An octagonal wood-framed clock hangs on a wall in my bedroom. I bought it for my mother long ago; when she died, I claimed it as my own. Because it is hard to hang up, I don’t change this clock when it is time to “spring ahead” or “fall back.” So for half of the year this beautiful clock displays the wrong time. For most of my life with that clock, it has frustrated me. As seasons changed, I obsessively checked it with the clock radio on the nightstand to verify the time.
Being on time, not wasting time, saving time – these family axioms made a big impression on me. Time in my family seemed as scarce as a heart-felt hug; we never seemed to have enough of either. My mother’s mantras still ring in my ears: “Get ready, you’ll be late for . . . . “Don’t you have anything better to do than read a book?” My siblings and I quickly learned that you better have some thing to do if you plan on watching TV – iron, or sew, or bake. As if to punctuate the importance of time, one of my father’s hobby was collecting clocks. We had cuckoo clocks and grandfather clocks and walls of old clocks – a few of which had to be wound by hand each night.
My childhood training about the value of time served me well as I raised an active family, worked two jobs for many years, and succeeded in professions that required organization and time-lines. Time was a moving structure: every day I had a pre-determined set of minutes that clicked away never to be redeemed. Being responsible meant making the most of each day of minutes.
However, when I retired several months ago, I began to have a difficult relationship with time. I have a lot of it and can easily work within it, which I love. But my mind has been trained to experience guilt and shame if I don’t cram 30 hours into 24. My training also has been that Time = Productivity. If I have time, I’m supposed to be doing something with it – something that can be measured and approved.
For the last few months I have fought the drive to fill all the minutes of the day, and I have “wasted” a lot of time. But it hasn’t been pleasant; my guilt usually overrides the enjoyment of a day without time. I recognized that this is a spiritual battle. God has nothing to do with time; it is mankind’s invention to try to gain control of the universe. As much as I know better intellectually, I have projected society’s view of time onto God. I also see that for most of my life, I have pasted my need for approval on the face of every timepiece. If I’m on schedule and doing worthwhile things as time passes, I’m a worthwhile person.
So lately, I have worked hard to let go of all of those false narratives. I still have a rough “to do” list and a minimal schedule for the week. But I’m learning to let most of my days flow by unregulated: I sleep 7 or 8 hours – more, if I want to. I alternate the things I have to do to run my home and care for my husband with things I want to do – even if that means reading for 5 hour in a row or binge-watching House of Cards. I have a schedule for my writing, but I write because I like to write, not to keep to the schedule. I look at a blank weekly calendar as comforting not as unsettling.
Most important is that the rhythm of my day, of my life, is no longer controlled by the false values attributed to the clock or the calendar. And when I feel the onset of guilt, I walk into my bedroom and look at the beautiful clock which may or may not be accurate. It reminds me that I am living to be the aroma of Jesus to the people God brings into my life – and neither a ticking clock nor a filled calendar have anything to do with that.
This transformation may be easier toward the end of our lives. We can, perhaps, choose not to live frantic and frenetic lives more easily after retirement (although some people are quick to say that they are busier in retirement than when they are working). However, I believe that we can gain victory over time at any age. The spiritual disciplines of silence, simplicity, fasting and others can bring new rhythms and more respect for freedom from the constraints of time at any stage of life. The accompanying, and harder. job of releasing our false narratives about time may take longer. It’s a journey well worth taking at any age.