Ay is forced to be still. She sits alone for hours waiting for her mother to return from work so that she can be fed and helped to the bathroom. A progressive muscle wasting disease has left her with a little hand function and an active mind but no ability to do the things that most young women take for granted or fulfill the roles expected of her. Thankfully a smart mobile phone and facebook provide some connection with the outside world. It is also a distraction from the constant grinding and whirring of saws from the metal working shops that surround the little upstairs room she now shares with her mother and younger brother.
Not only does Ay endure this loneliness, discomfort and boredom, she carries the loss of her previous life and her family’s dreams for the future. Ay was finishing university when she became ill, progressively getting weaker and weaker. Her mother spent all their money, sold their house and borrowed from others, going from doctor to doctor both in Cambodia and in neighboring countries desperate to find a cure. When they eventually came to Mercy Medical Center they still had no clear diagnosis despite many costly investigations and useless treatments proscribed by doctors more concerned with profit than patient care. It was heartbreaking to tell them this is a progressive condition for which there is no cure and no expensive medicine will make any difference. All we could offer was physiotherapy, prayer and a willingness to be friends for the long and difficult road ahead.
There are plenty of painful and unjust situations here in Cambodia that I long to see changed. At the same time I am recognizing more and more the need to be patient and endure the frustration of going slowly so that we can learn as we go and move at the pace of those we travel with.
In a world that emphasises action, efficiency, instantaneous results and constant stimulation it can be hard to hear the call to stillness, quietness, waiting and patient endurance. The scriptures are full of these themes (Col 1:11; Ps 37:7; Isa 30:15). We are encouraged to develop these qualities and pray for the power to endure and persevere.
There is a need for wisdom and discernment about what things we are to endure or persevere in and what we are to confront and transform. I believe it is in the stillness and quietness that we find this clarity.
Recently, while visiting Ay, a Khmer colleague and I shared with her the story of Jesus at the home of Martha and Mary. We talked about how, although Martha was busy doing what was expected of her as a woman and hostess, Jesus praised Mary for sitting at His feet and being a devoted learner. Ay had expressed her sadness at the impact her disability had on her family and how she felt she was a burden. Through this story, however, she could see that in the eyes of God she was a beloved child and a student of the Lord able to spend her days at his feet, listening and learning and this was more important that anything else she might do.
In the business, noise and demands of our lives may we also risk stepping outside the expectations of others as we take time to quietly sit at Jesus feet and learn from him.