I think it’s safe to say we could all use more of it and struggle with balancing the many hats we wear with a limited number of hours in the day. Time is something we are all equally bound to yet utilize so differently (one simple glance into our culture can attest to that statement).
In my own life I’d often complain about time or lack thereof, aware of the fact that I could probably spend more of it at the gym and less of it on my phone, but it wasn’t until tragedy struck that I really began to question and look at time existentially.
Fear of Wasted Time
My dad unexpectedly died in a car accident when I was living hundreds of miles away. Having never really questioned my decision to live so far from my family up to that point, something that I had originally deemed as a good and fruitful decision suddenly changed to time wasted and a missed opportunity. By living away from my dad, I missed the daily intimacies and closeness that naturally ensue from an in-person relationship during the last years of his life. Overcome with regret, I subconsciously decided not to miss such opportunities with those most important to me ever again. As you might imagine, the economics of time made this decision virtually impossible. By spending my time one way I am not spending it a thousand other ways. Every yes implies many more no’s. This reality left me frazzled, exhausted, and fearful as I was plagued by the thought of missing something important again.
I had entered into a sort of existential FOMO (fear of missing out). This fear was the driving force behind most of my actions as I sought time with others as a precious commodity as well as viewing the ever-ticking hands of the clock as my greatest enemy as more and more opportunities slipped through my already-full hands.
Time As a Gift
I realize now that I had adopted a false definition of time. If it’s true that we never have enough of it, then every passing moment is a missed opportunity because there will always be more things I am not doing than the one thing that I am, more places I am not than the one place I am, and more people I am not sharing this present moment with than the one person I am. If the goal of time is to maximize it and pack in as many tasks, experiences, places, and people as possible, then I will always lose. And that’s what happened. I lost, and the growing number of gray-hairs and seemingly permanent bags under my eyes proved it.
Rather than viewing my life as a race against the clock, I needed to embrace the reality that time is a gift. And as is true of any gift, we can’t grasp at it with an entitled attitude. With that understanding in mind, I still want to spend my time with multiple different experiences, places, and people, just as I wanted to be living where I was when my dad died and also wanted to have spent his last years of his life with him. These simultaneous desires point us to the infinite—on earth we are limited and I think this very longing points to the fact that we were created for more.
I’ve realized that it’s not so much what I want, but where is God calling me and what is he asking of me? He has shown me that quantity of time is not the only or even the best measure of our love for others. If I can say that I am spending my time in accordance with God’s will, then it is time well spent. As much as I wish I could have had the memories of many more recent days on the lake with my dad to cling to, I simply wasn’t in the season of life where God was asking that of me or providing it. I had to accept my relationship with my dad (and everyone else for that matter) for what it was, not what I’d envision it to be in an ideal world. This acceptance has been hard—by doing so I’ve also been humbled to admit how little control I have over life. Other tragedies and disasters may indeed strike and should I know the details beforehand I would likely adjust how I spend my time accordingly, but I rest now in the comfort that, though opportunities will inevitably be missed, they are neither what God is asking of me or things I need to do to prove myself.
The Present Moment
This attitude leaves me free to fully embrace the present moment, where I’m experiencing it, and who I’m experiencing it with… no regrets. I’ve begun to see and value my time in what it’s giving me rather than all the things it’s not. In giving myself permission to be human and not have a contingency plan in place for every possible disaster, I can quiet all of my contradicting wants and respond to God’s call for me today and leave the rest to his divine providence. And let me tell you, it’s about time!