Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Wisdom in Our Downtime

Downtime: A Boon or a Bane?
Written by: Conrade Yap
Date: 6 Apr 2010
Blessed is the man who finds wisdom, the man who gains understanding, for she is more profitable than silver and yields better returns than gold.” (Proverbs 3:13)

I remember getting my first personal computer many years ago. After years of sharing the school computer at the computer labs, you can picture how happy I was as a young engineer, to have a computer all to myself, to work with. As a software engineer, my computer is my main tool at work. Keeping the computer up and running is vitally important. If there is a power outage, I simply cannot function. It becomes a downtime. For the business, it is bad. For the worker, it can be a moment of respite from the busy project schedules. A power outage is a legitimate reason for my downtime. Of course, we enjoy our extended coffee breaks.

In our busy society, downtimes can be extremely discomforting. The Internet cannot be connected. Our blackberries cannot work. We cannot read our emails. Our social connections with friends are interrupted. Even the shopping malls are left in the dark. Security guards with torchlights will have to escort shoppers toward the exit doors. At home, for those of us with an electrically-operated garage door, it means we cannot even drive our car out. We are practically trapped in our inability to be efficient or be productive. We feel like time is being wasted and our plans fall by the wayside.  Downtimes can be frustrating, especially for the high achiever.

One such downtime happened recently in some parts of British Columbia, near the Greater Vancouver region. Due to strong winds and stormy weather, many trees fell on electricity lines, and interrupted power supplies to thousands of households. Even though this is early Spring, temperatures can be freezing cold at night. I remember a student friend at one time telling me that a power outage means no heating in the house. They were left to freeze throughout the night. I told them that they could have called us, and bunk in with us. They did not call. Maybe, they could not locate our contact number as their electronics were also affected.

Downtimes can be life threatening, like freezing in the Winter cold. I wonder if there are possible advantages at all, besides the extended coffee break at the office, or the extra time to talk with family and friends on a more casual basis. My argument in this week's Sabbath Walk is that downtimes can be moments of inspiration and collecting wisdom.

A) My Personal Downtime
Apart from all the daily practical problems surrounded by a downtime, there can be positive aspects when pausing from our normal routines. During a personal downtime, we can get a spark of insight. It is what I call a change in perspective.

For Lent this year, I voluntarily chose a Facebook downtime. For 40 days, I refrained from doing anything on Facebook, so that these moments can become moments of remembering Jesus’ journey to the Cross. You can call that Facebook-fasting. Almost immediately, after announcing my intention, I was accused of practicing a form of legalism in my Christian walk. Surprised I was. I never knew that trying to do something in order to remember Christ more personally can be misconstrued as ‘legalistic.’ It still baffles me today. This symbolic Facebook-fast for me is a way to counter the potential grip Facebook can have on me. Yet, some people choose to interpret otherwise. I know that this hot social phenomenon is going viral from day to day. If we are not careful, we may end up becoming so addicted that Facebook becomes an electronic drug.

Facebook is fast challenging email as the social communication of choice. Sometimes, it is easier to locate a friend through Facebook, than ransacking through all the old emails sent and received. Searching Facebook pops out not only the email address, but the photograph and other relevant details as well. The power to connect has never been more effective. Yet, this very tool, efficient and powerful, can become addictive. My Facebook-fast teaches me that I can live without Facebook. There is life beyond social networking. I learn to see that in my moments of fasting, there is always some precious insights to be learned.

B) Finding Wisdom in Our Downtime
Once there was an explorer attempting to travel across the Amazon jungle as quickly as possible. He brought along some natives to help him navigate. After a few days of speedy progress, he found the natives unwilling to travel further. Annoyed, he asked them why. In reply, the lead native said: “We cannot continue until our souls catch up with our bodies.” These natives know certain matters that many of us take for granted. Sometimes we confuse our natural bodies with a 7x24 always ON computer system. We subconsciously work all day, thinking like a computer that is always up and running, and always ready. We are not computers. We are human.

I have been reading this amazing little book by Andy Andrews called “The Noticer.” The central character in the book is a wise old man called Jones. He seems like a type of ‘Jesus’ who happens to know everyone by name, appearing at the deepest moment of need, and disappearing the moment people try to seek him out. In one instance, he was talking to a group of teenagers having questions about adult matters. They were exploring dating, curious but cautious about marriage, recognizing the high rate of divorces in their society. Jones mentions that there is a positive aspect of having a downtime.

Wisdom can be gathered in your downtime. Wisdom that can change the very course of your life will come from the people you are around, the books you read, and the things you listen to or watch on radio or television.” (Andy Andrews, The Noticer, Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2009, p64)

C) Wisdom in Marriage Matters
One one chapter, Jones helps three teenagers learn that it is not love or commitment that is important in choosing a life partner. It is the ‘seeking and gathering of wisdom’ to help one decide. It is not because ‘people love each other’ as the reason for getting married. It is actually the wisdom to recognize who we want to spend the rest of our life together with. I think this little insight can only be understood in our downtime. In our quick-fix society, we often shortchange ourselves into thinking that marriage is simply finding the perfect partner. The pre-marital process is actually not the love itself, but the collection of wisdom during our quiet moments. Such moments of wisdom collected prepares us for marriage long-term, instead of an emotional romanticism short-term.

I agree. For every couple that falls in love quickly, they can also fall out of love speedily. In a world that worships the latest-and-the-greatest techno gizmos out there, we unconsciously transfer that to human relationships as well, expecting the ‘latest’ fashion our loved ones should wear, or the next greatest feat we should do to impress our partners. No. In any relationship, we need to have the wisdom to know our own limits and authentic being. We need to have the wisdom to help our partners be the best version of themselves. We need to let our relationships grow naturally, and not with ‘artificial steroids’ like magical seminars or techniques to improve our relationships. It is wisdom that we need to seek after. It is wisdom that we need to wait for. It is wisdom that we need to collect. One of the best times to collect wisdom is during our downtimes. Our downtimes can be excellent moments to reflect and to build on our pool of wisdom.

Wisdom is 'the ability to see into the future the consequences of your choices in the present.' (73)

D) Seek Wisdom
Wisdom is precious in every relationship. We need more wisdom, not romantic love in deciding about our partners. We need not mere short-term love, but a long-term vision of who is the person we want to spend the rest of our lives with. We need more wisdom, not mere commitment, to maintain our current relationships. Wisdom that is more precious than feelings or gold. Wisdom that is concentrated in the Person of Jesus. Wisdom that bears fruits through the Holy Spirit. Wisdom that brings us assurance that no matter what happens, we are loved by our Heavenly Father.

Be glad when there is a forced downtime. Be purposeful in planning a personal downtime. Once a week is a good start. Regardless of forced or planned, may the Holy Spirit guide you always unto all wisdom and understanding. Seek wisdom in your downtime. Perhaps, wisdom comes to us only when we allow our souls to catch up with our bodies.
Thought: “Smart people spend time alone. They don’t fill their days with appointments from 8am to 10pm, as many executives do. Inspiration is nurtured by activities like chopping wood, preparing dinner and reading to the kids. These activities soften the rigid pace of the day’s pursuits and allow all our God-given intuition to work its unlogical magic.” (Philip K Howard)


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