What Time Can Teach Us

Sometimes I feel like I’m losing the battle against time. Hours or days may go by with me thinking, Where did my time go? Why can’t I complete my to-do lists? There are certain personal factors that I think influence my toil against time: I struggle with the urge to procrastinate, I sometimes overestimate how much I can get done in a given amount of time, and I am a perfectionist with high expectations of myself.

But it’s not just me, is it? After all, there are many websites, blogs, and books that offer advice on how to master time. There are many resources available to help readers be super time managers, know how to write the best to-do lists, and download the ideal applications to keep them on track. The battle against time is one that all of humanity seems to face, and sometimes there doesn’t seem to be an easy way to win it.

While there is much to be said about time management skills, tips for getting things done, and improving productivity and focus, I’ve been thinking more about the religious and spiritual aspects of time.

Time can seem like an enemy to righteousness: I don’t have time to pray, or study Scripture, or go to church. Why do I rationalize putting off my prayers until tomorrow when I’ll easily stay up another two hours watching YouTube videos? Similarly, why is it easy for me to check emails late into the night, but I’m too sleepy to have some quality time with my husband after a busy day?

Perhaps time, this precious commodity of which we are all given a limited supply in this life, can be a blessing. Perhaps we don’t have to constantly fight a weary battle trying to “beat” time. We only need to change our perspective.

Time can remind us to prioritize our lives and how we spend our energy. After all, fifty years from now, what am I going to look back on more fondly: checking off one more item on today’s to-do list, or investing in time with my family and friends? Of course, we all have responsibilities to fulfill and tasks that sometimes need to take priority, if only temporarily. But my perspective on time shifts when I think about what’s important in the grand scheme of things.

Investing—I think that’s a fitting word to describe the activity of spending time. Everything we devote our time to is an investment, for good or for bad. Of course, the most important investments are ones that push us onward toward righteousness and sanctification. If you want to improve your physical health, you’ve got to exercise regularly. Prayer, Scripture study, fasting, and other faithful activities are exercises for the soul.

We should also embrace the seasons of our lives without trying to hold on to them beyond their time. Many narratives in popular culture promote lingering in youth instead of aging gracefully and accepting the responsibilities and roles of the next stage of life.

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; a time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away; a time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; a time to love, and a time to hate; a time for war, and a time for peace. — Ecclesiastes 3:1-8

Contemplating time can also remind us that while we are perpetually moving forward, we only ever live in the present moment. Christ reminds us of this in the Gospel of Matthew:

‘Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you shall eat or what you shall drink, nor about your body, what you shall put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?…But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well. Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Let the day’s own trouble be sufficient for the day.” — Matthew 6:25-26, 33-34

I do not think we should forsake wise planning and preparation for our future and families. However, anxiety over the future (or the past, for that matter) is a poor investment of our time. Do not be anxious about tomorrow…that is a commandment I need to remind myself of on a daily basis.

If time has an opposite, it is eternity, timelessness. Descriptions of eternity are often reserved for discussions of heaven, an abstract concept of some future place. But we should remember that human beings are immortal creatures. We will all be temporarily torn apart in death, but thanks to Christ’s incarnation and resurrection, death has been conquered, our bodies and souls will be reunited in the resurrection, and we will live on in the age to come. Perhaps, then, the greatest reminder time can offer us is that it is not as limited as it may seem; we are all going to live forever, and so in some sense, eternity has already begun.