Thursday, September 3, 2009

Means of Time

Time - Not an End in Itself
There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven.” (Eccl 3:1)

We live in a time management age. Every leader thinks it. Every follower pursues it. Parents plan out it. Their children obey it. The umpire controls it. The players compete by it. There are many common sayings about time. Below is a sampling:

  • Time and tide waits for no man;
  • It's only a matter of time....;
  • Time is precious. Don't waste it.
  • How Time flies;
  • Only time will tell;
  • Only time can heal;
  • A Stitch in time saves nine.
  • What's the time?

Such universal use of 'time' tells us one thing: Time is absolutely central in society throughout all walks of life. Those with timekeeping gadgets track time. Those without clocks use the natural sun and the moon to tell time. Strangers strike up quick conversation with a simple: "What's the time?"

Time can be unifying. Experts like management gurus, religious teachers, scientists and philosophers, despite their differences usually agree on this: that time is of the essence. Time can also be profitable. Huge industries flourish around time-making devices like clocks, watches and timekeeping instruments. Millions of dollars are spent each year on diaries, appointment calendars, pocket digital assistants, alarm clocks, day-timers and various types of time scheduling equipment. Even the ubiquitous personal computer cannot function efficiently without an accurate time stamp. Emails, schedulers, legal documents, TV programming will float away into insignificance, when the gravity of time forfeits its magnetic grip. Time keeps life in order. So much so that, we have become so accustomed to time that we feel lost when we exhaust our ability to keep track of time. Like many, I agree that time is essential for daily living. I can declare unreservedly that time management is utterly crucial in our modern lifestyle. Without an awareness of time, we cannot keep track of our plans, accomplishments, goals and our normal life. This brings me to the focus this week. Despite time's authority and universal acceptance, no matter how important time is, time is merely a means to an end, not an end in itself. Let me repeat. Time or time management is a means, and not an end in itself. Why am I stressing it? This is because, we can become competent time managers, but incompetent at appreciating the reasons for time management. In other words, we can become extremely qualified in the means, so focused on managing time well, that even though time is a means to an end, we unwittingly consign to oblivion what the ends are. It is like getting caught up with the process that we forget the purpose in the first place. When that happens, the means has become an end in itself.

Forgetting the Purpose of Time
Here is an illustration. Many executives pay plenty of money to learn the latest and the greatest time management techniques, or seminars to better manage their time. Howbeit, there can be a sense of 'penny-wise, pound-foolish' among many people with regard to their use of time. One such wastage revolves around chronic busyness. A man can become so busy in managing his time, that he forgets why he is doing what he is doing. An exam student may become so engrossed in writing down answers that she fails to read the instructions carefully, answering only 6 questions instead of the required 8. One can become so efficient at the office, but totally inexperienced at home. A faithful husband/father can work hard to make a living, but still struggle to live meaningfully on the fruits of his hard work. Many highly successful executives at work fail miserably when it comes to relationships at home.

We can invest tremendous efforts to schedule an evening together, but carelessly squander them away due to lack of communication skills, or gracious behavior. We can become so wise with the nitty-gritty details of planning and scheduling, but foolish when actually enjoying the appointment per se. Those who are willing to strengthen their hard technical finesse of doing, what about the softer side of being? A boy who is courting a girl, can create brilliant plans and scintillating strategies to date the prized damsel out. On the actual occasion, what good will those plans be when the boy gets tongue-tied into silence, or lacks the minimal graciousness of knowing how to woo a girl? There is also another instance of 'penny-wise-pound-foolish' as far as time is concerned. It is chronic busyness.

In social circles, it is common to acknowledge that ‘busyness is good.’ For a hurried executive, a favorite chorus to any greeting stanza is: “Oh. I’ve been busy.” For the harried worker, the refrain to any request is: “Sorry, I’ve no time.” It becomes an unconscious habit that every appointment has to fit into a schedule. There was a scene from the recent Summer movie: “Julie & Julia,” which portrays a lunch session with Julie and her three friends. While Julie was longing to experience a really nice time of catching up with her friends, her companions practically ignored her. They chose instead to talk incessantly on their cellular phones, indirectly boasting about their status and business responsibilities. They looked like busy people while trying to hype up self-importance, making Julie less significant. If I'm Julie, I'd probably walk off. Why should an insignificant 'me' waste the precious time of the three 'important' people?

Isn’t that a pity when others prioritize their time to such a point that it downplays the importance of others? Relationships cannot thrive when we seem too busy with our own things, and ignore what matters to our friends and loved ones. We can schedule in an appointment to meet friends. However, we betray our good intentions of wanting to spend time with them, by carelessly taking and responding to every ringing cell. Worse, one may unwittingly hype up one’s own sense of importance to the detriment of others. Who deserves our time more? A planned meeting scheduled months ago, or unplanned phone calls that chime at random intervals? Let us not take our appointees for granted. Give them the time they deserve. One way to do so is to cultivate the remembrance of Someone larger than time.

Remembering the Prime-Mover of Time
The verse above in Ecclesiastes 3:1 tells us that we live on this earth by faith. Do not be deceived by advertisements that tell us to hurry our life. Do not trust soothsayers who tempts us to rush for the sake of rushing. There is a time for everything. Saying we have no time is not simply a bluff. It speaks of a life that trusts more in self rather than in God. If Scripture says there is time for every activity on earth, why are we worried that we have no time? Why are we paranoid about keeping up with the Joneses? Why must we subject our bodies to unnecessary stresses when we make our own clocks parrot after others? Perhaps, the clue to alleviating our daily stress lies in NOT imitating other people, but to imitate the Giver of Time: God. We imitate Christ, the Author and Finisher of our faith by allowing every activity to run its course in time. We imitate the Divine God to arrive at a deeper understanding of ourselves, that we are more significant that strange thing called time. In Christ, we become conquerors over time, as we seat ourselves in the confidence and shelter of the Living God, who is Sovereign over all, including time.

The world may say that time and tide waits for no man. They may even say that time that is lost will never be returned. Let us not be troubled. As Christians, let us take comfort that God is in control, now and always. Reflect on the purposes of time and time management. Reflect on the time that is past, the time that is future and the present moment. How aware are we of God's work in our past, present and future? If we are too busy even to ponder this question, the consequence can be tragic. Instead of keeping time in check, time has come up from behind, saying to us: "Checkmate."

THOUGHT: "The moment you say, "I haven't got time," time has gotten you. Time has us on the hook. There is no denying it. Time is reeling us in towards one deadline or another." (Brother David Steindl-Rast)

REFLECT: "God created time and God created plenty of it." (Irish proverb)

Keep time, but remember that it is only a means to a greater end.


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