One of my favourite things about living in my area is going for country drives. Just outside our city limits, we find many Mennonite farms along the main highway. I just love to gaze out the window and observe the Mennonite families as we speed by. Until recently, I was unsure what drew me like a magnet to catch a glimpse of a life quite unlike my own.
As a young adult, I remember seeing horses and buggy’s galloping on the side of the road and being told these people live without electricity and modern technology. I thought this was crazy. Why would anyone want to live this way? What was wrong with advancement and change?
Now, as an adult with a family of my own, I am seeing things differently. I have to come to admire their way of life. Here are some of things I have observed and come to appreciate from watching these Mennonite families from my passing vehicle :
- Mennonite farms are neat and tidy. There is no leftover machines laying around, no garbage or junk strewn across the lawn. Yes, there are children’s toys in a fenced area, but nothing looks out of place or messy.
- Women hang laundry in an orderly fashion. All the sheets and towels are hung according to size from largest to smallest. Men’s pants are hung from adult size to child size. Even colours are organized together. There is a method and they all stick to it. No haphazard hanging of laundry here.
- Mennonite women’s gardens are to die for. They have endless rows of vegetables and flowers. No weeds, just straight rows of produce and blooming, colourful gladiolus and mums.
- Every Sunday, Mennonite families attend church and then they visit each other. You will see groups of men and women congregating together on the lawn. The men hang out together or play baseball and the woman socialize. The groups don’t seem to mix.
- I haven’t observed this much, but I’m guessing they help each other with farm work and garden work. Together they harvest crops and can vegetables.
- All Mennonite farms use the same colour paint. It is the same green on most farms. The houses are green, the barns are green and sometimes the fence is green. I’m not sure why this colour has been chosen, but it seems like it is the only colour that is okay to use.
- There is a standard way to dress. Women wear dresses and head coverings and men wear dark trousers with suspenders and a light shirt. The children wear smaller versions of the adult costume.
Based on these two things, organization and community, I have drawn some conclusions. The way of life for these Mennonite families haven’t changed much over the years and there is a specific way to do things. It seems like life is already laid out to be done in a specific way. I can see why some choose to leave this community if they feel restricted from making their own choices.
But in our modern world, I think we can learn a few things from the Mennonite way of life. I think they have it right when it comes to community living. I often feel the separation I have with my own family. Because most of us live physically farther apart, we are not in each other’s daily lives very much. We miss so much of the wisdom and guidance older generations can pass on to their younger family members when we don’t live close together.
I also know that many moms who stay at home feel lonely and isolated. There can be contentment being home of course, but it is a lonely job and it takes effort to commune with other women (and sometimes we are just too tired!) Most of us have lost the connection to our neighbours and we can’t just pop in to visit someone without an appointment (we have to clean up the house first!) It is rare that we invite our sisters and friends over to can or put meals in the freezer.
I appreciate the way their life is mapped out for them. Life is predictable and many matters are non-negotiable. Sometimes I feel like I’m running around like a crazy person because I have so much to do but I’m not quite sure what I should do first. I know I have many gifts and talents to offer, but I’m not sure where I should use them. I wish I had a clear map as to where I should be spending my time and where I need to be. With so many options, sometimes I choose nothing for lack of knowing which option to choose.
One of our modern sicknesses is the misuse of time. Either we feel so busy because we are over-scheduled or we waste so much time doing useless things like browsing the Internet for nothing. I think we can learn from the Mennonite way of life where nothing is wasted and there is a purpose in everything. They don’t have modern technology to distract them from their work and their family. They do what needs to be done and they do it together.
One last observance, is the children on Mennonite farms play. There is always a fenced area where children can play safely while the parents work. I’m not sure how often or even if the parents stop to play with the kids, but the children are often outside playing.
One struggle I have as a mom is how much time I should spend with my kids playing with them. I have a lot of work to do to maintain our home and keep our family clothed and fed, so play time with them seems like a bother and something I don’t have time for.
I do know however, it is important to spend one on one time with each child. I do stop occasionally when there is a request to read a story or do a puzzle or play a game. But it is not frequent. I have a lot to do and I think it is important for the kids to occupy themselves. This free play time allows them to get creative and use their imaginations. But how many times can or should I say “no, mommy is too busy” to a request for one-on-one time. Some would say, “they grow up so fast, spend lots of time with them!” But who is going to do the laundry and the dishes then?
I think there is also so much value in children watching their parents work and they can work along side them. Janelle loves to help me out by hanging laundry and setting the table. All the kids love to come up to the counter and help with the cooking. Mommy likes it a lot less, but I know there is value in teaching them how to find their way around a kitchen. And one day they may surprise me by making something all by themselves.
I don’t have clear answers for everything, but watching another way of life very different from mine can be a way to see what’s flawed in my own. Dismissing someone’s way because it is different doesn’t mean we can’t learn from each other.
What I like most is that Mennonite families are Christians. Christians are supposed to be a light and although I don’t talk to them, I can see the way they live and it is good. They work very hard, they go to church and take time for Sabbath rest (no sales on Sunday!) and they live and work with their families. They don’t have iPhones or HE washing machines but they do have their faith in God, their community and a way of life that has stood the test of time.
Technology and modern conveniences have little value against what God says is most important,
“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'” Luke 10:27