A Theology for Something More than Time Management

A Theology for Something More than Time Management

“We have all the time in the world.”

Whoa. Stop right there. Back it up. Say that one more time. Just what are you talking about?

This is an actual conversation a friend and I had a few weeks back. I was in midst of an onslaught of urgent tasks that was keeping me running from one thing to the next to the next. I constantly felt two, three, four steps behind. She said that, and something dropped in me. It got me thinking that there has to be something better than time management as it so often gets talked about.

Throughout my work life, I’ve experimented with a wide variety of planners and schedules and journals. I’ve done GTD. I’ve done bullet journaling. Still, no matter how much I plan or write things out on paper, nothing quite gets me free from that compulsion if I could just be a little more disciplined, if I just knew a little more, I could master the to-do list. Maybe I’ve been going about it all wrong.

The Creation of Time

In the beginning, God made stuff. But not only stuff. God also made time. The climax of the creation story in Genesis 1 is not humanity, though humanity is made in very image of the Almighty. No, the story reaches its highest point with Sabbath.

Abraham Heschel writes:

“It is, indeed, a unique occasion at which the disctinuished word qadosh is used for the first time: in the book of Genesis at the end of the story of creation. How extremely significant is the fact that it is applied to time: ‘And God blessed the seventh day and made it holy.’ There is no reference in the record of creation to any object in space that would be endowed with the quality of holiness.”

The sun and stars, fish and birds and animals—they’re all good. Humanity is very good. Time is holy.

Sabbath is not a what but a when. Sabbath represents time in its right place.

Our brokenness with Time

But sin and death have twisted and corrupted God’s good, very good, and holy world. One popular way of talking about the Fall includes four spheres of broken relationships. Our relationship with God is broken. Our relationships with one another are broken. Our relationship with ourselves is broken. Our relationship with creation is broken.

But what about time? Notice the many ways we talk about time. There’s never enough time. A race against time. Beat the clock. Tyranny of the urgent. Solutions to time management and productivity are big business.

Time is something we manage. We parse our schedules into detailed sections. We divide it. We assign it. We parcel it out. We spend it, like it’s a commodity. We attempt to beat it into submission. We try to domesticate it as if it were a wild animal. Being busy is a status symbol.

What if we have it all wrong? What if, instead of a beast to be trained, time is a friend?

What if there’s a fifth broken relationship, our relationship with time?

Jesus and Time

The gospels tell a story about Jesus and a frantic father who needs Jesus to heal his sick daughter. She’s dying. Jesus agrees to go with him. A crowd joins in along the way. Jesus’ reputation attracted spectators.

A desperate, sick woman works her way through the crowd and stretches out to touch Jesus. And Jesus recognizes that something significant has just happened in that moment. He stops. He asks the disciples who touched him. They cop some attitude at such an absurd question. But Jesus persists.

“But he kept on looking around to see who had done it.”

Meanwhile, there’s a frantic father freaking out about his daughter. When I enter the story as this father, I’m turning from worried to angry. How could you, Jesus? How could you be so distracted? Don’t you care?

Jesus is so nonchalant in this story. Like he has all the time in the world. And maybe that’s the point. Death is ultimate clock we all face. Death is the name for our broken relationship with time. It’s not supposed to be this way. And that’s what Jesus models to the disciples, to the crowd, to the worried father. Jesus isn’t concerned about not having enough time.

Piecing together a theology of time

God made time. God calls time holy. God likes time.

In Egypt, the Israelite slaves measured their value in productivity within time. Sound familiar? At Mt. Sinai, when God provides the Ten Commandments, in essence the manual for Humanity 2.0, Sabbath is the bullseye right in the middle. The commandment is to make it holy. There’s that word again. Human worth and value is not in productivity—the way of Egypt and Pharaoh. Human worth and value is in being with God. A right ordering of time matters.

God cares how we talk about time. So how do go forward, cultivating practices that make us more friendly with time?

1) We are creatures made in time. We have 24 hours every day. Seven days in a week. Three hundred sixty-five days each year. Swim with the current. Don’t fight it. Extend grace to yourself. You’re not made to do everything. You are a finite creature. A poem is beautiful because of it’s parameters. Learn to be content within the boundaries of time.

2) Embrace margin. Fight for time, not against it. Say no to the “empty calories” in your schedule. Slow down. Ruthlessly eliminate the unnecessary.

3) Explore the Daily Office. We can’t escape time. We are not made to master time. We are made to submit to its rhythms. The Daily Office is one way of entering and submitting to a rhythm of prayer that embraces time. The Daily Office uses time to consistently draw us back to God, to name God in our lives, and to be filled to the brim with gratitude rather than anxiety.

God is never in a hurry. Ever. God is never busy. Busyness is simply not necessary for God. So why should it be for us?

Again, Heschel: “The higher goal of spiritual living is not to amass a wealth of information, but to face sacred moments… We must not forget that it is not a thing that lends significance to a moment; it is the moment that lends significance to things.”

Be a friend to time.

We have all the time in the world.

~~~~~

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