Josh Irby

Live from Sarajevo

What I Learned While Waiting (Or, How Cows Do It)

I was in the southern mountains of Albania when two of the biggest questions in my life were answered:

What does God want from me?
How do cows do it?

Both answers came while I was waiting for something else.

Photo credit Damiano (Creative Commons)

Photo credit Damiano (Creative Commons)

During the summer of 2000 I spent two weeks traveling in Albania with a group of friends. We joined a project aiming to show a film about Jesus’ life to all 4 million people in the country. At the time, 70% of the nation lived in villages. Many of those villages were inaccesible by a car.

Our job was to show the film in three towns in the mountainous southern region.

We set out from base camp in a beaten Land Rover that rocked back and forth on the dirt roads. I tried not to retch. Eventually, the jeep stopped and we unloaded our equipment on an empty hillside. We had an old reel-to-reel projector, a collapsable screen, and a power generator.

The driver pointed to a village in the distance accessible only by footpath. Then he hopped back in the Rover and drove away.

He left us alone on an Albanian hillside with 200 pounds of equipment a mile away from the village.

“How are we supposed to get down there,” I asked an Albanian teammate, pointing at the tiny distant houses.

“We will pray and wait.”

Not much of a plan, I thought.

Not too long afterwards, a man and a donkey came walking along the path from the village. He agreed to help us with our equipment. That evening we showed the film in the center of town. Afterwards, we ate  at the home of the mayor who made sure we all had a place to sleep.

The next morning we loaded the equipment on two borrowed donkeys and walked to the next village.

I felt like an apostle straight out of the Bible, walking from village to village, talking about Jesus. Most of the people who came to the film showings had never seen a movie before. The kids sat side-by-side so close to the screen they could almost touch it. The adults hung back a little, but watched intently.

It was unlike anything I had ever done before.

And, honestly, I thought God must be pretty proud of me. Look at all I was doing for him.

After three villages in three days, we needed to head back to base camp. A local helped us move our equipment up the hill to the road and I radioed headquarters and informed them we were ready for a ride.

They radioed back, “Sit tight. Wait. We will come and get you.”

The first hour went by quickly. We sat together in the shade of a large tree on the mountainside trading stories. Eventually, though, we began to wonder what was delaying our ride.

I radioed headquarters. They answered, “Wait.”

The second hour I ran out of productive things to do. Productivity was important to me. This time sitting beside a dirt road seemed wasteful compared to the previous three days. What was I doing? Sitting. Playing in the dirt. Waiting.

And, if I am honest, I thought God was tapping his foot in heaven wondering when I would get off my butt and get something done.

During the third hour I walked around a rock wall for some privacy. Below me was a small patch of grass where two cows grazed. Since I had nothing else to do, I sat and watched them eat. After some time, one of the cows began rubbing its neck against the other cows neck. It almost looked like they were neck wrestling.

Then one of the cows started licking the other all over its neck and side. I figured this was some way of cleaning each other off. I kept watching. At the time, a cow cleaning ritual was was the most interesting thing on the mountainside.

After 10 or 15 minutes of neck wrestling and tongue bathing one of the cows did something surprising. In that moment I realized that instead of watching two cows enjoying an afternoon lunch, I was actually invading an intimate moment between a bull and his lady-cow. Let’s just say he made his move.

Not wanting to disturb my animal friends, I quietly slipped back around the rock wall and found a new spot to wait.

Something about the encounter with the cows changed the way I waited. Maybe it was the magic and beauty of nature. Maybe it was the patience of the bull with his lady-cow. Maybe it was finally knowing how cows make babies. Maybe it was just the stillness of having nothing to do.

I no longer felt a tension in my gut.
I no longer heard a voice asking, “What have you done lately?”
I no longer felt like God was disappointed with my inaction.

In fact, I felt the opposite.

Maybe God is just as happy with my waiting as he is with my productivity. (tweet that?)
Maybe he is less concerned with what I do for him and more concerned that I am with him.
Maybe the Creator of mountains and trees and Albanians and cows cares more about me than what I can produce for him.
Maybe what God really wants from me is to sit still and wait.

The fourth hour I wasted on my Creator. When our ride arrived, I was disappointed. In the end, waiting was the best part.

[box] I recently had the privilege of reading an advance copy of Jeff Goins new book “The In-Between: Embracing the Tension Between Now and the Next Big Thing. In it, Jeff addresses the challenge of waiting through personal life stories. There are no cows in it, but I would highly recommend the book. You can preorder a copy today and still get $260 of bonus material. Check out the book trailer and let me know what you think.

Coming up this week: an interview Jeff about the In-Between.[/box]


About Josh