While visiting the amazing country of Tanzania earlier this year I noticed some very distinct differences in the attitude the people had while going about their daily life. These are people with very little creature comforts, they have what they need and they are very grateful for that. I watched closely as they praised God for letting them meet us, they praise him for the meal on their plate, they praised him for the health of their family. As the days went on we noticed that things don’t always go the way you want in Africa. The 3 atm’s in the area may not work, the road ahead may be filled with elephants and you can’t get home after a very long day, until they decide to move. The people didn’t gripe and whinge, they laughed, “T.I.A” they would say which means “This Is Africa!” And everyone breaks into laughter when they here this.
The people also showed me how considerate they are towards each other. One guy who served us at one of the lodges told us he had saved enough from tips and planned to buy his daughter a new bike, but his neighbour had had a tough year. So he put off buying his daughter the bike because he didn’t want to rub his good fortune in his neighbours face. He told us it wouldn’t make him happy to know his happiness may cause his neighbour to be unhappy. It touched me deeply, and I wondered when we came to think our plan is what makes us happy?
When I got home to western society I saw how irritable and lacking in tolerance and gratitude we are as a culture and it saddened me deeply. We have more than we can ever need, and yet we are wasteful and we take the simple things in life for granted. Many of us get extremely angry over the small stuff, it’s as if we planned our whole day to perfection, expecting things to go exactly that way, and surely enough as the day goes on things go wrong, someone may cut us off in traffic, the kids spill their milk in the car, there is a long line at the checkout, someone finished an ingredient we needed for dinner, and we hadn’t planned for any of this. So by the end of the day we are miserable and wrung out, reactive and aggressive, not grateful, not peaceful.
I caught myself mid-flight as I overreacted to an annoyance and I stopped myself, I couldn’t believe how badly I handled a small trivial hiccup in my day. I caught myself again when my daughter showed me a broken usb filled with pictures from our trip, the horror in my voice at the sight of the usb was a complete shock to my daughter and myself. It wasn’t holding the only copy of the photos, we can afford to buy another one, we have a car to go get another one if we want. What a silly thing to get horrified over! I had an epiphany.
If we stopped spending so much time planning our day to precision and we factored in the things that are sure to go wrong, just like they do in Africa, “T.I.A”, then maybe we wouldn’t be so uptight. We would be able to cope when we face inconveniences, when the unexpected grates on our tolerance. If we watch ourselves closely we may recognise when we are trying so hard to control the people and the situations around us in order to try and prevent our anger. Then we can make a decision, to aim all that control towards our anger so that the people and the life around us don’t have to be perfect, and so we can be grateful for the fact that all our needs are met.
Precious metals are refined in the furnace, and yet we spend so much time being angry at the heat that is actually meant to help us improve. Isn’t it time we paid attention and changed the direction of what we try to control?
Lord help us change the aim of our control, and keep this as our goal. Amen!