|Care of Our Spiritual Life: Stewardship of Time
A newly welcomed immigrant to the United States recently commented, “Nobody walks here. No one walks anywhere—everyone is always in such a rush. And no one speaks to one another!” There is such a distance between us. It is a distance created by our own desire to make the most of every moment—a desire to quantify our time here. It is a desire to be able to measure time by the value of our production.
Time… It is such a small word that carries such a large weight upon us and upon this world. We place many burdens upon this finite gift from God—this Gift of Time.
PRESSURES OF PRODUCTIVITY
We have come across new ways to make us more efficient—more productive. A business trip from New York to Chicago that once took the entire week to complete, now takes only a couple of hours. Telegraphs have been replaced by smartphones, overnight delivery and e-mail. What once took a day, now only takes an instant. One would expect that we would have more time with such advances…yet, the exact opposite has occurred.
We often hear about how there is not enough time in the day to accomplish everything, or how we just do not know where the time goes, or how hard-pressed we are for time. We are continually focused upon getting the most out of our time. We even define our very worth by our ability to produce some sort of physical or quantifiable gain through time spent. We make our lives far too busy in this search for productivity. Yet, if we are truly concerned about the health of our spiritual lives we must seriously look at the way in which we value our time. Let us examine just how we are told to value our time in the world and compare it to how our Lord, God and Savior Jesus Christ values time.
The world of the flesh only values that time which can be counted and quantified by what is produced. The specific production matters not—only that it happens. It is like boarding an airplane, taking off, and just going as fast as possible, with the pilot telling the passengers, “I have no idea where we are, or where we’re going…but we’re making great time!” This notion that time must be filled with “profitable endeavors” is so convincing that we become consumed with it. In this rat race of always being on the go, we are failing to grasp who we are, why we are here, and where we are really going.
This world—the world of the flesh—would have us turn time into a tyrant instead of a friend. Satan wants us to fear the time we have, and fear its limitation. He would have us fear our own mortality, and constantly distract ourselves from our impending death—he wants us to fear this beautiful and powerful Gift from God. But what about the fact that Christ trampled down death by His death?
The world would have us constantly strive to keep busy—to pass on, rather than pause and give glory to God—to steal by, rather than enjoy—to associate, rather than interrelate. Satan and this world would have us so disengage ourselves from the reality of our time, so as to deceive us into thinking that we are actually using time wisely when we spend countless hours on the internet and social media, rather than engaging the people present in our lives. There are many couples who have a better relationship with their smartphone than they do with their spouse!
“Most of us sense something else about time: it is a resource. Moreover, it is a unique resource. It cannot be accumulated like money or stockpiled like raw materials. We are forced to spend it, whether we choose to or not, and at a fixed rate of 60 seconds every minute. It cannot be turned on and off like a machine or replaced like a man. It is irretrievable (MacKenzie, The Time Trap, McGraw Hill, NY, NY 1972).”
CHRIST’S USE OF TIME
The challenge we face as Orthodox Christians is not so much the amount of time God the Father has given to us, but our view of time and life itself—and how we use the time we have.
The answer to this challenge is found in the Truth, our Lord, God and Savior, Jesus Christ. Let us take just a moment and see how our Lord wisely uses this marvelous Gift.
There is a pericope in the Gospel of St. Mark which speaks about the disciples returning from a “successful” mission trip during which they taught and preached and healed, and wanted to tell the Lord everything that they had accomplished. Our Lord’s response is telling, And He said to them, “Come aside by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while.” For there were many coming and going, and they did not even have time to eat. So they departed to a deserted place in the boat by themselves” (Mark 6: 31-32).
It’s not that the work wasn’t important, it was. It’s not that there was not more to do, there was. It’s not like more people didn’t need to be healed—they did. But what was important at that moment was to give thanks to God and to rest.
And this was not an isolated occurrence. After the feeding of the five thousand, our Lord sent the disciples to the other side in a boat while He sent the multitude away. “And when He had sent them away, He departed to the mountain to pray” (Mark 6:46). He took time Himself to give thanks to God, to reconnect with His Father, and to recharge.
