I had the opportunity to teach Cultural Intelligence to a group of employees in Oklahoma City last week. The course focuses not just on Diversity in the workplace but on how to actually increase your intelligence level (like IQ) about Cultures. It’s an interesting concept and books have been written on the topic to show how you can actually measure this.
There are many differences between the Eastern and Western cultures, including perceptions of beauty, values, ethics, family and of course, language. One aspect that some don’t think about is TIME. One trip to my parents’ home and you will see the difference between the West and East. On the weekend, we are not ruled by the clock and never really were. We woke up when we did (usually around 9-ish or 10), rolled into the kitchen to make a pot of tea and no one ate until they had a cup of tea. Breakfast preparations began around 10 and we ate somewhere around 10:30 or 11. Lunch maybe happened or didn’t happen. If we had lunch, it was later in the afternoon. Dinner was yet entirely another story and almost a 2-3 hour event on its own.
When my poor American husband first came to my parents’ home, he woke up at his usual time of about 6:00 am. Why? I still don’t know why, other than he is an early riser by habit. He twiddled his thumbs until about 8:00, when he couldn’t stand it anymore and woke me up because he was starving. He decided to go and grab something to eat by himself and then he had to wait another 2 hours before anyone else got up. He was not too happy to have to sit and wait.
Breakfast, when it finally was served, was delicious but then he had the same experience trying to figure out if we were all having lunch or not. He decided to get in the car and go grab a bite to eat, since it looked like no one was interested. It was a good thing he did that, since dinner didn’t show up until almost 8:00 pm. Dinner preparations can also take hours at times. It just depends on what’s cooking, but many Pakistani dishes need to simmer on a low heat for hours. My dad laughingly told us once that it was this way because the village women could “look busy” cooking but sit around chatting away most of the day.
Even on the weekends, things are not always this relaxed in the West. Most families have things scheduled out to the hour even on a Sunday. It was tough getting used to that pace of life when we moved here as immigrants. In addition, people here talk about time as a commodity – “It was a waste of my time” or “What’s my time worth to you?” Time definitely has a cost associated with it, especially in terms of the workplace. There is a phenomenon that the Wall Street Journal addressed a few years ago called “Time Theft.” Yes, that’s right. You can actually steal your employer’s time by fiddling with texts, phone or internet.
It’s interesting then as a Christian to go to the Bible and see what it has to say on the subject of time, for God operates beyond time and space as we know it. 2 Peter 3:8 says “But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day” It’s so difficult to comprehend what this is like when we cannot see past the end of the day, the week or even the month. To think of things in terms of eternity is even more unfathomable. The Psalmist writes “Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere…” Psalm 84:10 When I think of this, it’s still hard to put it in perspective but when you ponder the fact that all things are created by God and for God, then even your own time comes into it.
How difficult it is to set aside one hour for someone? What about giving up half a day or a whole day to help someone else? Even though I was raised with an Eastern mentality about time, I lived in the West. I realized a few years ago that time ruled my day. I was running from appointment to appointment and the weekend didn’t change that for me. It wasn’t until I realized that all things belong to God and the thing we hold onto most dearly is what would be the most sacrificial offering. So every morning, I started praying something very scary… “Lord, my day is yours and my time is yours. Help me to glorify you in all I do today.”
He did. He took my time and showed me things that I wouldn’t have normally stopped to see. He showed me opportunities to slow down and speak with people I would have normally passed by. He opened up my heart to those who may have needed a kind word, smile or even help during each day. I don’t want to tell you that this was awesome because at first, it wasn’t. It was ANNOYING. I ended up having to re-plan my day or stay later after training to speak to someone or even pray with someone who was hurting. After just a little while of giving up my time to the Lord, I realized that I was blessed. I was blessed because I was being obedient to His will and to the things that mattered in terms of eternity with Him.
It’s scary, but it’s a different adventure each day with Christ.
So we can pray (words from a Jeremy Camp song):
Take my life take my mind
Take my soul take my will
I am yours now, and I give it all to you.
… that means your time as well.