Choosing less

My husband and I spent a year in a small town in Tanzania. When I say a “small town,” I mean a town with two stoplights, no supermarket, no restaurants to speak of, only one two-story building, and no entertainment! We lived in a simple house with only the most basic furnishings and conveniences.

Our move to Tanzania was motivated by an opportunity to join a fledgling humanitarian effort striving to better the lives of disabled people by giving them mobility and helping them be independent and earn a living. In the two years leading up to our move, we got married, had a child, and spent months fundraising to make our project a reality, or a semi-reality.

On the first night in our new “hometown,” there was a power cut. These are very common in rural Africa and can last anywhere from minutes to days. This one lasted a few hours and was an introduction to the fact that nothing was going to happen on our timetable. We could push as hard as we wanted, but we weren’t going to have much success against the facts of life on the ground.

So for the first time in years, we slowed down. We adopted a new pace for life that involved such things as daily walks to the market, hanging laundry, and cloth diapers. We adapted to not having any internet, TV or movies, “urgent” emails, time-sensitive meetings, or vehicle to rush to places with. Our lives had no emergencies. Even if we felt like we had an emergency, we couldn’t move anything faster than the pace it was going to move at.

It was terribly frustrating at first! Every step of every process was so slow! And in the end, as much as I wanted to change the modus operandi of the town, what really changed was me. My life slowed enough that I found myself appreciating the bright blue sky and the open red earth that stretched out all around us. I began to make friends with the cheerful villagers. I stopped missing movies and the internet. I learned to enjoy very simple food and clothing, and an uncluttered lifestyle.

The biggest change that year brought about was in my marriage. Our busyness was no longer an issue, and our lives slowed down enough that we got to really know each other. Often in the evenings, there was nothing to do but spend quality time together. We would sit in the dark (because the mosquitoes would flood our room if we had the lights on) and ask each other questions about hopes, dreams, likes, wants, wishes, and fears. Without the distraction of modern life, our relationship as followers of Christ, friends, and lovers grew stronger every day.

Back in the USA, we have many reasons to rush and regular emergencies. We have the amenities—supermarkets, restaurants, the internet, paved roads, and modern medicine—and the struggles—no time to be still, and a life that moves too fast to really connect with people.

I often catch myself thinking back wistfully on my year in Tanzania. I treasure those memories of peace, connection, and simple pleasures. To this day, I find myself reaching for the simpler life because of that experience.

We tend to feel the pressure to start each new year with the commitment to be more or do more or get more—more stuff, more rush, more spending, more earning. But my heart and soul thrive on more connection, more stillness, more joy.

My prayer, as the new year begins, is for the courage to push back on the rushing and the accumulating—to give my soul time to connect with God and others, my body time to rest and recharge, and my mind time to grow and enjoy.