by Jim and Susan Vogt
Have you ever…
...checked your e-mail while talking on the phone? ...tried to drive while shaving, putting on makeup or eating lunch? ...raced out of the house and then remembered you forgot to turn off the iron?
These are symptoms of our hurry, hurry, do-it-faster approach to life.
Although both of us are very time conscious, Susan admits to going over the edge sometimes and calls herself a recovering “time-aholic.” Maximizing time is often a good and virtuous thing, but, for the Christian, there are limits, and the limits are for our good.
The Scripture that Susan recalls when tempted to pack too much into too short a time is Jesus’ words, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part” (Luke 10:41-42). In this instance, Mary had chosen “presence”—to sit with Jesus and be attentive to him.
It’s ironic that the Church calendar asks us to slow down during Advent—the very time that our culture presses us to hurry up and crowd more into the days before Christmas. Liturgically, Advent is a time of waiting and preparing, yet our culture induces us to celebrate Christmas before December 25. Advent should be a calm and reflective time, not hectic and stressful. Yet, as any woman in her last month of pregnancy knows, it’s a delicate art to balance patient waiting with preparing for a new baby. Jesus makes it clear that attentiveness to the person next to us always trumps Martha’s “to do” list.
So, how do we sort it all out when, for most people in the Western world, our lives are filled with the expectation to do more things and to do them faster? Let’s look at time through the prisms of saving, wasting and ignoring. Each has its pros and cons.
Saving time sounds pretty virtuous, especially when it frees us from mundane chores in order to spend quality time with our family or productive time at work. We offer some examples:
Multitasking allows us to fold laundry while watching TV, listen to news while commuting, catch up on kids’ news while driving them to school or practices, listen to a podcast while exercising. Time-saving technology allows us to skip commercials when recording a TV program, send e-mails to a group rather than using snail mail, shorten time-consuming chores by using a myriad of home appliances.
These things are good when they free us to do more important tasks, especially those that focus on the human beings around us. But doing tasks faster and more efficiently can be like a hamster running around a wheel. Sometimes we don’t really get anywhere. We can get so caught up in accomplishing more that we become curt and impatient with our children or co-workers. Do you get irritated when it takes the driver ahead of you a moment to notice that the light turned green?
Wasting time sounds inherently bad, but consider the following ways that it can enhance your life:
■ Time for reflection, prayer or savoring a sunset may seem unproductive unless you realize that wasting time with God is not a waste. In the long run, such times keep us centered on what is important and calm our weary and stressed-out spirits.
■ Naps. Jim is a talented napper. He typically takes one or two 15-minute naps a day. On the surface it looks like a waste of time. In actuality, however, these naps extend his productive work time by about two hours. Maybe we should bump napping up to the time-saver category.
■ Sabbath time. Sunday as a day of rest has become an anomaly in American culture. Too often, Sunday is a catch-up day, filled with shopping, errands and household repairs. There are times when accomplishing these tasks reduces stress, but a day of rest with focus on God and family refreshes our spirits and pulls us back to what’s important in life. If your life is out of balance, maybe you need to recapture this biblical charge.
■ Recreation. Yes, some people fritter away hours before the TV, in bars, at parties or playing ball (substitute your favorite sport). Recreation, however, is not only fun, but also a way to build marriage, parenting and friendship bonds. Besides, it can double as networking and relationship time which we suppose puts it in the category of multitasking. The challenge is to keep it in balance. When is watching TV or surfing the Internet a way to relax and chill? When is it used to avoid relationships? When does it become a waste of time? This brings us back to the need for prayer which can be a time of looking honestly at ourselves in God’s presence.
Isn’t ignoring time irresponsible? After all, we have deadlines to meet, kids to feed, a dish for the potluck to make. But sometimes we need to step out of time and give the person in front of us our attention. Children are often a prompt for ignoring time since their job is to interrupt the parent as soon as the phone rings or they’re late for a meeting. Think of it as Jesus breaking into your life and saying, “Pay attention to me. I’m only here for a short time.” Likewise, the traffic jam that delays your commute or the electricity outage that delays dinner can be an interruption that forces us to stop rushing for a moment and see God’s presence in creation and the humans around us.
