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The spot for the good news, the good word, the quick reports of the many, many wonderful news items I hear all the time and want to share with the rest of you. Expect to find the good news when you come to check out "what’s the good word?"

Wednesday, January 19, 2011


Once upon a time, in my former life, I worked with many professionals from other countries, especially developing countries, who would come to Canada for several months, usually a full year, to learn the nuts and bolts of “value-for-money-auditing.” (Canada leads the world in its expertise with this particular type of audit, for which I am very grateful as it has given me lots of valuable experience and good friendships around the globe!)

I loved being with the folks from other nations as they learned about auditing, but it was way more fun to watch them learn about us, our country, our culture, our climate. I recall once hearing one African gentleman explaining to a newly arrived Caribbean fellow how to walk in snow. “You might think it’s like sand but really it’s quite different. As you step on it, it just goes away under your foot.”

Then there was the day we had to keep stopping class to photograph the first snowfall as the snow piled up on the street, on the grass, on top of the fire plugs and street signs. The time lapse photography was remarkable to see; I gained a new appreciation for this amazing but very common Canadian experience. I recall Regina, a good friend from Swaziland, coming into my office early in September, wrapped in parka, gloves and scarf! “I’ll never use the word ‘cold’ again when I go back home!” she exclaimed.

One thing these international friends all picked up very, very quickly in their Canadian stay. They would discuss it among themselves. They soon realized that the answer to “How are you?” which they may have used back home, or learned in an English conversation class, was quite different here. More than once someone has asked my why they had been so misled. (I tended to be the person to ask such questions.)

The answer to “How are you?” is not some version of “Fine thank you,” or “I am very well, how are you?” as they had been taught. No, the answer is always: “Busy!” Usually there is a long sigh and then often there will be a litany of the many projects needing work, the long to do list, the many appointments to be kept, the children’s schedules, the renovations underway, the spouse’s equally long and impossible lists.

My international friends could not understand how we had allowed this to happen to us. It just didn’t make sense to them. And it really did tend to slow down the work day to have this ritual conversation every single time. My friends found it exhausting, but unavoidable. Think about it. What is your first response when someone asks that question: how are you? Can you keep yourself from responding: Busy!

A new element has been added as I’m considering my imminent retirement. (You may have heard of it.) Retired folks I know invariably confide that they’ve never been so busy as since they’ve retired. And they tell me with a confusing mixture of despair and satisfaction. It’s as if they were afraid they might fade into nothingness once they’ve stepped off the clock, but now realize they still have purpose because they are still busy.

Congregations and pastors I visit deal with this phenomenon all the time. Scheduling is just so difficult; people’s lives are just so busy. What have we gotten ourselves into anyway? My international advisers tried to teach me, and I’ve tried to learn how important it is not to let myself get so busy that I don’t have time for the things that are most important to me. How about you? Any thoughts on this issue?

Posted by Marion


  1. I've been retired for 1-1/2 yrs. The first 3 months were heaven ... waking up without an alarm clock, sitting on the porch with multiple cups of coffee watching other people go to work. After that my mother's declining health and relocation to a retirement home from the family farm took precidence and kept me very busy. As the retired member of the family, I seemed an obvious choice for taxiing Mom (and others) to doctors' appointments, shopping, visiting, running errands, etc. Being busy in retirement is real. What I'm attempting to do now is change "other's" impression of how much available time I have. I don't mind doing favors for other people but I also want to spend time sitting on the porch with my coffee watching other people go to work.

  2. Marion,
    Thank you so much for such a wonderful post this morning - totally made my day :))) It was a question of - How are you? - which I always had a difficulty to understand, as so many of your friends you were talking about. Coming back to my life time in Russia - we did not had such question... If you really want to talk to someone, you ask them direct questions - How is your work? How is your health? How is your family? And you really mean to ask it, and you really mean to stay there and listen to the other person sharing his life with you.... Never in my all life did I notice someone asking you, and not waiting to hear what you are about to say, and just walking by.... It is something that I had to learn here in Canada.... Sometimes people ask you - How are you, but they don't really mean it ... It is just a way of being polite... And they are too busy to stop and to really listen to what you are about to say... It took me some time to get used to it... And thanks to you I finally understood, why are we all doing it - we are just too busy, to stop and really listen one another.

  3. Thank you both for your thoughtful responses!
    I think you've each hit on something that can make it better: intention.
    Being retired and helping people is not a bad thing, of course not. But letting folks know when you are available and when you aren't can help preserve some of that necessary "porch time" too.
    And Irina reminds us how important it is to really listen to one another. While I may notice when people don't listen to me, I can really only change myself. So if I ask "how are you?" I must be certain to listen to your answer--even if the reply is "I'm busy."

  4. Marion,
    Thank you for your thought provoking and well worded comments. We seem to take pride in our busyness – as if our value in life would not exist if we were not overly busy, preoccupied and wishing it were somehow different!. What wisdom your friends from other parts of the world shared with you and you shared with us. I tell people, “Jesus doesn’t ask us to kill ourselves for ministry” but I find myself going down the same path so much of the time. It’s as if I’m being a better Christian and disciple if I’m busy all of the time. What happened to the idea that God wants time with us…just time to be, and not to do. There must be a balance somewhere between the being and the doing. But in our culture which values doing and which tends to equate being with laziness (heaven forbid!) and self-centeredness, inadequacy and ignoramce, we have to really fight against those concepts. And sometimes, many times, we are just too busy :-) Maybe this group of disciples who read the Good Word each day will join me as I carve time and space from a busy, tedious life, for time with God in an intentional life. More than you wanted to know, but you asked :-)


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