I pulled into the bank parking lot, hands a bit sweaty, rehearsing my lines before I walked in the door.
I need to withdraw some money in different denominations than I can get from the ATM.
Maybe it seems weird to you to have to practice what you’re going to say while running an errand, but I suspect most introverts know about this. If I don’t plan what I’m going to say, then I often stumble over my words or say something awkward or embarrassing.
It might not have been a big deal, but I hadn’t actually been inside the bank in two or three years. The world of online banking and deposits at the ATM have made it more convenient to not speak with a teller, and my introvert self sometimes prefers it this way.
I waited in line until it was my turn and then had a really nice interaction and conversation with the bank teller. I told him what I needed, and then I added, spontaneously, that it was for a yard sale I was having. This was my attempt at small talk and conversation, two things I’m not great at on the fly. When our business was finished, he wished me well on my sale, and I nearly floated out of the bank, so happy was I to have connected with a human being over something so small.
It got me thinking about all the conveniences of life and how maybe I’ve been making an idol out of them. I bank online because I can do it from home. I drive through the ATM because I don’t have to get the kids out of the car. I self-check at the grocery store because it’s often faster. I plan my errands so that I spend the least amount of time doing them, quick to complete the list without delay.
I went to Kenya this summer. That’s still an unbelievable statement when it comes out of my mouth or I see it in writing. For about 10 days, a team of 15 from our church spent time with our missionary friends who work at a boarding school in the Rift Valley. Though we were staying in a dorm with what we would call modern conveniences, there wasn’t much I would call convenient about our trip. And I don’t just mean the hours of flying it took to get us there in the first place.
When our friends want to “go to town” for a major grocery run, they make a day of it because going to town is a minimum of 90 minutes of driving. (In traffic that is sometimes scary!) There is no running to the store quick because you forgot something. Even simple chores like washing dishes or doing laundry are less convenient in Kenya. When we washed dishes, we filled a bucket with water we heated in a tea kettle. Laundry hangs out to dry most of the time because electricity is expensive.
Our team shared bathrooms and showers because we were staying in a dorm. This was a source of much humor and discomfort. And we slept on lofted bunk beds. Talk about inconvenient!
Many of the Kenyans who work at the school walk 45 minutes to an hour to and from work every day. They walk in groups and chat. They break during the day for chai (tea) and lunch. They are involved and interested in each other’s lives. One night, we headed up the hill in a van to visit some Kenyan homes, and because we had extra seats, we picked up a few people along the way. So much different than the American way.
We travel to work by car. Usually alone. We wouldn’t think of stopping to pick someone up on our way anywhere. We are in too much of a hurry or just not willing to be inconvenienced.
But is there a better way?
The week before we left for Kenya, my husband and I had a chance to hear Shane Claiborne speak. Shane leads a community in north Philadelphia called The Simple Way. (Check it out here.) One thing he said echoed loudly in my mind as we observed life in Kenya:
Areas that are economically poor are relationship rich. Out of necessity.
Aren’t we the opposite most of the time? In our economic “wealth” we are relationship poor. We do not have to rely on others so we choose not to.
The week after we returned from Kenya, I found myself unable to readjust to life here. I took the kids to Costco, and we ate samples, as usual, but I lingered and made small talk with the product demonstrators. I wasn’t in as much of a hurry.
I am learning, slowly, to choose people over convenience. To pick an open lane at the grocery store if there’s a person behind the checkout counter instead of breezing through the self-check lanes. To talk a little longer. To ask questions of the people I interact with daily.
I’m no expert at this yet, and I still choose convenience more than I’d like, but I’m craving human connection, even if it’s only an exchange of a few words.
It’s my new motto. And maybe the antidote to my idol of convenience.