Life among the pagodas
This city is an exhausting place. I say this with no ill will. I am fond of Yangon and would miss it if we had to relocate. I enjoy the diversity of faces, the confounding (yet amusing) tetris grid that is the traffic system, the sounds and smells of food hawkers, the old buses, and the children reciting their lessons in nearby classrooms. Living here may well have ruined me for the excessive, almost funereal quiet of suburban North America.
We pedaled past two 20-something guys the other night and overheard one say to the other in Burmese, “getting around this city is so fatiguing.” People fall asleep in the most unusual and uncomfortable looking places; on the seat of a parked motorcycle, on a heap of water jugs piled in the back of a truck moving through traffic, on a cluster of wooden poles leaned at a gradual slope against a fence. The locals’ ability to nod off on a train that is nearly rocking off the tracks–or to sleep soundly on a bus about to careen off a mountain–is a testimony to just how wearying it is to live here.
And I too am weary, more weary than I have ever been in my life. Pregnancy and moving overseas combined: a recipe for fatigue. I can count on one hand the number of meals I’ve actually cooked myself in the past month. In the interest of listening to my body and staying healthy, I’ve spent more of my time in bed resting than doing language study, housework, or anything else. Coming from a busy and “productive” lifestyle into a state of being relatively handicapped, this forced change in pace has given me plenty of food for thought:
My identity is not essentially founded in what I produce, be it the sounds of a new language, a start-up business, a successful outreach program, or even (come August) a child. My identity is not and should never be dependent on anything but Christ.
The creation story is often a contentious topic in Christian circles, but I wonder if we sometimes miss one of the most important parts in all the debates: God rested.
How easily I forget the older folks among us who struggle against ongoing weakness, incapacities, and bed rest, with no end in sight.
Prayer, our conversation with God, should be our first refuge at all times. How often we foolishly rush into things, especially—and most destructively—in our relationships, because we idolize our own power to change and speak things, instead of going to God and being patient for his timing and plan. Being flat on my back lately has revealed to me how often I have been wont to view prayer as some sort of last resort or cure for insomnia. How wrong I’ve been to default to “doing” first and then praying as I go, or later on.
But above and beyond all these little takeaways I’ve absorbed over the past weeks, I’ve thought mostly of how rest—particularly sleep—is a gift from God. Too often I’ve taken it for granted, in the same way I assume the sun will rise on the morrow. I’m reminded that God is a God of rest (it was one of his first recorded defining acts, after all!), and beyond the clamor and weariness of living and being human, I’m filled with peace in knowing that he is my ultimate rest, my home, and the source for every drop of energy I possess.
These desert ways are never too long, too dry, or devoid of songs when I walk with the God of rest.
Come to me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.
– Matthew 11:28-29
Unless the Lord builds the house,
Its builders build in vain.
Unless the Lord watches over the city,
The watchmen stand guard in vain.
It is in vain that you rise up early
and go late to rest,
Eating the bread of anxious toil,
For he gives to his beloved sleep.
– Psalm 127:1-2
Of all the thoughts of God that are
Borne inward unto souls afar,
Along the Psalmist’s music deep,
Now tell me if that any is,
For gift or grace, surpassing this—
‘He giveth His beloved sleep’?
O Earth, so full of dreary noises!
Oh men with wailing in your voices!
O delved gold, the wailers heap!
O strife, O curse, the o’er it fall!
God strikes a silence through you all,
He giveth his beloved, sleep.
– excerpts from “The Sleep”, Elizabeth Barrett Browning (read the rest here–it’s such a good piece.)