Saturday, 9 May 2009

The flow of time

Already its January 10th and time is skimming away from under me! As I contemplate where the last eight days have gone I am reminded of what I used to hear my parents say as they complained about how busy their lives were, “I don’t know where the time has gone?” It’s as if someone has sneeked in behind them when their backs were turned and pick-pocketed a few hours without their knowledge.

Another thing I remember them saying was how time went faster as they grew older. Certainly that seems to square with my experience as January 2nd has jumped to January 10th in no time. But that can’t be literally true. Time is constant for everyone and down to age, otherwise a parent would be preparing dinner for their child only to find out that they were expecting breakfast two days ago!

It is not time, it is busyness, or preoccupation with life and living that gives the impression that time is flying by. Time proceeds at an even pace but what we DO with it and IN it is the determining factor as to whether it goes slow or fast. When we were youngsters we had less worries, less responsibilities and therefore less things to think about. Time therefore appeared slow because there was less to preoccupy our thinking. As we got older and started work, courting, getting married, having children, buying a house etc. then the number of things we had to deal with multiplied and time, accordingly, picked up pace. It accelerated because we did. And so this surprise I feel at ‘losing’ eight days is really down to me being overly busy. At this rate I will be retired before I know it, and wondering where the time went!

But the point of this reflection is not to explain galloping time or bemoan the fact that it seems to be slipping away at a rate of knots, it is to ask the very important question, “have I wasted any?” Or “was it used well?” The Bible has some interesting things to say about time, but the one that strikes me is what St. Paul has to say in his Letter to the Ephesians, Chapter 5 verse 15-16. “Look carefully then how you walk”, he writes, “not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of time, because the days are evil.” (E.S.V) The New King James Version translates the same passage: “See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil. “

I like them both. The first because it tells me to take care how I live and use my time. It’s the difference between being someone who is wise and someone who is foolish. So it prompts me to stop once in a while and ask myself if I am being responsible, under God, in the way I use the time He has given me. In the context it almost seems to suggest that evil has a close association with rush.

I remember something from Richard Foster’s marvelous book “Celebration of Discipline” in the chapter on meditation. He quotes from Jung who once wrote: “Hurry is not of the devil, it is the devil.” The point he is making is that rush and hurry are prime tools of the devil with which he can work evil, making us waste our time, causing us to crowd God out, because we have no time for Him.

But I also like the other translation because there is this suggestion that we can somehow reclaim time, that with God’s help we can redeem it. “I will restore to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten.” God promises his people in Joel 2:25. There is a sense in which God can almost turn back the clock and give you back what you have lost.

So losing time or wasting time or helplessly watching it flow like a rushing river past your eyes may well be our experience as we get older and more busy, but it doesn’t have to continue like that. We can, with God’s help, slow things down, redeem the time lost and make better use of what He has given us. (Written January 10th 2008)

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