The Right to My Own Time
"Come now, ye that say, Today or tomorrow we will go into this city, and spend a year there, and trade, and get gain: whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow.... For that ye ought to say, If the Lord will, we shall both live, and do this or that." -- James 4:13-15

"Mrs. Ning and I are going out to see Grandma Woo, who has been sick. Wouldn't you like to come too?"

I was sitting at my desk, with all the paraphernalia of Chinese study spread out before me. I looked at my desk, looked at the clock, looked at my sister, and then asked, "How soon will you be back?"

"Oh, we shouldn't be too long! Of course Mrs. Ning walks slowly, with her small[3] feet; but it's only a mile, and we don't need to stay very long. You never know, but we ought to be home in plenty of time for dinner."

Well, I thought to myself, I suppose I ought to go; but I wanted to finish translating this chapter, and I'll be doing well to get it done in three hours. And I had thought that I'd get it finished this morning, and be able to write letters this afternoon. Still --

Unfortunately for my peace of mind, I knew two things. One was that my sister thought that I ought to go, and the other was that she was right.

"Well," I said finally, "I'll go; but let's not stay long."

We got our sun hats, joined Mrs. Ning, and started off. Her feet were not more than six inches long, and she did take such tiny steps! Try as I would to walk slowly, I continually found myself going ahead of the other two. My sister by nature is in more of a hurry to get things done than I. Still, here she was, wandering along beside Mrs. Ning as if she had all the time in the world, listening intently to a tale about Mrs. Ning's third aunt's cousin, and putting in sympathetic interjections and questions now and then.

I could not seem to get interested in the story, even though Mrs. Ning was telling how she had tried to get this third aunt's cousin to bring his troubles to the Saviour. I could not understand all of what she said, and was unable to keep up with all the ins and outs of the poor cousin's troubles, so finally I gave up trying. It was a beautiful day. The sky was blue, and the wheat, high and greenish-gold, rippled in the wind. We turned off the road and followed a little path running through the wheat fields. My sister almost unconsciously began slipping the full heads of grain through her fingers, one after the other, as she passed. She always loved the wheat, and so did I, but somehow today I did not want to touch it. I only wished that we would hurry.

At last we arrived at the village, and made our way to the home of old Mrs. Woo. As usual, a crowd of dirty, staring youngsters followed us into the house. We sat on benches that were about eight inches wide, and sipped "tea" that could be called so only by courtesy; since, having no tea leaves, they had instead just put a few slices of raw sweet potato into the kettle when it went on the fire. Old Mrs. Woo was up and around again, and feeling lively.

"I'm so glad you've come! I've been telling my neighbors all about the Lord Jesus, and how they ought to believe in Him, but I'm afraid I don't do it quite right. Now that you've come you can tell them! Here, you, Kitten," speaking to one of the crowd of children that had followed us into the house, "you run home and get your grandma to come. And you, Girlie, your second great-aunt said that she wanted to believe. Run fast and tell her that the teachers have come. All of you youngsters, you scoot home as fast as you can and get your mothers and grandmothers to come and listen to the doctrine!"

It took quite a lot of persuasion to get the children to go; and perhaps the mothers and grandmothers were busy. We waited in vain for quite awhile, but finally in came three or four women, one with a cloth shoe sole she was quilting, and another carrying a baby. After quite a bustle, they were all seated and given bowls of tea. Then out came the poster that my sister always carried, and the Gospel was explained to them in very simple words. With great effort I managed to keep my mind on the message, and understood most of it. I congratulated myself internally. At last I had successfully wrested my mind from the absorbing but uncomfortable subject of all the things that I had wanted to get done that day!

The preaching was finished. The women got up to go, assuring us that they would come with Mrs. Woo to church the next Sunday. We got up too, and started to say good-by.

