I remember reading Psalm 143 while we were in Nepal, “Teach me to do your will, for you are my God; may your good Spirit lead me on level ground.”
It struck me mainly because I was missing level ground. We lived in the middle hills of the Himalayas, so if we walked up from our house there was a forested mountain and if we walked down from our house, there were terraced valleys and then 27,000 foot Himalayan peaks on the other side. And that meant that if we wanted to go anywhere, anytime, it was either steeply uphill or steeply downhill. There wasn’t very much level ground.
This week I’ve been thinking about taking ‘time-off’ and it strikes me again that it’s such a western concept. When we lived with a Nepali family during our early years in Nepal, I remember having a conversation with our Amma (mother), who was then 64 years old. She told me that she hadn’t had a day off since she married Ba at 8 years old. I remember staring at her uncomprehending and trying to work out the Maths. That was 56 years without a break, I thought. Imagine working for 56 years straight, without a break – milking the buffaloes, digging the fields by hand, harvesting the rice, cutting the grass for the buffaloes, making yogurt and buttermilk, as well as cooking for the extended family and growing vegetables for the curry. Wasn’t she tired? I thought. Didn’t she long for a holiday? But when I tried to ask her that, she didn’t seem to know what I was talking about. She hardly even knew the word. Where would they go, she asked? And who would feed the buffalo, if they did go? And perhaps we should just have another cup of chiya, she said.
So we drank more chiya and years later the conversation came back to me while I was talking to my friend Srijana in Dhulikhel. She described her daily work collecting water for the family and wood for the fire. It was very hard labour, she said, so for her, a break was to come to our house and cut the grass for her buffalo. It was almost pleasant, she said, swinging the scythe back and forth across our terraces and chatting to me. It was so much easier than carrying 30kg of wood across the mountains to her mud house. And I looked at her small frame as well as the sun setting over the Himalayas and was inclined to agree with her. We were certainly having a pleasant late afternoon but how did she manage, day in and day out? And what if it were me, in her shoes? It made me realize over time that for many Nepalis (especially rural women), taking time off meant merely doing a different version of what they normally do. It was still ‘work’, but it was a change in the physical effort or mental effort or the company or the location in which they did it in.
And that thought returned to me this week. I’ve just come back from a busy speaking weekend in Brisbane and Evan’s Head and I loved it. I felt re-energised and incredibly privileged to be able to speak of God’s love and plan for his people in a variety of settings. But on Monday morning, I wondered whether I should take time off? What was the opposite to my work? I wondered. I’d already been able to spend time in prayer and God’s word and in fellowship with others. I’d enjoyed returning to my family and connecting with them. So how was I going to spend Monday morning? The thought confused me for a while until I realized that it was tied up with the way I saw myself and what I was really doing. If we primarily see ourselves as children of God who use every opportunity to point to his love and respond to his love, then taking ‘time-off’ can’t really be the opposite of that. Perhaps instead, it will be more like the Nepali version – the setting changes or the company changes, but in essence we remain the same, alive on this earth to love God and to love his people in whatever way we can and with whatever opportunities and gifts he’s given us. Let’s keep doing that!
Naomi Reed is a former Interserve Partner. She is also a bestselling author and gifted speaker. Her latest book, The Plum Tree in the Desert shares stories of faith and mission from Interserve Partners over the last 25 years. Naomi is also speaking on the Australia-wide Unfolding Grace tour. For more information, see Unfolding Grace.