I found an old video of my son, a video I did not even know we had. He was two, playing at his grandparents’ house while Aileen and I were at the hospital, waiting for his sister to arrive. He spoke in a little baby voice, talking about his “wittle sistow” who was in mommy’s tummy. It almost broke my heart. Wasn’t it only yesterday that he was two years old? But then how did he get to be six feet tall, and when did he start to shave, and what on earth is he doing in high school? What happened?
I consider it one of the great tragedies of life: All those things I will leave undone. All those things I mean to do that I will never do. All those things I will begin but leave incomplete. All those things I long to master that I will not even be able to start. All those things I will actually do, but do partially or badly.
I am an ambitious person and when I’m not busy I’m bored. Not can’t-stop, can’t-talk, can’t-breathe busy, but simply keep-going, be-zealous, push-hard, take-life-seriously busy. Having lots to do keeps me structured, it keeps me organized, it keeps me honest. That’s where I like to be and that’s where I am at my best.
But doing takes time, and time is a fleeting resource. It is a finite resource. When I use time in one way, I cannot use it in another. When I give time to one thing, I take away from something else. To prioritize one area of life is to de-prioritize all the rest.
When I give more to the church and the people of the church, it means I give less to the writing I love to do. When I increase my writing, I take time away from my family. If I give a lot of time to family, that time comes from something or someone else. I always come up short. There is never enough time to do all the things I want to do, never enough time to learn all I want to learn, to be all I want to be. At some level, I fail at everything.
I love the book of Ecclesiastes, and especially its closing chapters. In chapter 12 the Preacher calls to the young man—maybe his younger self—and says, “Remember your Creator before the sun and the light and the moon and the stars are darkened and the clouds return after the rain.” He describes life as a day that extends from dawn to dusk, and here, in old age, he sees his own life as dark, as gray, as a day that is about to give way to night. And I can’t help but believe that he is looking back on life and seeing so many of those things that will remain undone, projects that will remain incomplete, dreams that will remain unfulfilled. If he was young he could claim, “This is only a setback! Better days are ahead.” But now the best days are behind him. The sky darkens. The night falls. That is life in this world. Life is a vapor, dust that rises for a minute, and is blown away by the wind. There is no author more gut-honest about life than this Preacher.
Life is a vapor, too short, too fleeting. But I believe this: I may not have time to do everything I would like to do, but I have all the time I need for those things that God expects me to do. If there are 168 hours in a week, I know that God has not given me 169 hours of responsibility. If there are 24 hours in a day, God has not given me 25 hours of work.
The call, then, is to find the best things I can do with the time allotted to me, while waiting for the great day when time will no longer be finite, when opportunities will no longer be limited. It is to prioritize those few things I can actually accomplish, and to learn to let go of the rest. It is to live the life God has for me, and not to attempt to live a different life altogether. It is to obey the words of God: “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil” (Ephesians 5:15-16). Evil, and far too few. No, that’s not it. Evil, and just enough to do all He calls me to do.
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