"What! Go home!" said Mrs. Woo. "Who could think of such a thing! Of course you'll stay for dinner with me! Why, it's almost ready!" (We knew perfectly well that the only womenfolk in the family were herself and her daughter-in-law, and that neither had left the room since the tea had been brought in.)

My sister and Mrs. Ning protested, and even I managed to add a few polite words. But my thoughts were not so courteous. Stay for dinner! What an idea! Why, that would mean that we would not be home before the middle of the afternoon at the earliest! And besides, the meal would probably be some miserable stuff that I could hardly force down! Oh, well, likely she was only asking us in order to be polite, and did not really mean it!

With great difficulty we made our way toward the door. Mrs. Woo and her daughter-in-law hung on us until we could hardly move, protesting loudly that they would not think of letting us leave. My blood began to boil. I guess we had the right to go home when we wanted to! They were actually trying to force us to stay! Well, I would not stay in any case now! This was just too much!

We had reached the open door, and just then caught sight of an old woman hobbling rapidly across the yard toward us.

"Oh, Girlie's second great-aunt!" called Mrs. Woo. "Here you are at last! Why didn't you come sooner?"

"Well, I had company, and I just couldn't get away. But finally my daughter-in-law came back, and I left them with her and came as quickly as I could. I was so afraid that the teachers would be gone. But, oh, surely you're not leaving?"

"Oh, no, of course they're not leaving! You don't think that I would let them come under my roof and not keep them to a meal! It will be nothing like they're used to, of course; but still a meal is a meal! Now, just sit down, teachers, please, and Mrs. Ning. Girlie's second great-aunt has wanted to believe for some time, but her son is very mean to her, and he won't let her go to church. Do you think that she could believe at home?"

I could not believe my eyes. My sister and Mrs. Ning sat down obediently and began to talk very sympathetically with the old woman who had just come. What! Were they actually going to stay to dinner? And not a word to me, just as if what I wanted did not matter at all! They could talk to this old lady, and tell her about the Lord, but all I could do was just sit! Of course I was supposed to listen; but one could not put her brain to listening to this queer Chinese all day long! And what about all those things that I had wanted to get done?

The dinner was no better than I expected. In fact, it was worse. Girlie's second great-aunt stayed too, upon urging, and they all talked on and on. They were trying to teach her a little prayer, and she was so stupid! Over and over and over, and still she could not say it by herself.

Finally, when I had given up all hope -- I had sat in stony silence all the afternoon -- we got up, made our farewells, and started home. The sun was setting as we entered our front gate. I was tired (why, I did not know; I had not done a thing all day), hungry (I had not been able to eat much of the dinner, no matter how it had been urged upon me), and disgusted. And the worst of it was that it did not seem to bother my sister a particle. She took it all as a matter of course. Was this what I was going to have to go through; what I had come to China for? For I began slowly to realize that today's experience was not just one isolated incident; it was likely to happen any day in the year. Something was wrong somewhere. What?

Suddenly it came over me. It was only that I had had my day all planned out, and did not want my plans interfered with. Because they had been interfered with, I had done nothing but sulk. All the things I might have enjoyed I had not enjoyed at all. I had made myself miserable for a whole day, just because my time had been disposed of by someone else, and not by me.

"Dear Lord," I said, "I'm not going to go through this again! I know it was really You who disposed of my day when I wanted to do something else with it! Give me an open mind, Lord, so that whenever I go to the country, whenever I start a new day, I'll be able to accept whatever comes, and rejoice in it!"

It is amazing how much difference a little thing like one's mental attitude can make. After that, when I went to the country, I never took with me any preconceived notions of what time I would return. I might get back home for my noon meal, or I might get back by sunset, or I might even stay overnight -- what difference did it make? My time belonged to the Lord, and it was up to Him to dispose of it. I found that with this attitude of mind I could go anywhere, take advantage of any opportunities offered, stay more time or less time than I had expected, and still enjoy every moment, because God had planned it, and had worked it out in the best possible way.[4]

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