At the start of the summer school holidays we had a friend, a priest, over for dinner. We had a lot to talk about but one thing he mentioned briefly and I’ve thought about a bit since was our use of time.
He believes that most of us are in for a shock when we meet Jesus at the end of our lives here and realise the vast amounts of time he gave us which we squandered.
In our busy 24/7 culture it can be easy to feel time-poor. For parents working to raise children time can seem to come at a very high premium indeed – especially adequate time to sleep, invest in their marriage or meet other individual needs.
We might feel as though we don’t have much time to squander, but each of us and all the humans who have ever lived, including all the saints, are given or have been given exactly the same number of hours in the day as everyone else.
Time is a great – if not the great – equaliser we have in our lives here on earth. No matter how wealthy or poor we are, young or old, or how physically well or robust we are, we cannot buy, borrow, beg, or extend the number of hours we get.
It’s 24 a day, 168 a week, 8760 a year (or 8784 in a leap year) for each of us. We are all supremely rich in time, but we get our riches anew each day and they must be used up before the next day. We can’t save them; we can only try to be good stewards of the ones we get as we get them.
Everything we have is a gift from God, and how precious are these hours we get each day! So much can happen in an hour – one’s whole life can change in an hour.
I know I wasted a lot more time in my teens and young adult life than I do now when I have more responsibilities. But I still waste time, maybe I don’t even realise how at times. Time well spent doesn’t mean filling every hour with activity. The author of Ecclesiastes 3 sings of a proper time and season for everything. Knowing myself and using prayerful discernment is key.
For example, I’m not naturally a night owl, so if I’m labouring over mending a school uniform after 10pm, or scrolling mindlessly through my Facebook feed, that is a waste of the time God’s given me to sleep so I can be refreshed and good-natured in the morning for my husband, children and whomever I will meet.
Inadequate sleep is a near occasion for sin for me, so I figure that sleeping is a good and holy use of eight out of every 24 hours! Facebook will always be there, and I can finish a mending job in five minutes in the morning that might take me a frustrating hour of fixing mistakes when I’m too tired to thread a needle properly at night.
There are many constraints on how we are able to use our time, of course, but over the course of a week we usually have some time to spend however we wish.
Part of what makes a life not just good but supernaturally good is how a person has made the most of the ‘obligatory’ time they needed for work, sleep, personal care, and so on, as well as how they used what we tend to think of as ‘free’ hours. But all of our hours are freely given to us at the start of each day, all of them from God, all to be used for his glory and our good and others’.
If we can cultivate our gratitude to God for the time he gives us, we will probably be more inclined to be mindful about how we are using it well or squandering it, and make changes or fine-tune where necessary as we move through different seasons of the year, and different seasons of life.
And it is quite a gift. CK Chesterton wrote a stunning little poem about how he appreciated the gift of each of his days, it includes these lines:
Here ends another day, during which I have had eyes, ears, hands and the great world around me. Tomorrow begins another day. Why am I allowed two?
This was originally published in The Catholic Weekly.