Thursday 11 March 2010

The Tyranny and Challenge of Time

Life is busy! It seems at times that almost every conversation involves telling someone that we're busy, or listening to them saying how busy they are. I have to work very hard at not including in my responses to questions like "How are you?", words like "Not bad, but I'm very busy", "Flat out" etc. But it isn't just our words that signal that we are (or feel) busy. Ever noticed the things people do in traffic (ever thought about what we do in traffic ourselves, and why)? Yesterday I saw a woman flossing her teeth as we nudged towards a traffic light. This seemed almost a bridge too far to me. I've also witnessed people:
  • Shaving (electric!)
  • Doing their nails
  • Talking on the telephone (hands free and non-hands free), even sending SMS messages
  • Putting on mascara, lipstick, eye line, face powder, moisturising cream
  • Plucking eyebrows
  • Reading the newspaper
  • Reading books and magazines in slow moving traffic or at every set of lights
  • Going over business papers
  • Doing their nails
  • Putting on a tie
  • Using central and side mirrors for all many of body checks
  • Hair combing
There was a time when we did all this stuff at home before we walked out the door. But this age is so fast paced, and we are so time poor, that people continue to try to find time wherever they can get it.

But while the above examples might make us laugh, and are at the very least a road safety risk, there are some more serious consequences for those of us struggling to manage our time. I've talked previously on this blog about the loss of family time (here) and meal time (here), but it seems that we now find it hard in this country to find time for just about anyone outside the nuclear family. This in itself is not good for families, it would seem to me that the last thing we want to teach our children is that all the time in families is devoted to the support of the members inside the house (the nuclear family). What might we be teaching our children about serving others, sharing our lives and faith with others, being a neighbour, citizenship, our view of heaven and eternity etc?

The 2009 OECD Social Indicators report has shown that Australians spend less leisure time with friends than just about everyone.
Only 3% of our leisure time is spent entertaining friends (compared to 43% in Turkey). By way of contrast, Australians spend 41% of our leisure time watching television or listening to radio. It seems that when we're not at work, or doing our daily ablutions in the car, that we're holed up at home.

It also seems that Christians are not immune from this. In fact, Robert Banks suggests that it may be worse. In his publication 'The Tyranny of Time: When 24 Hours Is Not Enough' he says:

With respect to time, Christians are a good deal worse off than many. This is especially the case if they live in a large city, belong to the middle-classes, have managerial or professional positions, or combine outside employment with substantial household responsibilities.

Christians and people raised in a Christian setting tend to take their work more seriously than others. They also place a high value on family obligations. And they are often in the forefront of community and charitable associations. The upshot of this commitment to work, community and family is, as my eldest son commented: ‘Christians are like trains—always on the move, always in a rush, and always late.'
Such a frenzied lifestyle has consequences. Health can suffer, relationships can become strained, family members can become neglected, opportunities for ministry curtailed, fellowship with God interrupted, models for life communicated that we never intended. As we become too focused on the things of earth, we lose sight of the things of heaven. In relationships alone, at work or in the neighbourhood, we can easily lose sight of what is important to God. Banks suggests that our failure to be good stewards of time can have negative consequences for relationships in very subtle ways:
Consequently our encounters with others are becoming more and more limited and instrumental. We associate rather than interrelate, hold ourselves back rather than open ourselves up, pass on or steal by one another rather than pause and linger awhile. The number of our close friends drops and the quality of our married life diminishes
Why do we stay so busy?

Writing this post is challenging for me, I am not immune to these issues. In fact, those who know me best probably think my life is too busy. Why do we become so busy?

There can be many and varied reasons. For example:
  • Some are busy due to personal circumstances which may be out of their control. If you are a single parent with little family support who has to work to live then there will be less time to do all that life requires.
  • For some, work has an unhealthy hold on us and is far too central to our sense of self worth and identity.
  • Some have an unhealthy sense of their own worth and assume that if they don't do things that no-one else will be able to.
  • Others may be busy simply because they want so much materially, that longer hours, and maybe even a second job, seem necessary to feed our need for things.
  • Some may make themselves busy at work to avoid doing things they find harder (e.g. staying longer at the office to avoid providing child care, domestic chores etc at home).
  • Selfish ambition or perfectionism can drive us to give an unhealthy amount of time to work.
  • Others may have addictions that act as 'black holes' sucking large amounts of time from our lives (e.g. online shopping, social media, blogging, gambling etc) and not leaving time for others.
Somehow, we need to remind ourselves that life on this earth is fleeting and short (Psalm 39:4-5), that God has plans for our time, and in fact he has appointed times for all things (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8). We should understand that God makes all things beautiful in his time and that we should enjoy the things that he has given us (Ecclesiastes 3:9-13). There is also a responsibility to use our time wisely with full knowledge that the day of the Lord fast approaches; we need to avoid the lure of the desires of the flesh (Romans 13:11-14). Paul urged the Ephesian church to be careful with their lives and their time:
Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is (Ephesians 5:15-17).
The phrase that Paul uses "making the best use of" can also mean to "redeem" or "purchase". We need to get back lost time, or use it well.

As Christians we need to guard our walk and not grow weary in doing good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith (Gal 6:9-10). We also need to know when to slow down, to step outside the rush of life and focus our hearts only on our God. Jesus demonstrated this again and again in his earthly life.

J. Hampton Keathley in a useful article, 'The Stewardship of Time' reminds us that:

Being a good steward of the time God gives is not really a matter guarding the minutes so we can spend our time productively. Certainly we need to wisely use our time, but even more importantly we need to have a grasp of time in the sense of understanding the great events of God in history, past, present, and future as they are set forth in Scripture in the grand scheme of the plan of God.
We are citizens of heaven living on earth for but a short time as "sojourners and exiles" (1 Peter 2:11). This should change our attitude to how we use our time. It is a time of darkness that will throw up untold challenges as we battle with the desires of the flesh. As we await the Lord's return we are to act as ambassadors for Christ, seeking to make disciples of all of the nations (Matthew 28:19-20).

"So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God" (1 Corinthians 10:31)

Related posts and resources

Robert Banks, The Tyranny of Time: When 24 Hours Is Not Enough, InterVarsity, Downers Grove, IL, 1983, p. 32.

'Time and the Family' (here)

'The loss of mealtime: Is it important?' (here)


Akos said...

Thanks for those thoughts Trevor! As one in paid Christian ministry, I can certainly relate to being busy, and (at times) feeling "time poor". However, I wonder how much those of us in ministry keep busy out of a sense of needing to achieve, (or at least feeling like we're achieving)? I know the temptation of perfectionism, and how easy it is to neglect (among other things) one's own family, in the pursuit of ministry 'success'. A very warped and ungodly view indeed!

Thanks again for your thoughts.


Trevor Cairney said...

Hi Akos,

Nice to hear from you. I think you're right. That's part of what I was getting at in my second and second last dot points in the post above. Christians, whether in paid or non-paid ministry (I'm not that keen on the distinction between 'paid' and 'unpaid' but..) are under the same pressures and suffer the same frailties.

Thanks for your comment.