By Tonya Stanfield
The pandemic of 2020 forced the entire world to slow down. I’m a missionary in South Africa, and our hard lockdown was a 35-day, military-enforced command: STAY INSIDE. There were no walks, no outdoor exercise, and lots of unhappy dogs. After that, we were only allowed outside for exercise hours. Life ground to a halt for months. I gardened and listened to podcasts. My son learned to cook. My daughter led our daily workouts. We built (what we believe to be) the world’s largest blanket fort! I even created an interactive Good Friday service in our house.
I also had time to take more notes of my inner life as well. There was nothing to distract me from emotions, desires, and fears that might have popped up for a moment and floated away otherwise. But, because the world slowed down, I not only noticed but had time to take these ‘noticings’ to God in prayer. I began to do so regularly throughout my day.
There’s a book called Three Mile an Hour God. I’ve honestly never read it. I just love the title! Three miles per hour is the average pace of a man - the average pace at which Jesus would have experienced the world. Outside of a few boat rides, he never went faster. I believe this book encourages us to engage our world and life at a similar pace as Jesus: a formative pace that encourages us to pause, notice, and reflect. A pace that develops eyes that actually see and ears attuned to listen.
Jesus often refers to the Kingdom of God as something small that grows (like the mustard tree- Mk. 4:30-32), or something you have to stay alert and searching for, like a lost coin (Luke 15:8-10). Whatever the parable, it’s clear we have to pay attention for us to find and grow the Kingdom in our own lives and this world. The slow pace of lockdown ceased to be something I was forced into and, rather, became an invitation to live life alert and awake to what I might have sped past before, both in my family and in myself.
After the hard lockdown lifted and the world figured out how to work on Zoom, I maintained my slow, increasingly intentional rhythms. Mornings in the Word. Afternoon coffees with the Prayer of Examen. Prayer walking with my dogs. Family dinners revolving around the Church Calendar. A rhythm of intentional slowness rooted itself in my life, and I saw the fruit: increased self-awareness; increased God-awareness; deeper connection.
John Ortberg once asked Dallas Willard: “How can I help the people at my church grow more?”
Dallas Willard replied: “You must arrange your life so you’re experiencing deep contentment, joy, and confidence in your everyday life with God. The main thing you bring the church is the person you become.”
What counterintuitive gift did this pandemic offer you?
Tonya Stanfield has been a missionary for 20 years. For the past 15, she's called South Africa home with her husband and 2 children. Her focus has encompassed counter-human trafficking, serving marginalized peoples, and training missionaries in justice, peacemaking, and spiritual formation.