Our Lord shows in these actions that we must prioritize our time properly. There is a proper order to how we use our time that Christ reveals here. The first priority is our relationship with God, our prayer life, and our worship (coming to Church) of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The second, is that with our family—as Christ was taking care of the disciples’ needs. The third is what God-pleasing works we are called to do. Anything else comes fourth. If we know that there is finality to our time, then why do we distract ourselves from what is needful? Our problem as human beings is that we tend to live more for the moment than we do for eternity. This moment passes away, just like this life.
The Psalmist shows just how important it is to view our time with an awareness of its eternal value and purpose when he writes, “So teach us to consider our own mortality, so that we might live wisely.”
Why, then, are we so distracted from that one thing which is needful, our Lord, Jesus Christ?
(1) People may stay busy because of their egos. People want to appear important. In our society, the crowded schedule, the incredible number of hours and heavy demands are supposed to show how successful or important a person is. Somehow we have come to gauge people, including ourselves, by activity and performance, so we overload our schedules. (I’m reminded of a story about a mother who wanted to be the “perfect” mother and wife. She would never lower herself, nor her family, to using paper plates. When she hosted a holiday meal—you left knowing that every detail was carefully thought out. After a meal, she would spend two hours cleaning the kitchen, so it would be spotless for the next day’s endeavors. Yet, she never got to spend time with her children before bed. For holiday dinners, she was server, chef, somalier, and dishwasher, but she never enjoyed her family. Eventually, she realized, as her husband and children looked more miserable each year, that it was time to look at her “why”. She then realized that all of this effort was more about her pride than it was what her family wanted. They just wanted to be with her. They didn’t care about what dishes she used. Now, she has adjusted according to what she wanted in the first place—a better relationship with God and family.)
(2) People may stay busy as a cover up for laziness. Running around in a lot of extracurricular activities is sometimes a way to avoid the more important or difficult responsibilities. This is particularly true for clergy.
(3) People may stay busy because of greed. People are greedy or materialistic. Matthew 6 is a classic commentary on this problem. People are busy, busy, busy because they have up-side-down priorities and they are never satisfied; enough is never enough. As a result, they pursue the details of life from morning to evening. If they make $70,000 this year, next year they figure with just a little more work, they might make $90,000. Greed for money is only one aspect. This can also involve greed for power, praise, prestige, position, possessions, and security.
(4) People may stay busy because they are more concerned about pleasing men rather than God. They have never learned to say “no” which is important to our ability to keep God’s priorities before us. If we do not plan our schedules and decide what we should and should not do, others will decide for us. Our business will be a form of betrayal rather than commitment. A good illustration of this seen in Acts 6:1-7. When confronted with how to meet the needs of the people, they first approached the problem by establishing priorities according to biblical principles. They said, “It is not right for us to neglect the word of God to wait on tables. 3 But carefully select from among you, brothers, …whom we may put in charge of this necessary task.” Instead of adding this job to their present responsibilities, they delegated the task to others. https://bible.org/seriespage/stewardship-time
Numbering our days also means evaluating the quality of our time spent. The amount of time we spend at something is often not as important as the quality of the time spent. Not only must we consider where our time goes, but how well we use it and why. Is it quality time? Do we enjoy where we are at, when we are there, knowing that God is using this moment for our salvation? Or are we constantly distracted with greener grass elsewhere?
Now is the time to become good stewards of the Gift of God’s Time here on this earth. Now is the time to focus making our priorities match our purpose as the Body of Christ, as children of God and heirs of His Kingdom. Now is the time to focus on the joy of the moments with which we are blessed, giving thanks to God for all things. Now is the time for us to simplify our lives, taking the time necessary to maintain our prayer life. Now is the time to take the time to recharge, through prayer and fasting. Now is the time to be enlivened by the Life-Giving Food of our Lord’s Body and Blood. Now is the time to glorify the Eternal Father Who is without beginning, the Co-Eternal Son, and the All-Holy and Life-Giving Spirit with everything in us!
Written by Fr. Chris Rocknage