We are blessed with 24 hours in a day; 60 minutes in each of those hours; 60 seconds in each of those minutes. Each of those seconds is an opportunity to make a choice; to do something creative or do something destructive; to do something that builds us up or tears us down; to do something joyful or do something wasteful or do something that simply needs getting done. The good news of grace is that God’s love for us is not dependent on how we use that time. We may go into the deep depths of binge-watching a show which we will not remember in a year but from which we cannot turn away, coming up after hours of time that we can never get back, embarrassed because of missed appointments or chores left undone, and still find that God is in love with us; is waiting to see what we will do next.
Some argue that time is an illusion, a convenient frame of reference that breaks down with careful measurement. What we perceive as time is a trick of the light. We look at a starry night and are seeing the past, the light from millions of years ago from stars light-years away. Some of the stars we think we see now may have in fact exploded thousands of years in the past. Even as I look at you across the room I am not seeing you now. I am seeing the light that bounced off you with an infinitesimally small time delay. I am always seeing where you just were and never exactly where you are right now.
My Hebrew professor, Walter Michel, frequently proclaimed that “Eternity has nothing to do with time!” As he explained it, the Hebrew word for eternity is more about a state of being than an unending timeline. We should not worry about being bored in heaven, because life after death is more about entering an eternal present with God. I sometimes imagine that God sees the universe like a mural in a natural history museum describing the origins of life. As you walk by the mural, you begin at one-end with single-celled creatures that over time develop into plants and animals, life-forms becoming increasingly complex; insects fly; amphibians follow them out of the water; dinosaurs rise and rule and fall; scruffy mammals slowly inch towards life as primates; finally homo sapiens walk upright only to take their seats in office chairs. As we walk by the mural, time passes. Yet if we stand at the doorway of the room, we can see the whole picture, taking in species that never coexisted. To God everything is present; every moment is this holy moment. Christ is always crucified and always resurrected.
With all this in the background I would suggest some different ways to measure the stewardship of time. The common way to talk about use of time in my context is productivity. What did you get done? How many things did you cross off your list? While it is true that sloth was listed as one of the seven deadly sins, there is more to life than productivity. Constant production can turn into mere busyness, doing for the sake of doing.
One question we might ask is : Was the use of time creative or consumptive? This idea goes along with the “make something beautiful” theme I have been discussing. Did the use of time create beautiful moments of lovingkindness, justice or peace? Did the use of time point people toward the beauty that is God?
Or did the use of time consume other people’s work or further consume God’s creation? Just to be clear, consumption is not a sin in and of itself. When I read a book I am consuming the author’s creative work, but hopefully those new ideas will create something new in me or will recreate me, allowing for rest and renewal. The issue is when there is no balance, when we are only consuming or overconsuming and rarely creating.
Another question we might ask about the use of time is: Were you present? Often we spend our moments analyzing the past or fearing the future. Yet God is only found in the present and one of implications of the illusion of time is that the true you is only found in the present. So be there. Whatever you do, do it in that moment where God is and you are. There is an old Zen Buddhist story about a teacher who was asked about the secret of happiness. He replied, “When I eat my rice, I eat my rice. When I wash my bowl, I wash my bowl.” Pay attention to the tastes and textures of the moment. They are gift from God.
Finally, as the 3rd commandment (as my tradition counts it) reminds you, don’t neglect to rest. If you can take part in restful celebration for a day each week, do it. Sabbath is more than being somewhere Saturday evening or Sunday morning. Sabbath is recognizing God’s wisdom that human beings are not meant to be in constant production. It is not good or healthy. Find Sabbath hours, Sabbath minutes or Sabbath moments. Remind yourself to stop and breath and pay attention. Sabbath is not a waste of time. Sabbath is a gift of rest and refreshment. We rest because it is good; because it is what allows us to be creative; because it is a gift.
The stewardship of time is similar to the stewardship of money or possessions. It is not just about religious choices, but every choice with we make about how to use our time. Each moment is a gift; some for creating; some for resting; some for simple appreciation, taking it all in. Each moment is a gift of our loving God.