“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
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.