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The Importance of Creating Space

“When you harvest the crops of your land, do not harvest the grain along the edges of your fields, and do not pick up what the harvesters drop. Leave it for the poor and the foreigners living among you. I am the LORD your God.”—Leviticus 23:22

Image: Pieter Kuiper

Image: Pieter Kuiper

Growing up in the Democratic Republic of Congo has taught me things about life that, lately, I’ve forgotten. Time moves slowly in the Congolese villages, and the hands of the clock are more suggestion than rule. People are intentional about creating space in their day. Space in the day may bring something exciting or unexpected—a visitor for example.

In Congo, if I were to visit my neighbor for a bit of sugar, or a question, regardless of what he or she may be doing, I’d be invited in, and offered a cup of tea. We’d drink tea, and one cup may turn to two—or three. We’d talk for hours, and then maybe I’d be asked to stay for dinner, which would be served closer to 9:00 p.m. than 6:00 p.m., because time isn’t as relevant as conversation.

These days, I tend to believe my day is successful depending on how many things I got done. I know I’m not alone; our culture is driven by completed tasks and accomplishments.  I feel good about my day if I mopped, swept, wrote, returned emails, paid bills, exercised, made dinner, and did errands. The more boxes checked, the better my day. But is this really the measurement of a day?

A neighbor came over to borrow something the other day. I stood in the door and talked to her. Did I open it wide? Did I invite her in for tea? No. Why? Because I had a broom in my hand, and a task to be done. My to-do list was my priority. If I’d invited her in, I’d have “wasted” an hour.

I’m an avid runner. I time myself, but, more often than not, I operate based on the pace of my heart. Heaven forbid it should lower before I get home. I pass a mentally challenged man who’s raking his lawn every day. I alsways say “Hi,”  and every day he says the same thing, “My Dad lets us watch Looney Tunes. Best show ever! Don’t forget to keep the Lord merry in your heart.”  I mumble the same phrase, “Good show! Good rules to live by! Thank you!” as I run by. Maybe I should stop and see what other gems he has to offer?

Other neighbors a few doors down were here for a year and a half. I had them over . . . once. One day I saw a for-sale sign, and then they were gone. I knew the man had fallen during work, and he was on leave with a broken leg. I knew his wife was depressed. I had good intentions. I kept reminding myself to invite her in as she walked her kids to the bus stop. I even had it on my to-do list, “Call neighbors!”

I’m ashamed to say I even prayed for him and his leg—but I never went over there. Our newborn baby, a house in need of cleaning, a job, etc. were the excuses that now riddle my conscience. They left with no goodbye. And why should they? They were just a box to be checked off on my to-do list—a box I left unchecked. This is a confession I’m not keen on making in a public forum, but I do so in hope that you won’t make the same mistake.

Pray for someone, but not bring over some soup and see how they really are? Never stop on a run? Is my eight-minute mile more important? Never invite someone in because we are busy? Keep phone-calls short? In fact, just text, it’s shorter—and then get more done. Don’t let your co-worker talk to you too long because you have too much to do today?

Do we hem and haw and make “hints” and “gestures” if someone has overstayed their 20 minute welcome? Do we do this at our desk when someone comes to us for help at work?

Where is the space?

In Leviticus the Lord instructed the people to not harvest their entire field, but to leave a corner for those in need.

Maybe this is a way we can take that instruction to heart.

Leave a corner for people—leave some space.

Who knows how we’ll be blessed? So what if our floors are dirty, or we didn’t get that one last task finished? So what if someone is overstaying their welcome? Invite them to stay for dinner. Let’s never stand in our doorway with the door half open.

Image: Pieter Kuiper

7 Comments Post a comment
  1. Yes! This puts into words something that has been on my heart for a long time…just a weird feeling that I was missing something important while making the lists…

    December 10, 2012
    • Thank you for your response. I was having that same “weird feeling” (obviously, because it was on my heart to blog about it! 🙂 )… I have to say it is interesting and awesome how God starts weighing something on me, it sinks deeper in my mind and heart… I write about it… and then my own blog is my constant reminder. Immediately after writing this there were SO many instances where I had neighbors stop by, interruptions, and so forth. A day after posting this, someone came to my house to drop their kid off for a playdate. I stood in the doorway, laundry baskets in hand, and then I remembered my own recent “sermon” on this matter and invited her in, she stayed for two hours, it was a beautiful morning…

      December 27, 2012
  2. Brad Hill #

    …and then I think about “sacred space” and wonder if I have room for that? Now, “leaving space” or “creating space” is another thing for me to check off. I just need to live “in space”, to live with some margins.

    December 10, 2012
    • I’ve been thinking about your comment about “Sacred Space.” What is it? What does it look like? Do we create it for ourselves, or does God open it up for us? Maybe both? I need to create more Space for the Sacred in my life, I also need to make some of my “spaces” Sacred… For instance I found myself walking alone in the winter woods yesterday (you were right behind me!), and I thought about catching up to party #1, or lagging behind to catch party #2 – but instead I enjoyed my space in the middle by myself… I am never, rarely, alone. And in this moment I asked the Holy Spirit to be very present walking with me, and we had a great conversation :)… And I felt God saying to me, “drink up this quiet moment, and I will use it as fuel to sustain you.” A Space becoming Sacred. A Sacred Space…

      December 27, 2012
  3. Blame it on the “Seattle Freeze.” I’m only half joking.

    December 10, 2012
  4. Once I was in an airport in Newark New Jersey and struck up a conversation with an older lady. She was flying to Seattle to see her grown daughter. I was just making conversation and asked how she liked Seattle. Her response was very interesting. She said as a matter of fact (not complaining) “My daughter has lived in the same house for years now and doesn’t know her neighbors. How do you not know your own neighbors?”

    This lady wasn’t from the hospitable South. She was from New Jersey and saying people are not welcoming in Seattle. That’s funny….and sad.

    We really like the expository teaching at our new church. Every Sunday we stay for cookies and coffee with the congregation. No one talks to us. I guess we get the Seattle Freeze.

    Blaming it on too many introverts. Really?

    December 10, 2012
  5. Hi Todd! I’ve been thinking about your Seattle Freeze comment, and I read that article too by the way, interesting! Not the Nordics’ fault! I have heard many people say that before about our city. Makes me sad, and I’m sad for you that you have been at your church for so long and no one talks to you. I wonder if it a bigger city thing? Out here in the suburbs, (Maple Valley) I find that people are actually pretty quick to talk, chat, stop and make conversation, more than they are in the city. But still, it is not as friendly and warm as other places I’ve lived, like Rapid City, SD. And of course, The Congo :).
    I want to be a small chink in the chain that changes this. I always talk to those offering me customer service, make chit-chat, ask how their day was. I’m trying to make more effort on a Sunday Morning to look around and see who the new faces are. But, as you saw in my writing, I fail often.
    And I don’t think it is an introvert vs. extrovert thing. My mom is an introvert and she is so great at making people feel welcome… and then later she needs to be by herself to re-energize. I think it is fear. Maybe we don’t say Hi, or make conversation, due to some kind of fear of either a) letting people in b) being a nuisance c) not “having time” c) rejection or d, e, f, g, who knows…

    I hope Seattle becomes warmer to you, as your presence also helps warm up Seattle!


    December 27, 2012

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