Thoughts in a Power Outage

This past Monday at 4:50 pm, the power went out…and stayed out. There were tornado warnings in the area and we all assumed that the power outage was connected to the storms. Because we have a basement and they don’t, our children and granddaughter came over.

We couldn’t cook anything, so for supper we ate chips and salsa, crackers and cheese, whatever we could find that minimized opening the refrigerator door. We talked and laughed and we played with Emma…for more than two and a half hours.

The storm did some damage in areas some distance from us, but fortunately, we did have to deal with those harsher conditions. For us, the outage was more of an inconvenience, primarily that we couldn’t use our electrical devices. Nevertheless, we all agreed that the experience was a lot of fun. In fact, it seemed to me that we were all viewing the circumstances as a gift.

That perspective got me thinking. Why would the inconvenience of no power be a gift? We couldn’t watch television or movies. We had no internet. No phone. No stove or oven or microwave. Why would we possibly think that this was a gift?

Maybe it felt like a gift because it was something different—something out of the ordinary. Our routine was broken. I like my routines. I like consistency. But there is something about the times when routine is pushed aside for what is unique and different.

Maybe it felt like a gift because for a few hours, it relieved the pressure of life. There was nothing we could do about it. There was little we could accomplish. So, we sat around and talked and played. Now, if all we did was sit around and talk and play, then this wouldn’t feel like a gift; it would be our routine. But because we seem to just sit so seldom, it felt like freedom; for a few hours it felt like the merry-go-round of life stopped. And we got off and wandered in a field of daisies with no time constraints, no deadlines, no meetings to attend.

Ironically, I had a meeting planned for Monday night. Since we have no emergency lighting at the church, we cancelled it. We tried to reach the people for whom we had cell phone numbers but we couldn’t reach everyone. So our son Andrew and I got in the car and drove to the homes of those we weren’t able to reach. It took maybe 15-20 minutes, but it was fun. Something about that atmosphere brought freedom and joy.

When the power eventually came on (three and a half hours later), we went back to normal life. We had to. You can’t live in the different times of life all the time. We have responsibilities and deadlines and expectations. The realities of life are not bad; they enable us to be productive. But sometimes a reprieve is good and important and healthy…perhaps even healing.

Something about Monday night speaks to something deep inside of us—something that yearns for freedom from the mundane, something that desires a reprieve, even a short one. These kinds of reprieves give us energy to keep going in the mundane of normal life. These moments give meaning to what we do every day when the power stays on and the demands and expectations keep coming.

There is something of Sabbath rest in what we experienced Monday night. It was a forced rest, but a rest nonetheless. I’m not sure how to interpret this, but it struck me that this time of rest and reprieve was triggered by what insurance companies call “an act of God.” A storm knocks out the power. We can’t do what we planned to do. We aren’t able to maintain the pace of life that drives us. We have to stop. When we do, we find that the inconvenience isn’t a curse or a burden; it’s a blessing. We are restored. We are reminded that life isn’t about what we accomplish. We are reminded that life isn’t about meeting demands and expectations…as important and necessary as they are. We are reminded that these accomplishments have meaning when we see them in the context of our relationships.

It’s always about relationships, isn’t it? As we talked and laughed and played in the ebbing sunlight, I was reminded of the restorative nature of relationships. We yearn for relationship…because we were created for relationship by a relational God. It is one more element of what it means to be created in the image of God.

We love inventions, particularly inventions that make life simpler and more productive. Inventions, particularly electronics, help us accomplish more. They help us connect…sort of. But electronic connections cannot replace being together. We were created to be together—to talk, laugh, cry, love.

As we recalled past experiences of power outages, Andrew told us about the power going out while he was a college student. He and his friends did all kinds of things that they wouldn’t otherwise have taken the time to do. They had a ton of fun. One of them said, “We should plan a power outage every week.” That sounds sort of biblical, doesn’t it?

One person I talked to Monday night said, “You know, the Amish don’t even realize that this is happening.” We laughed, but it made me think.

Most of our trips involve driving past numerous Amish homes. Sometimes as I drive by, I envy them. Not completely, but just a little. I’m not sure that I want to read by an oil lamp. I kind of like having a stove and oven. I would really miss the microwave…and my car. I like flipping a switch and having light. I like my electronic garage door opener. I like being able to do google searches and to watch movies. I like being able to write documents like this in an easily editable format. But I also realize the attraction of a seemingly simpler life. Of course, what looks like simpler is at the same time more complex. In those moments when I might idealize the homes I drive past, I must admit that inventions don’t ruin life, but they do force us to think about life more carefully, thoughtfully.

As I’m writing these words (on a piece of paper with an ink pen rather than typing on my laptop), the sun is setting and it’s getting darker, harder to see. The kids have gone home. I’m already missing things that I take for granted…but perhaps not quite as much as I did before.

When the lights came back on, I experienced mixed feelings. I want to maintain the perspective that made the evening enjoyable even as I slide a disc into the DVD player. This is the tension of real life. The call of the gospel is make plans and be creative and productive while at the same time finding regular space to step back in order to build relationship with God and others.