What time is it? How do you know what time it is? Do you wear a watch? Or maybe scan the walls for a clock? Or do you just pull out your phone to check the time?
We are a time-obsessed people. We chop our lives up in blocks of time, carved out carefully to make sure that we get everything done that we need to do. The latest tool for “successful” people encourages us to have daily planners with 96 15-minute chunks of time, so we can make sure we are productive with every minute. Our compulsive scheduling even creeps in to our vacation time…we have so many hours on the road, so many days to be at mom and dad’s house and then a list of things we need to get done and people we need to see while we’re there. We need to get to the airport early enough, and we have to get to the amusement park on time, and we need to make our dinner reservation. We are always planning. Rushing. Meeting deadlines so we make the most of our time. And by the time we get home, we’re exhausted. Both Matt and I have noticed that our best vacations are those rare times when we go somewhere and have no plans, no reservations, no commitments…we just get to “be”…without worrying that we missed out on something.
We forget that the world wasn’t always this way. We forget that people didn’t used to have clocks on every wall and in every pocket and run their lives off a planner. They just worked until they were done working. Visited until they were done visiting. Sat until they were done sitting. Every minute was not accounted for…nobody was constantly checking the time…life was not running at a breakneck pace.
In the late 80s, I was the retreat director out at Lutherhaven. One of the groups that came out regularly was a Leadership retreat for Native American youth. I was always busy when groups were in camp, getting things done. Checking in with the groups, making sure they had what they needed. Keeping the fires burning. Setting up equipment. Cleaning up meeting areas. Refilling coffee pots. Helping in the kitchen. One afternoon, I was hurrying back up the trail after running down to the beach to get the boathouse unlocked, when an older Native gentleman stopped me. He was sitting on one of the benches along the the trail. “Hey”…he gestured to me…”sit down”. Of course, I sat….thinking he needed to talk to me…that he needed something from me. But then, he said nothing. so I asked him…”can I help you?” But he just shook his head. “You need to sit”, he said. So I sat, puzzled… wondering what I was supposed to do…and after what seemed like an eternity, but was probably more like 30 seconds, I started to stand up to leave again. Then he said…”I’ve been watching you. You run up and down and back and forth. You are always running. You are never here. You need to sit. “ I sat as long as I possibly could stand…maybe a minute or two this time…before my impatience won out and I left again, with the excuse that I needed to go up and ring the dinner bell. (Which, honestly, was meaningless during their retreats because they never actually came when the bell rang anyway…they came when they were ready to eat. They came when they were done with what they were doing, not when I said it was time.) Anyway, this was my first introduction to Native time. I experienced it again in the Middle East. And in Mexico and in Haiti. In these non-western cultures, deadlines don’t loom. Schedules are flexible. You have to learn to sit. To wait. While living in Cairo, I took to carrying a book with me at all times…because I often was left waiting, sometimes for hours, for people I was meeting. It took a while, but I actually learned to enjoy the time I spent waiting. I gave up being impatient and frustrated. I quit fuming over the “waste of time”. And I actually discovered a peace in my waiting. It was good just “being” there. I enjoyed where I was. I enjoyed life. And I was hardly ever stressed out. Sadly, it’s a skill I’ve had a hard time hanging on to in the years since I returned. I rather like being efficient and productive, and it’s just too easy to get right back in that running, getting- things-done mode that hardly notices the people along the path unless they stop me, and tell me to sit awhile.
But that sense of time that isn’t carved up into chunks things we need to to…is the kind of time that is talked about in Ecclesiastes. It is time that isn’t measured in hours and minutes….but time that is understood in seasons and relationships. It is time that simply does what it does until it is done…and then does the next right thing. That means we work until we are done working and rest until we are done resting. Grieve until we are done grieving and laugh until we are done laughing. There are no deadlines. There is only here. There is only now. There is only this time. And what is right for this time. In this sense of time, there is no rush…there is simply trust that God is at the beginning and end of time…enfolding, encompassing all our life. And what is…is enough.
Here’s the thing. All our times. All our schedules and crises, all the things we “need” to get done and “should” accomplish, are not urgent to God. God holds eternity …a new heaven and a new earth…in God’s hands. And God’s salvation…of the world…of us…happens in God’s time… not on our time table. The truth is, we may wait a lifetime, like Simeon and Anna, and only catch a glimpse of what God is up to in this world…and in our lives. But it’s okay. God’s got this. We are not the saviors of the earth. God is. That job is taken. We are simply to be. To be here. Now. To live in the moment that we are in, and not be rushing off to the next…to see the people we are with, and not be mentally planning our next move. To do the next right thing. As best as we can. And trust that all our “times” are in God’s hands. I love that expression. “All our times are in God’s hands”. It comes from Psalm 31…
In Psalm 31, the author is grieving and afraid. He is struggling with depression…
Be gracious to me, O Lord, for I am in distress;
my eye wastes away from grief,
my soul and body also.
10 For my life is spent with sorrow,
and my years with sighing;
my strength fails because of my misery,[b]
and my bones waste away.
11 I am the scorn of all my adversaries,
a horror[c] to my neighbors,
an object of dread to my acquaintances;
those who see me in the street flee from me.
12 I have passed out of mind like one who is dead;
I have become like a broken vessel.
14 But I trust in you, O Lord;
I say, “You are my God. 15 My times are in your hand;
No matter what time it is..no matter how hard a time we may be having…the Psalmist invites ut to say. “You are my God…My times are in your hand.”
So…What time is it for you? For some of you, it is a time for building…starting new jobs, making new relationships. For some a time of dismantling. For some of you, it is a time to speak up…to share your experiences or confront hard things. And for some it is time to listen. For some it is a time of weeping…grieving for loved ones or feeling deeply the heartbreak of hurting people throughout the world. For some a time of joy and laughter. The times come and go, for all of us. Times change. But all our times are held in God’s hand.
It’s New Year’s Eve. Today is all about the passing of time as we make plans for the coming year. We set goals and make New Year’s resolutions. We look at the months ahead and take stock of the dates already penciled in. But maybe the best thing we can do…is remember that whatever the year brings, all our times are in God’s hand. This next year…God has you. Holds you. And won’t let you go. So make sure you stop and sit on the bench. Enjoy the view. Be here. Whatever time it is. Do what you are doing. Then do the next right thing. And know that that is enough. Amen.