When God is in a Different Time Zone
We may not always be happy with God's timing, but it's always just right.
My soul rejoices and my heart leaps for joy when deadlines are met early, when timetables are followed religiously, and when people arrive on the dot. I can just see God smiling, heaven opening, trumpets sounding and the earth singing hallelujah.
All seems to be well with my soul when all is done on time.
This is part of what makes living in the U.S. so great for me. America regularly quenches my thirst for timeliness.
— Aah, meetings start on time and often end early.
— Aah, instructions are clearly written and actually followed, which saves everybody time and frustration.
— Aah, most paperwork is processed earlier than expected (unless it’s health insurance; then, it will never be processed correctly and your great-grandchildren will still be paying for the root canal of an ancestor they never met).
Americans place a great deal of importance on time, and they live by the clock much more so than many other countries around the world. This makes life in the U.S. fast-paced, productive, and exhilarating — but also anxiety-inducing. I both thrive in such a time-oriented environment and get stressed by it.
My favorite part is knowing exactly when things will happen.
After years of living in the U.S., I have come to expect having everything listed in my calendar ahead of time and always knowing when. But I did not grow up that way. Where I come from in Moldova, the default answer to when? is amush. Amush literally means nowish, meaning soonish, meaning who knows? It could be five minutes or five years or five centuries. When will dinner be ready? Amush. When will my car be fixed? Amush. When will we see the results of this medical treatment? Amush!
When I moved to the U.S. I was happy to leave amush behind, and I was quick to replace it with the certainty of 6:00 pm, Saturday before noon, 6-10 weeks, and other more specific timetables.
That is, until I moved from the U.S. to Mexico, where I was greeted by my old friend amush, now bearing the Spanish name ahorita. Just like in Moldova, in Mexico the answer to when? is often ahorita, which ironically translates as “now” but really refers to some uncertain time in the near future. When will the store open? Ahorita. When are you all coming over? Ahorita. When will the worship service start? Ahorita. Just like with the Romanian amush in Moldova, the Spanish ahorita in Mexico is a common way to say that things will happen when they do. When the time is right.
If you live in a time-oriented culture like the U.S., hearing amush or ahorita when you want to know what your calendar will look like can be irritating. Waiting and not knowing is hard. Not having control is hard. Mourning the things you could be doing instead of waiting for what looks like a pointless eternity is hard.
I have been cruising on American time for a while now, and I have enjoyed the thrill of knowing, of feeling in control of my schedule and my life, of getting things done.
I have recently been reminded that God is not on an American schedule though. Most of the time, He seems to be following the norms of a culture I thought I left behind. God’s answers to when? are more often Moldovan and Mexican than they are American. When? Amush. When? Ahorita. In the near future. When the time is right.
The key to functioning in cultures where amush or ahorita are the standard time is trusting the person giving you the answer to when, not the answer itself. When a person you trust tells you amush or ahorita, you know that your concern will be fully addressed when the time is right. Perhaps that is why cultures that are less preoccupied with time are also less individualistic and more people- and relationships-oriented.
So it is with God.
This is a season in my life when I am continually reminded that God is less American than I would like. I often don’t understand (read: like) His answer or His silence to my when. Sometimes I am frustrated about it, and I demand to know the day and the hour.
When I am discouraged by how God answers my when?, I find encouragement in the good company of Peter and Paul and the early Christians. Paul begged God three times to take his “thorn in the flesh” away, but the answer he got was, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:8)
Peter also reminds the early Christians who were concerned about God’s timing: “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish.” (2 Peter 3:9)
In both of these instances, the answer that was given was a reminder about the person and character of God — his grace and power in the first case, his patience and mercy in the second. He is trustworthy. He is good. Wait and don’t give up. He is for you.
When He says amush or ahorita, I pray that I’ll remember who He is and have the strength to be weak: to give up control, to wait, to see opportunities pass by and know that the answer will one day be yes. When the time is right.