By Jayne Hugo Davis
Does it ever feel like the demands upon you require more than the resources you have to give? Maybe it’s time or energy that’s in short supply. Maybe it’s money or creativity or answers. Or compassion or patience or hope. You’re already giving everything you’ve got, but circumstances keep calling for more and more.
When we get to the end of what we think we need, life becomes overwhelming and exhausting.
For the last week I’ve been in South Africa working with a mission team from the United States. We’ve been staying at Em’seni, a retreat center in KwaZulu-Natal along the Tugela River, whose name means “place of grace.” Each night our team gathers for a debriefing session in the large dining hall, sharing stories of suffering and hope, unpacking the fear and joy, the frustration and amazement in what we’ve seen and done and felt that day.
We talk about the “gogos” we’ve met as we’ve gone on home visits to grass thatched huts and clay brick houses. It’s hard to say how old some of these women are. Life takes a sizable toll when you make the bricks for your own house, carry gallons of water on your head each day, and bury many of your own children after long periods of suffering with HIV and AIDS.
Pabble, a gogo herself, spoke of a gogo she met who was traveling to the hospital with her dying daughter. Eight of the woman’s other 10 adult children had already died and the last was sick at home. A whole generation has been lost in South Africa because of AIDS. Now, in their old age, these gogos are the sole caregivers for many young grandchildren. Yet still they greet you with a warm hello, “Sawubona!” They speak words of gratitude at the goodness of God and the ways God has provided for them in their need.
As we sit in the circle at Em’seni, we talk about the young women who live with and care for abused children in Khetani, women with whom we had spent two days on retreat providing respite and encouragement, caring for the caregivers. We share stories of the playground equipment the team has been building at Thembalethu — the hard, unforgiving African soil, the multiple uses for automobile tires and the joyful noise of the children scaling the new wood and rubber mountain as they came home from school.
The context of tonight’s conversation would be a little different, though. Tonight there would be load shedding. It seemed to me that our conversations had already been a load shedding, of sorts. But this load shedding was directed by Eskom, the national power company. When there is not enough electricity to meet the demand, Eskom schedules rolling blackouts, called load-shedding, interrupting the power supply to communities during peak hours. From 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. the power would be off, we were told; the lights would be out.
Debriefing began at 7:30 and, though most everything else we experienced this week took place with the generous flexibility of “Africa time,” load shedding was quite punctual. Prepared with flashlights we continued in conversation for a little while longer and then dismissed for the evening.
With the lights still out, we walked out of the dining room into the darkness. All of Em’seni, all of our area of Winterton, was devoid of manmade light. It is unsettling to lose what you rely on most, to feel power-less. But as we allowed our eyes to adjust to the darkness, we quickly discovered a fantastic display of stars spread across the African sky. It had been there all week. It had been there since time began. But so much of the light we created ourselves, that we had become so enamored with and dependent on, had muted its presence. It was magnificent.
There is so much of God we cannot see when we rely so heavily on our own power.
So much of God that we miss when we gather only in the light we can control and avoid the darkness around us.
But God is there, even still. It just may require a bit of load shedding to recognize his power in our midst.
Maybe you know that feeling. When the demands of life are more than your power supply can handle, when the spiritual practice of load shedding becomes necessary.
It is hard to encounter such suffering and human need. Being on mission in South Africa has meant shedding the need to fix everything, shedding the illusion that believes we can and the insecurity that says we are only valuable if we do. Instead we are called just to be present, to listen, to notice. (Trevor Hudson writes about this as taking on a pilgrim posture when entering into the suffering of others.) We are called to believe that God is already at work in the darkness, to discover him there and to join in that work. Indeed, as we’ve done that, we’ve found many bright and divine lights in our midst. Hope beyond our own strength.
Where do you need the spiritual practice of load shedding in your life? Where is the demand greater than the power supply that you have and what might God enable you to see if you gave up trying to fix and control it all yourself?
The spiritual practice of load shedding is about giving up our own power so that we might discover the light of God in the darkness. It is there that you will truly find your own Em’seni, your place of grace.