Living in Quito has provided me with a lot of new experiences– different cultures and history, the beautiful landscape and moderate climate of the Andes Mountains, new friendships, trying different cuisines and…having my utilities cut. All of them. While delinquency is unfortunately a major concern in the city, this was no act of delinquent behavior; rather, I failed to pay my bills on time, and so I’ve had the electricity company, the gas company and telephone/internet company cut off my service. Multiple times. Fortunately not all at once. The worse experience was having my electricity service discontinued the same day the water company had shut off the water (that at least was not due to my failure to pay; there was a leak in a pipe in my apartment building).

I pay my rent on time, often early, and also am always responsible with payment for the monthly dues for my running club, lest you think that I am, across the board, financially irresponsible. Yet there is something about paying these other bills that has been a challenge. Part of it I would like to blame on the online banking system, which while pretty amazing in some aspects, does not always work for paying bills. Or perhaps it is the fact that I have no personal relationship with the phone company. In contrast, I know my landlady. She´s a lovely person, and I wouldn´t want to pay her late.  And then there’s the inconvenience of going to pay in person when the online system doesn’t function. And then sometimes I misplace the bill or go out of town.

These factors combine and enough time passes for my payment to be beyond late and beyond the grace period. Just how late I am on paying I don’t realize though, until I come home and my lights don’t switch on. Or I go to check my email and my internet doesn’t work, or I try to place a phone call and hear the company’s automated recording telling me my service has been disconnected. Or I try to turn on my gas stove to boil water for my evening tea and there’s no gas.

No cooking for me without gas...

Once my service gets cut off–especially electricity and gas (phone is less urgent since I have a cellphone)–I suddenly make time to go to the company’s offices, wait in the customer service line and pay my bill. What had been an inconvenience and something to put off a bit longer the day prior, is now quite urgent. While the idea of eating by candlelight may sound romantic, getting ready for bed, showering and getting ready for work by candlelight is not as delightful. Consequences have a way of getting our attention. Unfortunately, though we sometimes put ourselves through painful consequences because we fail to do what we should be anyway.

The first time my electricity got cut off and I was faced with no power and having to go to the office to pay–which is time consuming and inconvenient (once your bill is late, you can no longer elect to pay it online), I told myself–and others–I would never let that happen again. Since then, my power has been turned off at least once more and my phone and gas at least twice each. While these are relatively inconsequential mistakes and carry light,  but bothersome consequences, they are reflective of a larger problem I sometimes, and perhaps others I would venture to say, have. We fail to learn.

Recently I was talking with a friend here, catching up about our lives. I was relating a recent incident to her, and she shook her head and said, “you don’t learn, do you?” Pretty straight and to the point. Coming from someone else, I might have felt offended, but I know she cares about me, she’s from the Ecuadorian coast where culturally people tend to be more direct, and most importantly, I knew she was right. I hadn’t learned. God and the circumstances of previous experiences had given me a chance to learn and not keeping repeating the same mistakes, but I had failed to do so. This was like the insanity of having my utilities cut off multiple times, only more serious at it related not to my temporary inconvenience, but to obedience to God and my emotional well-being.

Are there any utilities being cut off in your life signaling that there’s something you need to change? Any consequences that you are failing to learn from? Maybe your bill is not over-due yet, so to speak, but is heading that way. Use this Lenten season to reflect and correct behaviors, attitudes or hurtful words that could be causing harm now or in the future. Or perhaps, like my friend, you need to speak truth with love into the life of someone else who, so far, just isn’t learning… I’ll close here as I have a gas bill that just arrived and is waiting to be paid.

James 1:22-25
Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves.Do what it says. Anyone who listen to the world but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in the mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it–he will be blessed in what he does.

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