Americans are manic about time management. We are an efficient society that demands punctuality in work, play, and relationships. When someone is late, it is seen as a sign of disrespect and laziness. Our lives are run by calendars, daytimers, and schedules.
We can thank the Benedictine Monks for the clocks that run our lives. Committed to praying at set times during the course of each day, the monks developed machines that governed the ringing of the clocca, or bells, to call the community to worship. Eventually towns set up reliable timepieces in their squares, and patterns of productive labor and exchange were linked to the chiming of the hours.
What started as a means to coordinate community and resources has morphed into a rigid taskmaster that not only runs our lives, but also can determine our value. Dorothy Bass, author of Receiving the Day: Christian Practices for Opening the Gift of Time, articulates its affect on modern men, women and children, and our inability to slow down. She writes:
“Time continues to be a source not only of pressure but also of guilt and judgment. We forget how to luxuriate in time that is not filled with tasks. We delude ourselves into believing that if we can just get everything done, if we can only tie up all the loose ends, if we can even once get ahead of the crush, we will prove our worth and establish ourselves in safety.”
Bass offers a solution to this modern dilemma through an alternative perspective. She encourages us to look at time as a “gift” from God that can open us to live life more fully.
Her ideas are both radical and simple—yet explain something I’ve pondered in my own life. When I stop worrying about time, I am ten times more productive and relaxed than when I feel pressured by the clock and never seem to get enough done. In an effort to change I found the more I focused on time and tried not to worry about it, the more pressure I felt. Then I would spend days fretting about how little I was getting done, all the while distracting from how uncomfortable I felt by watching more tv, or wasting time online. Worrying about time is counterproductive, but I couldn’t find a way to stop.
Thinking about time as a gift is transforming my days. A gift is something freely given, not earned, with no strings attached. Suddenly my value is no longer tied up in what I do or do not accomplish in each day. I can embrace each moment without judgement. My work time is far more productive, and my leisure time more restful and enjoyable because the guilt is gone. I have permission to relax.
The most impactful change in considering time as a gift has come in the increased ability to be in tune with the actual needs of each day. No longer distracted by how I feel about time, I am free to recognize what is important in the present moment and to engage fully in what I do—whether work, rest or play—without distraction. Sometimes it’s far more productive to take time off and play or rest for a while. Then when I re-engage with work I am focused and excited about what I’m doing.
Time is a gift. We don’t have to earn it—but how are we going to use it? Let’s stop being driven by the clock and take back the joy of this moment. After all, right now is all we have control over. Yesterday is gone and tomorrow is not here yet. This is the vital moment to enjoy, rest, work or play in—what are you going to do with your gift?