Monday, July 8, 2019

The Art of Letting Go

During our time in the States last year, people would sometimes ask how we'd grown or changed because of living in Africa.  I always thought that was an insightful question, because it asked something deeper than "So how'd you like it there?" while displaying an understanding that living abroad does indeed change a person.

One of my responses to this question was, "I really learned how to hold things loosely, and simply let go."

When my phone didn't work for the first three months after moving to Kenya, despite multiple communications with people on both sides of globe and concerted efforts to fix the problem, there was nothing to do but let it go.  Oh well.  It would get resolved somehow, some day.  And I had other ways of communicating with people.  So oh well.  Hold it loosely.  Don't let a cell phone cripple you.

When I discovered one day that my precious light corn syrup from America had been nearly used up by my househelper who didn't understand its value (because it can't be bought in Kenya), I had to breathe deeply and let it go.  Light corn syrup isn't worth upsetting an otherwise smooth househelper relationship.

When the gardener planted grass seed in our garden because he thought it was lettuce?

When our sons' Kenyan friend threw books around and ripped pages because he'd never been taught how to handle a book properly?

When the water coming out of the tap was obviously dirty, but it was the only water to bathe our kids in, our kids who were even dirtier than the water?

Let it go.

Let it go.

Let it go.

It was a constant lesson, learning to hold things loosely.

Power outages affected cooking and homeschooling and bathing (because at least dirty water can be hot if the power is on!).  Cross-cultural communications that resulted in Amelia Bedelia moments were never out of the ordinary.  Daily routines were upended because someone stopped by the door, again.  The list could go on.

In essence, it was because I had so little control over everything that I had to learn to let things go.

Control is something we hold dearly in America.  We love to be in control.

We control our schedules and agenda by valuing our time and expecting others to do the same.  We control what we eat and when because our food options are virtually limitless in America.  We control where our money goes by holding an individualistic perception of finances ("what I earn is mine to do whatever I want with").  We control what direction our life takes because we make decisions for ourselves, with our own interests in mind.  The list could go on.

Americans love to be in control, and our culture is such that we can control much of our lives.  When things feel out of control, we lose our footing.  It feels like the earth is crumbling beneath us and the only way to get on solid ground again is to get back in control of our lives!

Life in Africa, on the other hand, offers little control.  It offers an albeit stressful (for an American) yet invaluable lesson in learning how to pull back, let go, and let God have His way with us.

After two years of living in Africa, I really thought I had learned a lot about this.  And I think I did.  Truly.  But after spending some time back in America, then returning to life in Africa again, I was smacked in the face with the reality that everything I had previously learned about letting go of my need for control was just scratching the surface.  The need for control is so deeply ingrained in me that, I fear, it will be a lifelong journey of choosing to give up my need for control and opting instead for letting things go.

And I say "choosing" because it does require a choice.  When our cultural makeup has taught us from birth that we can and should be in control of our lives, there's really no other way to unlearn that except to choose a different way.

And choosing a different way has been very good for us, even though it's been very hard.  It's been hard to do because it's unnatural, and it's been hard to do because sometimes I downright don't want to do it!

For example, when we bought this washing machine in Nairobi and had it delivered to Chogoria so we could actually do our laundry, we thought it might take a week or so before getting it all set up.

Our house, however, wasn't built with a washing machine in mind.  There was no obvious place to put it.  So we needed the plumbers from the hospital to come and install some drain pipes and a new electrical box to plug it in, etc.  Long story short, it took over two months before our washing machine was up and running.  It just sat there, staring at me every day while I hauled our laundry to the neighbor's house and back so we could have clean clothes to wear.  It took that long because things just don't happen quickly around here.  That's literally all there is to it.  And there was nothing we could do about it.  We'd gone through all the proper channels and done everything on our end that was appropriate to do, and then we just had to wait.  And wait.  And wait.

Let me tell you, waiting over two months before having the freedom to do our own laundry whenever I wanted (and however often I wanted) was not easy for me.  I felt trapped, out of control.  I lamented every time our boys would come into the house covered in dirt.  I bit back frustration (or not) every time our boys spilled food on their shirts.  Or every time our son leaked in his bed overnight.  Because all of those times meant I had to do more laundry, without the ability to do it on my own.  My control had been taken from me.

Another example: there are ants in our kitchen.  Specifically, there are ants living in the walls of our house, and they congregate in the kitchen (for obvious reasons).  The only thing that has proven to keep them at bay is constant cleaning and sweeping.  If ever we forget, our sink looks like this:

I fretted over this for several weeks.  I don't like ants in our kitchen.  I don't like that I can't leave a pile of dishes overnight for our househelper to clean in the morning.  I don't like that I sweep our floors like it's my job (as if I need another job!) and I don't like that these little tyrants number in the thousands so that no matter how many I get rid of it doesn't even make a dent in the problem.  It's just the way this house is.  After realizing how much I was letting this bother me, and by God's great grace, I somehow let this go.  I still don't like the ants, but I currently don't vex over all the extra cleaning that goes into holding these little buggers at bay.

It's just a part of life here.  Like so many other things.  It's just a part of life here.

And the best course of action is to let it go.

Which is something I'm still learning how to do.  Still choosing how to do.

Because, as it turns out, the art of letting go is about making a choice.  It requires choosing to care less about schedules and agendas.  It requires choosing to not begrudge interruptions at the door.  It requires choosing to find and accept help when you discover it's not possible to get the job done on your own.

Pole pole (as the Swahili saying goes, "slowly slowly") I am learning how to make these choices.  There are plenty of days I fail.  But some days I succeed.  And those days are victories.

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