Saturday, 14 March 2015
Time is not money: learning to value relationships
Life as a missionary doctor certainly has its unique challenges, and one of those is trying to fit into and understand different cultures. Today, I find myself in the strange situation of knowing where I will be every day during June and July, while I am visiting the UK, but not knowing what I will end up doing this afternoon, tomorrow or next week. The two cultures I live between have vastly different attitudes to time.
I was brought up by a British businessman who taught me that efficiency and organisation are paramount to a successful life. Now, I am married to an Ecuadorean who literally plans his life and work one day at a time. I am surrounded by a culture where people are habitually late, invite me to their wedding on the day, and believe it is perfectly fine not to turn up to our meeting because ‘something came up’.
At first, I was aghast at the lackadaisical attitudes I encountered and was determined to teach the locals about long-term planning, appointment systems and punctuality. After all, time is money, is it not? All around me, people were throwing away time (and therefore money) with abandon – and seemed not to care about either.
Then, I began to take notice of the events happening around me. I realised that when someone was sick, they needed family members free to go with them to the hospital to help them find a doctor who was actually present and attending, buy their medicines and nurse them. When a man went bankrupt and was wanted by the authorities, his brother-in-law drove eight hours, at a moment‘s notice, to take him to his house and feed him for the foreseeable future. When my car broke down on an unmade road, I needed a family member free to come and rescue me. I began to appreciate that in the unpredictable circumstances of life in Ecuador, the ability to be flexible and spontaneous was actually a necessity.
As I stood back and began to try to understand the local culture better, I observed that people truly value time with each other. If they were having a conversation with someone, and had not yet finished what they had to say, they would stay and converse and be late to their next appointment. I understood this was telling me about the values underlying their seemingly laid-back attitude to time. Ecuadoreans do not believe time is money. They believe time is to be used to develop relationships. If investing their time in friendships means they have less money, they are happy to live with that.
I chatted to my local greengrocer. She had just had a baby. ‘I used to live in Spain,’ she told me, ‘I had to work all hours of the day, and had no time for my daughter, so I could not have more family. So, I decided to come back to Ecuador. Now, I have had three sons in the past four years. I have time to spend with them. I am happy’.
Her aim was not to have as many possessions or foreign holidays as she could in her lifetime. She simply wanted to have enough to bring up her children. Her contentment challenged me and my values.
I began to see that my determination to achieve A, B, C and D in a day could be detrimental to my relationships, if sticking to my schedule meant ignoring someone whose need was now. I observed my husband working on the premise that if A took all morning, instead of the planned hour, and then his sister phoned, having come off her motorbike, then B, C and D would simply wait until mañana. I was surprised by how many things could wait very happily, or perhaps did not need to happen at all.
I learnt to have a mental list of things to do, then each day I would see which tasks could fit into the circumstances that presented themselves. This left time and space to respond to those who encountered need that particular day. I learnt to adapt to being invited to a family birthday party on the day, and having my four- and six-year-olds up until 10pm on a school night. I enjoy the fact I can drop in on any of my friends, neighbours or family in Ecuador unannounced and know I will receive a warm welcome and plate of whatever is on the stove. I love the fact we can wake up on Saturday and go to the beach on the spur of the moment.
But more than that, serving in Ecuador has made me question the values of my own culture. I do not find the belief that ‘time is money’ in the pages of Scripture. I do find the instruction to, ‘Store up for yourselves treasures in heaven’ (Matthew 6:20) and to ‘fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal’ (2 Corinthians 4:18). The fruits of our lives that will last for eternity are love, kindness, goodness and faithfulness. Our relationships with Jesus and our brothers and sisters in Christ are eternal. Let’s use the finite time we have in this world to invest in each other and in sharing the gospel. The challenge is working out how we do that as individuals living in different cultures.
Posted on CMF Blog 13/3/2015