This brings us back to Advent—the season of waiting. Sometimes it’s good for the soul to wait a bit—in line, for a birthday, for a test result, for marriage, for Christmas. It’s a pause that gives us a chance to take a deep breath and remember what’s really important, to listen to Christ speaking in the silence.
Permission to Publish for this article, “Wait a Minute! A Christian Perspective on Time,” by Jim and Susan Vogt, received from Rev. Joseph R. Binzer, Vicar General, Archdiocese of Cincinnati, 8-21-2008.
Are you more like Mary or Martha in your choices about how to spend your time? How is this reflected in your spirituality? Your relationship with God? Your relationships with others?
Who is the time-aholic in your life? Is it you? What do you judge is the motivation behind this kind of living?
When will you pause this week, take a deep breath, remember what’s really important and listen to Christ speaking in the silence?
by Frank Frost
The movie Last Night offers viewers the opportunity to reflect on the meaning of life, faith, values and, above all, the use of time. The understated story, told with poignancy and wry humor, depicts the wildly diverse ways people living in a Canadian city face their last six hours before the end of the world. Some people party with festive abandon. Some conscientiously stick to their jobs for the common good. Others join gangs roaming the streets, going out with a burst of destruction. Still others gather at a lake to pray in anticipation of eternity.
The story follows a handful of interrelated people through their last six hours. Patrick Wheeler (Don McKellar, also writer and director) reluctantly goes home to Christmas dinner with his parents. It’s not really Christmas. It’s just his mother’s way of gathering their extended family to relive the happiest moments of their lives as they face the end.
Patrick will return to his apartment after dinner, wishing to die alone. But when a stranger, Sandra (Sandra Oh), needs to use his phone to tell her husband she is delayed returning home for their suicide pact, Patrick undertakes the task of helping her reunite with her husband, a transforming experience for both of them. Patrick’s story intersects with that of his friend, Craig (Callum Keith Rennie), who urges him to embrace life before it’s too late. The irony of this good advice is that it comes from a man who has chosen to spend the last two months of his life on a single-minded pursuit of sexual experiences. In the end, the movie is nonjudgmental of the wide variety of ways people expend their last precious hours but, in Patrick and Sandra, it affirms love and life.
Next time you watch Last Night, ASK YOURSELF:
■ With which character(s) do I most identify? Why? What values govern the way they respond to the end of time? What is the role of faith in this world?
■ What values do I want to govern the way I spend the limited hours I have remaining in my life?
by Joan McKamey
Having lived and worked most of her life in northern Ohio, Peggy Carrigan Machesky took a leap of faith nearly two years ago when she sold her home and moved to Danville, California, east of San Francisco, to volunteer at the San Damiano Retreat. She tells Every Day Catholic that it was “a huge risk leaving family, friends, business and hobbies and to allow myself to be homeless.” Yet, she says, “The gifts I have received” in return for trusting in God in this way “are enormous: special time for daily Mass and prayer, to slow down to see real life.”
As a volunteer in the Franciscan Covenant Program, Peggy works 40 hours a week assisting at the retreat center. Her tasks include gardening, helping in the kitchen, working in the gift shop and housekeeping. She receives a small monthly stipend, room, board and health-care benefits. She shares her gifts of flexibility, patience and friendliness with retreat participants, staff and other volunteers. She’s found it so rewarding that, when her first-year commitment was nearing its end, Peggy signed on for a second year in the program.
Peggy, mother of four adult sons, has “always volunteered at school, church and within the community.” She was considering joining the Peace Corps when a friend suggested the Franciscan Covenant Program. She says of the reaction of her family and friends, “My sons know me. I’ve always volunteered. My friends thought I was crazy and keep calling me to see if I’m all right.”
Peggy, a self-identified “Martha,” says, “I was hoping to take a ‘time out’ for spiritual growth, something to slow down my busy-bee mindset. I figured it would be a wonderful time in my life, while I’m still healthy, to grow spiritually. This is a time to see the wonder in all of God’s creations, a gift to all of us. If we can slow down our everyday lives, we can see God in everything. He has given us so much, but we can’t see it.”
