Many of us have a troubled relationship with time.
Carl Honore wrote an interesting book, “In Praise of Slowness: How a Worldwide Movement Is Challenging the Cult of Speed,” the idea for which came to him as he rushed through an airport and saw a book titled “The One-Minute Bedtime Story.”
His first thought was that this was an answer to prayers. He’d been in a tug-of-war with his 2-year-old son over reading a story each night.
Honore had wanted a way to get through the stories more quickly so that he could get back to work, but, at the airport, he was struck by a crucial insight: “Have I gone completely insane? … I am Scrooge with a stopwatch, obsessed with saving every last scrap of time, a minute here, a few seconds there.”
This observation reveals a widespread cultural issue: All is not well between us and time.
Time flies when you’re having fun, but, at the best moments, it seems that time stands still.
But, the best moments aren’t necessarily the easiest moments, so that some people remember hard times as good times.
Most of those who think hard times were good times are old-timers. Children like to hear about even older times than the old-timers lived through, so we tell them stories that begin, “Once upon a time.”
In one of those stories, “Alice in Wonderland, Through the Looking Glass,” the Red Queen says, “Now here, you see, it takes all the running you can do to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that.”
These kinds of stories tell children, and the rest of us, to run fast so that we don’t run out of time, not to waste time and certainly not to kill time.
We try, instead, to save time, to find time, but if we can’t find it, to make up for lost time.
We attempt to manage time so that we have quality time with the people we care about, but we don’t have as much quality time as we’d like because it depends on having at least a small quantity of time that can be turned into quality time.
Some people are stingy with time because “time is money.” So, they hardly ever let themselves take down time.
For a few, time’s up before they are able to call time out. And I’m sure some people during hard seasons felt like they were doing time.
The Jewish and Christian understanding of time grows from the gift of Sabbath, which Abraham Joshua Heschel called “a cathedral in time” – a sanctuary of worship, rest and delight amid the distractions and distortions that threaten to dehumanize us.
The Sabbath principle teaches us that we are not defined by our work, our productivity and our status; we are not slaves to the demands of other people or our own expectations.
We are, instead, defined by the love of God, a love that we celebrate and return in worship, which we savor in the gifts and delights of nature and which we share in our relationships with our neighbors.
God’s gift of time is patterned and rhythmic: work and worship, work and rest, work and delight.
In his poignant book, “Learning to Fall,” about his slow dying with ALS, Philip Simmons wrote, “I think if we are honest with ourselves, we can agree that our busyness – whether of body or mind – is often a distraction, a way of avoiding others, avoiding intimacy, avoiding ourselves.”
He added, “We keep busy to push back our fears, our loneliness, our self-doubt, our questions about purposes and ends. We want to know we matter; we want to know our lives are worthwhile. And when we’re not sure, we work that much harder, we worry that much more.”
Simmons identified the trouble with us that makes our trouble with time: We are hurrying to outrun our fears; we are working to ensure that we are worthwhile, and we are chasing a sense that life matters and that we matter.
Sabbath invites us to another way of inhabiting time: to allow love to heal our fears and befriend us in our loneliness, to see that our purpose, our “end,” is, as the old catechism puts it, “to glorify God and enjoy God forever,” and to rest in the profound awareness that our worth comes from our identity as children of God.
Guy Sayles is a consultant with the Center for Healthy Churches, an assistant professor of religion at Mars Hill University, an adjunct professor at Gardner-Webb Divinity School and a board member of the Baptist Center for Ethics. A version of this article first appeared on his website, From the Intersection, and is used with permission.