It’s back-to-school time, and even though it’s been years since I’ve been in school, I still think of this season as the true beginning of the new year.
I set new exercise goals, put together a militant schedule for household chores and make plans to go to bed (and get up) earlier. I strategize about maximizing my most productive work hours, and I develop plans for ensuring regular quality time with my husband and each of my kids.
It’s easy to think what I’m doing is all about improving my health, my relationships and my general sanity, but what it really all comes down to is time—organizing my time, to be exact. And getting organized, of course, involves many trips to Target and The Container Store. After all, I have to buy tools like storage bins, closet organizers, dry-erase calendars, family message boards, budget books and those cool pads of paper that help you plan a week of meals and shopping lists.
Time management is big business in our culture. We know we can’t buy time, but we sure do try. It’s an easy trap to fall into. After all, as a culture, we think of time as currency: We spend time—sometimes foolishly, sometimes wisely—and we save it. We budget time, and we waste it. We make a decision to invest our time in one activity at the expense of another.
Clearly, our Western ideas about time are largely mathematical. We know how many minutes are in an hour and how many hours are in a day. We know how long a trip to the gym or the grocery store should take and how many hours of sleep a night we need. We carry around calendars on our smartphones that offer up measured vessels of time, waiting to be filled (equipped with handy little alarms to keep us on task, too).
In my previous column here at RELEVANT, I wrote about how creating a Love List (a list of the activities and moments that make you feel most content in the world and most like you) can help you regain your center—your understanding of who you are and your ability to live in God’s love. One reader asked, in response, “What does one do once they have created their Love List?”
The simple answer is that you try to reorganize your time and priorities in a way that better reflects who you are and what you love.
I have no doubt that God cares about what we do with our time. As followers of Jesus, we need to reflect on how we spend our days, what our choices say about our priorities and how they impact the world around us.
But, unfortunately, I think it’s more complex than setting aside an hour each day to garden or write or volunteer at a food pantry. Those are fine places to start, but I think we have to push beyond this mathematical view of time if we’re going to see real transformation in our lives. In other words, our culturally normative ways of understanding time have a way of distancing us from our true selves and, as a result, from God.
So, what does that even mean? What are the alternatives to parceling time into minutes, hours and days?
Lately I’ve been trying to think of time not as currency, but rather as space. A pause. A small stretch of empty moments not necessarily waiting to be filled. Because who knows how much a moment can even hold? Maybe something small and beautiful, maybe something big and busy, or maybe something that looks and feels like nothing at the time. Maybe it is not our job to weigh tasks, assign value and measure moments.
In a Bible study of Acts earlier this year, one of the things our group noticed was an overarching sense of “divine time.” The early Church in Acts doesn’t seem to have a game plan—a clear timeline that features a checklist of goals with cities to cover and people to reach. Instead, they existed in a state of being within an open-ended understanding of time. The best I can do is call it divine time, not human time. Yes, there’s an urgency behind what the people of Acts were doing, but the urgency was driven by the message and the individual relationships, not the clock or calendar or numbers of any kind.
Another way to think about all of this is to consider different approaches to spending time with God in prayer. While it can be important to have a specific time set apart devoted to prayer, it’s also possible to go through your day in an attitude of prayer—more fluid, organic and spontaneous; less structured and rigid.
Time as space rather than currency, fluid rather than structured, divine rather than human—it sounds like time that’s available to the Holy Spirit, doesn’t it? It leaves room for Selah, the contemplative pause of the Psalms. It allows for a sense of Amen—so be it. It keeps us more rooted in the moment, less fixated on regrets of the past or longings of the future. It allows us to let go of our greediness about time as commodity and wait expectantly to see what God will do.
And it’s in that space, those moments, that we’re able to best discover who God created us to be and how our Love Lists might be woven into our day-to-day lives. For me, that sense of time as space seems to be the key to so much of what I love, and long for, in life—creativity, ideas, really seeing and hearing what’s around and inside me, and idly whittling away the hours with people I love.
What about you? How does your approach to time get in the way of being your best self and serving God? Write for 10 minutes (or have a conversation with someone) about how clocks and calendars rule your life and what small or big changes you could make to live more in moments than in minutes.
Kristin Tennant has been making a living as a freelance writer for 10 years. She lives with her husband Jason and their three daughters in Urbana, Illinois, where she leads a weekly Bible & Beer discussion, plays her viola at church, and loves sharing meals and conversation with friends. She blogs at Halfway to Normal, and you can connect with her on Twitter and Facebook.