This past month was rough, easily my toughest month on mission yet. It had its fair share of joys and surprises (my lowest performing class got the second highest average on their end of term exam!), but December marked the first time I wasn’t actively pursuing something since my arrival. With the end of the first school term coming early in the month came a change in schedule and routine; one that I was neither expecting nor prepared for.
When I first arrived in Lungi, I didn’t have all that much to do, but that was okay because I was still figuring things out then. I didn’t really know what my assignment was going to be, or whether I was going to be teaching in the junior or senior secondary school, or even what subject I was going to be teaching. I was adjusting to a new community schedule, to what life was going to be like here and in the parish, and I was adjusting to “Africa Time” (and in many ways I’m still adjusting to that today). As I met with people and started figuring things out my adjustment became easier. The fact that I wasn’t doing much didn’t really bother me because I was in this period of transition.
Enter a new transition: the end of term break. I have really enjoyed my first few months teaching, and I love being with my kids. Once the break started, I enjoyed having time to just relax and do my own thing. What I didn’t expect was how frustrated I ended up getting after just a short while of having nothing that I explicitly had to do, which left me with no idea of how to spend my time. There was no schedule I needed to follow, nobody I had to meet with, and absolutely nothing that I had to do, which I guarantee you sounds like a dream to almost anyone who is working or attending school in America, and was certainly a dream I shared on numerous occasions as a student. I was surprised with how quickly it wore out its welcome.
As a student of film and literature, I took some of this time to check things off my “movies to watch” (The Shawshank Redemption is hands down one of the best movies I’ve ever seen and I have no idea why I waited so long to watch it) and “books to read” lists (Nearly 5 years after I first picked it up, I am finally almost through The Lord of the Rings), which are fine things to do as recreational activities, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with reading or enjoying film when practiced in moderation. I quite enjoyed seeing these lists get smaller, even if I didn’t enjoy everything on them. But I also came to a greater understanding of why these lists existed in the first place: there’s so much more to life than this. As much as I enjoy and can become engrossed in a good story and the more technical aspects of filmmaking, it is not what is ultimately going to bring me fulfillment in this life. We might enjoy and find fulfillment in the work that we do – I know I certainly do – but where do we turn to for fulfillment outside of work?
A message like this can easily get lost or be ignored in the general busyness of everyday life, especially with how we occupy and fill up our time as Americans, but its something that should be acknowledged by all of us. Are we taking time out of each day to truly be alive? And I don’t mean to go out and party like it’s the last night on earth, or go out and do some crazy adventurous thing (though there are plenty of things I hope to someday do on that front), but are we taking the time to experience and acknowledge the goodness of this world and of the people around us? To appreciate the gifts that each new day brings us and thank God for them, no matter how hard any given day can be? Are we taking time out to let go of our pains, our struggles, our worries, our busyness, and to just find rest with each breath we take? Are we taking the time to be?
Taking the time to just be and live is where we can find fulfillment, not seeking ways to fill up empty space. This has been my struggle through the month of December, and it’s probably something I’ll continue to struggle with until I’m good and dead if I’m being honest. It’s very easy to find ways to occupy your time. It’s much harder to let that time be occupied with nothing, but it is just as important as the regular work we do. Because in those moments, that’s when there’s nothing to distract us from our relationship with God, if we allow ourselves to simply be. We might not feel his presence, we might even feel like nothing is being accomplished and that this is a giant waste of time, but he’s there, he’s with us, and that’s all he really desires of us: to just be with us. So as hard as it can be sometimes, I’m taking this time and I’m learning to be.