The Time of Your Life

It’s an interesting phrase: “I’m having the time of my life!” From a faint remembrance of NT Greek, I can identify that as “ kairos”time, “wonder-full time,” as in Jesus came “in the fullness of time.”(Galatians 4:4)

These “kairos” moments of wonder/awe/astonishment are huge surprises of joy that occasionally wake us up to abundant life. But they are occasional. We can’t produce them, plan them, manipulate them. Like accidents, they just happen. Yes, our intentional anticipation makes us more “accident prone.” But “kairos” moments remain gifts, not achievements.

So, let’s think about what we do have some control over — “chronos,” the other kind of time, as in clock time, calendar time. This we have to work with: our presence in time. “I’ll stop by at 4:00” . . .”Let’s make it at your place at 11:00” . . .”Does 7:30 work for you?”

Other professionals have tangible tools to yield, drugs to dispense, documents full of rules to follow. Much of their work is scheduled; most of our work we schedule. Their day is largely structured; we, for the most part, structure our day. Most leaders report their use of time. We don’t.

I felt the difference when I moved from being a director of a hospital department to becoming a pastor again. Oh, the freedom to plan my day! But soon I was feeling, oh, the burden of this freedom, so many demands and so little time. My to-do list, created in the morning, ended the day with maybe half of the resolves checked off.

e.e. cummings has a word for us: “To be nobody but yourself in a world which is doing its best to make you somebody else, means to fight the hardest human battle ever and to never stop fighting.”

If that’s a human dilemma, and I think it is, then how much more this is true for us. We don’t have one contract about our use of time with an employer; we have multiple, ill-defined contracts with a congregation full of employers. And if our primary offering is our “presence in time,” then congregants rightfully have claims on our calendar. Their personal needs and the needs of the institution fill our schedule. Given the nature of our work, not from some evil intent, much of each day is spent responding to needs as they arise. Before we know it, we can feel defined by others, or in cummings’ words, these expectations can “make you somebody else.”

I’m interested in how you handle this freedom. As for me, this one practice helped me most in this “fight” to maintain the final word of self-identity: working at self-definition at the front end of a day or season or year.

My day was, and is, different when I can take at least an hour in the morning to remember. I turn to readings and prayer that call me back to the one mirror that reflects my deepest identity, as Abba’s beloved, as a follower of Jesus, as a graced channel of Spirit. I assume that the day will bring other mirrors that reflect lesser identities, so I try to start the day “rooted and grounded” in the Love/Life much larger than me. Then I look at the calendar’s day and week with this priority in place. What matters most about this day? How will I align myself with this Spirit today?

Also, periodically, usually every month or so, with calendar in hand, I would look at my investment of time through these questions: What does the congregation at this point in time most need from my leadership? And, what am I passionate to give?

And finally, once a year during vacation, Janice and I would review the next year, first penciling in a week of renewal for each one of us, then a week for us, and finally at least a week for the family.

I’m not discounting the truth that much of ministry is in the unplanned interruptions. To the contrary, because of this truth I attempted the ever redefining of calling, values and core identity at the front end of the day or season or year. This attention to “chronos” time made “yes” and “no” easier to discern.

I am interested in how you “fight this hardest battle” with the time of your life.

3 Responses to The Time of Your Life

  1. Jim Strickland says:

    Mahan,
    Your thoughts this month kicked up some memories of those time-pressed years as a pastor.

    It took me about ten years as a pastor to set aside time for me everyday. Because I am a morning person, I chose morning as my time. I would be in my study
    by 6:30 in the morning and arrive at the church around
    10:00. A couple of hours of meditation and study in the morning made the day very different.

    Another discipline that I was not taught in seminary was to follow the lectionery in my preaching schedule. I saved loads of time each week by not trying to create my own lectionery or the prescribed one by the denominational calendar. I did have one couple leave the church because I was preaching from
    the lectionery and not the Bible:)

    I also never went out on Saturday night unless it was an emergency. Saturday afternoon and evening were family time. I actually had a church member who had invited us to a Saturday night party come to our house to see if we were really at home.

    Healthy time management was always a fight – but worth it.
    Jim

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  2. Joyce Hollyday says:

    Among other things, at least once a day I walk out my door with my eyes wide open, to take in “the birds of the air” and “the lilies of the field” — remembering that they don’t get overly busy or distracted or discouraged, but simply live into the fullness of being birds or flowers, as God created them to be. This week it’s the scarlet red of the firebushes and the crest of a pileated woodpecker that caught my eye — reminders that this beauty, and whatever we’re bearing at the moment, are all in God’s hands.

    Joyce

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  3. Liz Canham says:

    Such a timely reminder Mahan. I do pretty well with morning time but then the pace of the day picks up it is a challenge to regroup and remember Who/se I am. Sacred pauses help me. Walking to the mail box and seeing who is about in the trees and sky; allowing the cats to play with me; remembering to breathe deeply; sitting in my favorite chair with a cup of tea. I have also appreciated Macrina Wiederkher’s new book Seven Sacred Pauses with it’s collection of brief, contemporary prayers. I don’t aspire to 7 times a day – I could do that in a monastery though we had reduced the nomber to 5 – but this old pattern is important for me, maybe because I am an Episcopalian. Those old monks had something going for them but could get just as busy as we parish clergy.

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