As far back as I can remember, I’ve always been monochronic. I have cherished the construct of time, counted it, calculated it, contemplated it, continuously traversing that fine line between being time-conscious and time-obsessed.
If three extra minutes surreptitiously appeared in my schedule, I would immediately put them to proper use. I knew the length of every stoplight from my house to my workplace. I found rapturous joy in checking items off my to-do list. I despised idleness. After all, as Geoffrey Chaucer once chided, “Time and tide wait for no man.”
Time has always been my mortal enemy, an unseen force I wrestled with in attempt to win the momentary battle to fit in one more activity, one more project, one more goal. And I counted the cost, constantly weighing out which activities were most “worthy” of my time investment. When time is limited, we have to choose between what is good and what is great, right?
“Time is the coin of your life,” warned Carl Sandburg. “We must beware how we spend it.”
Oh, how I rejoiced when a meeting was suddenly canceled, and I had a whole free hour of time! How I celebrated when I caught every green light on my commute, leaving me an extra eight unencumbered minutes of unexpected freedom! Like the annual Daylight Savings gift of an imaginary extra hour in November, I had a brand new, celebratory gift of time that I could fill up with anything I wanted.
Ann Voskamp said that the only way to control the terrifying passage of time, the only way to make peace with its fleeting nature, is to stand fully in the swift current of its raging waters and live in the moment. This is a difficult task for future-dwellers, whose heightened sense of time awareness often keeps them living more in the next moment than in the present one.
In his reflective essay “Once More to the Lake,” E.B. White said that he could feel the cold grip of time when he looked at his growing son and juxtaposed himself with his father. It’s that sense of watching time sweep past us, slipping through our helpless fingers. Like the horsemen of the apocalypse, the passage of time seems to gallop faster and faster with each fleeting year. Yesterday, my children were toddlers, one on each hip. Today, they tower over me as teenagers.
The only way to navigate this rushing river is to embrace it, I remind myself, Voskamp-style.
But wait: Shouldn’t I try to own time, drive it, control it? We all have the same 24 hours every day. The only real time-management is self-management, right? As Benjamin Franklin said, “Lost time is never found again.” (I think my monochronic mindset would have put me in good standing with the Founding Fathers).
And then it hit me.
Maybe it was reading Francis Chan’s Crazy Love for the second time that finally forced the issue under my skin and into my heart. Chan asked, “We give a little, sparingly, but is that really enough?” I thought I understood generosity, at least in terms of sowing money and kindness and love. I knew that a generous man would himself be blessed.
But had I applied that same unyielding generosity to my time?
“Do not love the world or the things of the world,” 1 John 2:15 reminds us. “If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” Sure, I understood not loving the tangible things of the world, and I knew the inherent dangers of an overly materialistic lifestyle. But what if time was a “thing” of the world? What if the omniscient Creator God, who lives outside of the fleeting envelope of time, meant that this human construction of time was also something that could be worshipped?
The epiphany fell hard. I suddenly felt like a modern day Ebenezer Scrooge, hoarding not pennies but minutes.
I was a time miser.
The English poet and cleric John Donne contemplated the temporal nature of time. “If we consider eternity, “ he mused in 1624, “into that time never entered; eternity is not an everlasting flux of time, but time is as a short parenthesis in a long period, and eternity had been the same as it is, though time had never been.”
Dr. Julian Barbour, a modern British physicist, says that time is a human construct—that even memories of the past come from “a stable structure of neurons in your brain now.” Life, she says, is simply a series of “nows.”
This time, this “short parenthesis in a long period,” this measurable construct of a measureless God, is not a master to be obeyed, or even an object to be adored (or scorned). Instead, time is a vehicle that transports us from memory to memory, a swift current that courses through our lives, connecting past to present to future. Like a theme park roller coaster, we can grip it with white knuckles–or we can laugh, take in the scenery, and maybe even enjoy the ride.
Thus, I came to terms with my time-miserliness. The only way through, like Voskamp said, was to stand fully immersed in the current of that rushing stream, experiencing the raging river of time as it courses beyond my control.
He who loves his life must lose it.
The only way to keep time is to give it away.
Polychronic cultures value relationships over time. They aren’t in a hurry. A meeting that was scheduled to begin at 9:00 might start up by 9:30 after everyone finally shows up and the friendly chitchat winds down. In our monochronic American culture, we might do well to stop counting minutes and start counting milestones.
“For where your treasure is,” Matthew 6:21 reminds us, “there your heart will be also.”
I am still convinced of the need to value time and to use it wisely as I would any resource, but I have stopped bowing to the time-miser mentality. Though the “extra” hour of November daylight still brings me a little passing joy, I won’t weep when I have to give that hour back again next spring.
After all, like the other “things” of the world, time, too, grows “strangely dim” in the light of his glory and grace.
Thank you, Daylight Savings, for another perceived hour of free time, but I think this year, I’ll embrace it the only way I’ll ever get it back.
I’ll give it away.