Peggy admits that it has been “a huge challenge” to leave home, income, family and friends, yet she says of her 1½ years “on the road”: “The interesting thing to me is how people pour out their hearts to you. The truth in what they share is outstanding—from rich to poor and high school to seniors. I’m very grateful that I’m here to listen to them.”
Just as Christ stepped away from the crowds to pray and St. Francis of Assisi took time from his ministry among the people for mountain retreats, Peggy says, “I firmly believe we must do the ‘breaking away’ to cleanse ourselves to receive Christ in our daily lives.” The Franciscan Covenant Program has given her a way to do this for herself while supporting others in this same quest.
by Jeanne Hunt
Jane finishes her workday and stops to pick up a gift for her mother. Standing in line, she remembers that she’s the carpool mom today. She’s late! She rushes to pick up her son and two other boys. Arriving home,
Jane faces another challenge: producing dinner in 20 minutes. Tonight is the parish Advent Reconciliation service. It’s two weeks before Christmas, and life is overwhelming Jane with more commitments, errands and activities than this “supermom” can handle. She pulls out a frozen pizza and wonders what happened to that quiet Advent for which she’d hoped.
While our homes are supposed to be safe harbors in the storms of life, the hectic pace of the weeks before Christmas can rock our boats. We must sort out our priorities and protect our inner calm with mindful time management.
Keeping time well is a holy discipline. It requires forethought and creativity. A few years ago, a major corporation hired a time-management expert to teach employees how to be more productive and reduce work-related stress.
Their simple plan really works, can be adapted to many situations and can be a spiritual tool as well. Here’s the formula: Every evening, look ahead to the next day, at the non-negotiable appointments and obligations. Then, prayerfully create a list of 10 items, in order of necessity and importance, that one hopes to accomplish the next day. Number One on the list should always be prayer. Number Two is one’s highest priority after prayer, etc. Then, with the new day, begin to tackle that list. The secret is that one never moves to #3 until #2 is completed. On an exceptional day, one may get all 10 completed. More often, one will reach #5 or 6. Then, at the end of the day, create a new list, moving up the uncompleted items. Fill in the empty slots with new items. This revolving list keeps one mindful of the work but frees one to stay focused on the task at hand. When another chore comes to mind, write it down on the waiting list.
Jane sat in the kitchen wondering if this plan could work for her. How would her day have been different had she prepared the night before? Jane prayed for peace and order in her home. She couldn’t deal with the confusion anymore. She picked up a notebook and began...
...#1-Pray, #2-Pay insurance bill, #3-Call babysitter, #4-Send Christmas packages...
by Jeanne Hunt
(for praying alone or with others)
Preparation: Set a prayer table with a clock, calendar and date book in
the center of an Advent wreath.
“Simple Gifts” (’Tis the Gift To Be Simple)
“Eternal Timekeeper, lead me into your timeless presence. As I rest in your heart, allow your time to become my own rhythm. Teach me to slow down and enjoy the minutes and hours as gift. May I learn to live in each moment, never rushing, but simply being in the sacred present. Amen.”
Ecclesiastes 3:1-8: “For everything there is a season….”
Play quiet music during this reflection.
“Think about your time, God’s time. If you’re wearing a watch, remove it and hold it in your hand.
How do you spend your time? What could you do to keep a simpler schedule? Have more time for your spouse, your family?
Think of one thing you might do to allow more time for prayer, rest and family. Perhaps you could plan to stay home in the evening as a family, give up some activity, or better organize meals or errands.
Ask yourself: What could I do?
Please come forward to the prayer table. Place your watches around the Advent wreath and share your resolutions for keeping better time.”
After everyone has come forward, the leader prays:
“Divine Creator of our days, receive our intentions to be mindful of your will for our time. These watches are symbols of our minutes and hours. Bless our timepieces and allow us to wear them as reminders of you, the source of our days, minutes and hours. We trust you to give us more than enough time to accomplish your will. Amen.”