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Making Peace With Time
As I age, I increasingly wonder what it means to say no to anxious activity and live faithfully in the time God has given me.
When we are longing, aching for something to be over—like a root canal—time drags on forever. When we are charmed by pleasure—music, conversation or a hobby—time flies by. We can’t slow it down or create more of it.
We cannot manipulate time.
In fact, the commitments on our calendars suggest that time controls us. Most of us sense that time is mysterious. Ironically, we don’t have the time to ponder the mystery.
This is true of me.
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Recently, however, a friend gave me the book Becoming Friends of Time: Disability, Timefullness, and Gentle Discipleship by John Swinton. Swinton answers the question: What does it mean to live faithfully in the time that God has given us?
As I age (I’m 67), I notice new levels of both desire and need to make peace with time, to make what Swinton calls timefullness a core aspect of my walk with Jesus. Timefullness alerts us that time is from and in God…it is an aspect of God’s love for his creation. But time is also both fallen and being redeemed with the rest of creation.
God’s time is created, gifted, slow, generous, gentle, and designed to enhance the purposes of love. God’s time does not seek to burden people with schedules, deadlines, targets, and competition. [Furthermore], the tradition of Sabbath reminds us that God is a God who rests and commands rest, not a god who thrives on busyness, anxiety, and exhaustion.
For years, I have sought to practice being present to the moment, to the people and events of my life. It didn’t take long to discover that such a vow is easier made than kept. Now I know at least one reason why: Presence requires a certain view and experience of time. Hurry is a great adversary of presence. Another enemy of timefullness is cramming and crowding each moment with too much stuff. I know I face the challenge that Swinton describes:
Contemplative simplicity is made infinitely problematic…[by my] overactive consciousness and need for novel stimulation.
It is impossible to be present to a conversation when anxiety is shouting at me that I should be doing something else or something more in the present moment. The core fear is that if I am fully present to this moment, I won’t have enough time for that other moment, with its insistent demands. Therefore, we are driven to always be fast and efficient. Although speed and efficiency are required at times in our lives—like completing a school project or grabbing a toddler before he runs into the street—they can taint and hinder the peaceful and relaxed posture that being present to God and others requires.
But there is a path to faithful and loving presence. Swinton says it is to step out of clock time—with its relentless hours, minutes and seconds [these are very modern inventions]—and to embrace God’s timefullness, a wholeness that conveys a sense of purpose wherein the events of the day serve as a constant reminder that time belongs to God.
Clock time tells me that my useful life, the one in which I found my value in high levels of activity shoved into a given hour or day, is rapidly decreasing. Not being useful and dying are “right around the corner.” You probably face time-dilemmas unique to your station in life. According to Swinton, we each surmise that:
At the core of human life is an inability to control time and a deep awareness that everything that we have and all that we know is temporary, unstable, and deeply fragile. Time draws our attention to uncontrollable change and death.
Thankfully, timefullness in God exposes and defangs the lie that we must fear the passing of time. Gentle timefullness replaces the fretfulness of time-scarcity. To live into my desire to be truly present to the people and events of my life requires that I come to deeply know the truth, as Swinton puts it, that “time is for God; that God is love; [and therefore] time is for love.”
Dieterich Bonhoeffer intensifies the vision, saying that “each moment is filled with eternity [and that] our calling is to be eternal in every moment…beholding God…this is the meaning of our lives.” Beholding God in each moment is both the lens and the capacity that make us capable of being present to others.
To get better at timefullness that facilitates being present to the moment, I am working with a mental model that may help you. Instead of doing things in any given moment, I am shifting to participating with God and others in the moment. Participation versus something I initiate reminds me that God is always already on the spot with active love before I am. In addition, the person before me brings a self with their own background and agenda—a history that has produced hopes and fears.
What God and others bring to a moment is enough. I don’t have to add my anxious activity. Together we fill a given moment with both eternity and personality. Therefore, I can just be present. From my being will come any necessary doing or saying.
To be sure, being present to others takes energy. But when such energy is the overflow of timefullness, I am delivered from the clock that tells me time is slipping away and that I should be doing something else. I am freed to be present to the moment as someone who is timefull in God.