Inconvenience

How a slower pace of life has filled my spirit.


For 13 years, I was a busy pastor’s wife living a normal and active life of ministry in Illinois. Then God called my husband and me to minister in Zambia.

We have now moved halfway across the world, and everything has changed for us. I’m still busy with ministry, but through the process of adjusting to life in a radically different culture, I’ve learned some valuable lessons about the pace of life.

To be honest, it hasn’t been easy adjusting to this new, slower pace. It feels as though I’ve flown back in time to the 1800s American West. Instead of living a life filled with modern conveniences, now I often cook in the dark by the light of a kerosene lantern because of low power—or no power at all. Simply living a “normal” life here takes more time and effort.

There’s no one-stop shopping here: I have to go to three or four different stores to get what I need. Doing laundry also takes longer. I fill up the washer with a hose running from the kitchen sink, set a timer to make sure it doesn’t overflow (which has happened on several occasions), and then line dry our clothes. I cook our meals from scratch, and do dishes by hand.

Emotionally and physically, basic life is harder. But it’s also been rewarding as I’ve learned to turn washing dishes, hanging clothes, and handling other daily chores into meaningful times of thinking, praying, and meditating.

Along with a slower pace, I’ve been immersed in a more relaxed and open way of spending time with others. Here in Zambia, I’m learning what I call “social rest.” In American culture, we cut to the chase in our interactions with others, especially when we have a task to accomplish or a purpose in meeting with someone. But in Zambian culture, people really spend time with one another. They love visiting and are hospitable. They linger in conversations, and invest time in learning how you’re doing, what you’ve been up to, how your family is, and so on. Here, I’m learning the value of community—of being present with others and willing to linger a while.

Adjusting to life in a different culture has been challenging, and the most difficult part for me has been facing some of my own sin. Life in Africa is difficult, and these hardships have a way of causing sin in my heart—like anger, frustration, and pride—to bubble to the surface. Living here has been a refining process as I’ve been learning to die to self, face my sin, and turn to the Cross. In Isaiah 30:15, God says: “Only in returning to me and resting in me will you be saved. In quietness and confidence is your strength.”

Focusing on Jesus’ sacrifice on the Cross and the salvation he brings has been a means of both strength and rest for me as I’ve walked through spiritually refining times.

I’m learning that, when circumstances are less than ideal, our mettle is tested. Back home in the States, I used to rest in my circumstances because life was relatively easy. Here, I am learning what it means to rest in the Lord. He’s in control of my life and I’m where I’m supposed to be. I need to trust him, and I want to be someone who rests in God even during the dark times.

Life in Africa is teaching me the importance of taking time just to be—to take care of what’s “inside of the cup.” And so, I often go outside and sit in an insaka, our little, thatched, open-air hut. I soak in all the beauty in the yard and garden, and I delight in the butterflies, flowers, and weather. I pause to rest with God. Why? Because I’ve learned that if I’m too busy ministering to others and don’t take care of my own spiritual needs, then I’m running on empty. I end up with nothing to give, and others can tell. What I have found in rest—sitting at the feet of Jesus, learning from him, developing a deep prayer life—is that there, I am centered and filled.

How is God inviting you to slow down? To linger more with others? To incorporate habits of prayer and meditation into the pace of your everyday life? When have circumstances forced you to slow down and what have you learned in the process?

For more on slowing down, read this TCW Deeper Faith collection on resting in God, or download one of several TCW’s downloadable resources: Rest for the Weary, No Time for Quiet Time, and Spiritual Refreshment.

Karen Singleton is an Action International missionary in Zambia with her husband, Tracy. She also teaches language arts to seminary students. Read more at thesingletonstory.blogspot.com.

Related Tags: Balance, Busyness, Community, Difficulty, Ministry, Peace, Relaxation, Renewal, Slowing Down


Karen, your descriptions of life in Zambia remind me so much of my time in Ghana. My husband and I lived there for two years. I remember the slower pace, the change of lifestyle making me confront pieces of myself that get buried under modern conveniences and luxuries. God bless you on your journey. If you wish to visit someone who has been through what you're going through, my blog I kept while I was there is at www.xanga.com/crossing_cultures. You'll want to start in the fall of 2006 and work your way from there.

I'm proud to call this woman my mother! Even though I talk with her weekly I still forget that life is not easy for them and to be thankful for my constant electricity, even during a hurricane! You're a great teacher Mama...thanks for reminding me that we need to slow down and take time to pray.

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