I lost or broke three different watches during 2017. One was destroyed by the puppy teeth of a certain golden retriever, the other’s battery gave out, and the other one ended up somewhere in the world which cannot be located at the present.
Since I’ve been watch-less these past few months, I’ve been thinking about my relationship with my watch, but bigger than that, my relationship with time. I got in the habit of wearing watches during college because wearing one helped me keep track of my time during an incredibly busy season when I literally ran from one thing to the next. I was in great shape because I didn’t have time to eat enough and I ran/sped-walked everywhere I went!
In college, time was a competition, a challenge, a point of pride and a pitfall. On days during college that forgot to wear my watch, I felt unsettled, like I’d be too late or too early or spend too little or too much time on something. I thought that graduating from college would usher in a new era where my relationship with time was a bit easier, but I’ve come to see that this is still a troubled liaison.
Before my American literature classes at college, one of my favorite professors named Dr. Messer would begin with a prayer, often closing with the refrain, “Lord, help us to redeem the time.” Our class discussions around books by Faulkner and Hemingway and O’Connor often came back to the idea that we are “time creatures,” as Dr. Messer liked to say. It was only appropriate that in being “time creatures,” we would ponder and discuss and suggest ways that the characters we were reading about, but more ultimately ourselves, could redeem the time.
When we began class asking to redeem the time, I have come to see that I brought my own baggage to that prayer. As a slave to my watch, my schedule, my busyness, my activities, my professor’s prayer was transformed in my mind to mean something totally different than what I think it was intended to mean.
In that busy season of my life, I believed that redeeming the time was actually code for maximizing the time; I thought it meant we were hoping and praying that we’d squeeze as much out of the time as we could as to glean the most knowledge, have the best discussions, and gain the greatest insights. And while God did do that kind of work through those class discussions with Dr. Messer and my peers and Faulkner’s troublesome compound sentences, I also think that I missed the point of why Dr. Messer asked the Lord “to redeem the time.”
In this era of broken watches and days that seem to tick by in double time, I’m beginning to learn that when we prayed for the Lord to redeem the time, it meant so much more than just what was happening right then and there in the classroom, at college, on our packed and maxed-out to-do lists for the day.
Praying to redeem the time recognizes that though we cannot say the right things, make the right choices, teach the right lessons, and espouse the pure truths our on own, God STILL redeems the time through his long-term, visionary ways. The Lord takes the time — the wasted time, the hurried time, the quiet time, the boring time, the learning time, the idle time — and uses it all to shape us into more like Him.
Asking for him to redeem the time is such a powerful thing, I now see, to ask at the beginning of class, or at the beginning of a day. It admits that we are about to mess up, that we can’t do this redemptive work on our own. It recognizes that we might be pretending we know how to drive, but we’re really like a 16 year old with a learner’s permit who gets angry at their dad when they warn him to not blow through an upcoming stop sign. It expects and knows that grace comes through every time, no matter what. Even when we don’t ask. Even when we are idle. Even when we lose track of the minutes and hours.
We forget this simple, life-changing truth so many times. Thank goodness that time does not operate by our rules, for if it did, we’d end up just like my three watches — broken and lost.
Without my watches to guide me lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about how I use my time. In my own life, I worry about wasting time, I get frustrated when my time isn’t used how I want it to be used, I feel anxious when I realize I want more time than what I am actually allotted. So often my prayer is not that the Lord would redeem my time here, but that he would maximize my time here — that he would give me interesting experiences and enriching relationships and stories to tell that others would want to hear. And while the Lord gives us blessings of friendship and fun and all those things, I also believe that his redemptive work is shrouded in mystery we cannot see with our present eyes. Though we are time creatures, time does not operate by our rules.
Here in Nashville, the temptation is to stuff my days full of experiences and lessons and foods and people. Time is truly a challenge. It’s so limited, so fleeting. Yet I am learning that Christ redeems the time even when I don’t ask him to. There are opportunities I will miss, time I waste. There’s stuff I’m going to not be able to do or learn or say or reconcile or contribute towards, but that Christ is still redeeming those things. He’s always redeeming the time, even when I worry that he isn’t. I might not be maximizing my time down here, but Christ is still redeeming the time.
Even when I feel lost, He is.
Even when I feel broken, He is.
He’s always redeeming the time.
Though my days in the Grove City College classroom are behind me, I’m still digesting the lessons I learned there. I may have missed the point in the moment, but I didn’t miss it all together.
Thank goodness that time does not operate by my rules.