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Time - The New Poverty

Wednesday, 1 February 2012  | Robert Banks


According to an OECD survey, Australians now work longer hours than all other developed countries, including the USA. A Wellbeing and Social Security survey found that most Australian couples always or regularly experience a conflict between their work and home responsibilities. A national survey conducted by Relationships Australia found that 30% of employers and employers are now engaged in weekend work. Other surveys indicate that Australians are taking fewer and shorter holidays and that insomnia is rapidly becoming one of the major medical problems.

Christians are not exempt from these pressures. Indeed they often have additional responsibilities in churches and Christian organisations or becoming more involved than the average person in community and service groups. Most Christian leaders feel under the pressure of time. They do not have enough of it to do all they want to do - often not even to do the main things they want to - or to do those things well or thoroughly. The pace of ministry is becoming increasingly hurried and hectic, making it difficult to keep up with all that is going on, to maintain peace in the midst of activity, and to take pleasure in the work being done.

As a result they feel frustration at having too much to do do, guilt at not giving enough time to God or family, and anxiety that they may not successfully accomplish all their goals. There is often a high level of nervous tension, physical fatigue and emotional burnout. They find that attempts to deal with this situation through attending workshops on managing time and reordering priorities rarely provide any long-term resolution.

Compounding the problem is our belief that busyness is a virtue. Busyness reinforces our conviction that we are important, that we are achieving something, and that we are really committed to the Lord's work. This is a very modern idea. For most of Christian history busyness has been regarded as negatively as laziness. Both were viewed - one through doing too much, the other through doing too little - as preventing us from giving our full attention and energy to achieving what God wants us to focus on. The high value we place on busyness is actually a sign of how much we have conformed to the spirit of the age. Though inwardly we seek to do God's will, at the practical level our mindset and behavior regarding time is little different from those about us. As a result:

* Along with everything else in our society, we have turned time into just another consumer item.

We have taken time our of the realm of the kingdom of God and placed it on the stock market of the consumer society. Our language betrays us here: we talk about 'spending', 'investing', 'buying' and 'saving' time, words all drawn from the world of commerce. Instead of treasuring time as a gift from the Creator, a daily present to be opened with delight and treated as special, we too easily take it for granted and at our disposal. As a divine gift, time should be used playfully as well as energetically, in a people as well as task oriented way, with an eye to quality more than quantity, and with a sense of wonder and adventure.

What we also tend to do is extract the maximum out of time, every last ounce of what we can get. We 'exploit' it as much as any other physical resource and 'mortgage' it off to the future just as we do our unearned income. Consider the way we cram appointments into our packed schedules, and fill our calendars and annual planners way in advance. Despite our prayers for God's guidance, the way frequently fall into the error of those castigated by James, who say: "Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money. For you do not know what tomorrow will bring... Instead you ought to say, 'If it is the Lord's will, we will live and do this or that'. As it is you boast and brag. All such boasting is evil" (James 4:13-16).

* We treat time as an non-finite resource, only to find it getting ever more scarce.

We tend to view time not just as commodity but as an infinite resource, always there when we need it. Instead, as the above passage suggests, we should recognise that at any point God could remove us from the scene. While this does not mean we should live only for the present, we should build for the future in a way that does not assume our presence or indispensability, always working ourselves out of a job or preparing others to take over from us.

On a day to day basis, however,'There is a time for everything and for everything there is a time' (Ecclesiastes 3:1). It is simply a matter of discerning what we ought to be attending to and giving it as much time as it requires, whether its is a task or responsibility, an experience or relationship, a stage of life or an emergency situation. Mostly we approach things the other way round: we look at how much time we have and work out what we can fit into it. That is why we often find it so hard to schedule in time even for such basic things as friendship or reflection. Too often we allow what is important to be pre-empted by allegedly more pressing or immediate demands.

* We are never satisified with the time we have but are always trying to get more of it.

Instead of being grateful for the time God has given us, we are always trying to find ways of having more, such as stealing from the evening hours time that should be set aside for sleep. To do this, as Psalm 127.1-2 tells us, is an affront to our Creator who in his love sets aside enough time each night for us to refresh ourselves for the following day. It is also a way of trying to justify ourselves by our works rather than trusting God while we sleep to look after whatever needs attending to. We may as well get our full amount of sleep anyway, for the passage says that God will not bless such additional efforts. This highlights the fallacy in one of the popular time- management approaches around the country entitled 'How to Get Twenty- Eight Hours out of Every Twenty Four!'. The point is that for what God wants us to do twenty four hours is quite enough. Otherwise we are in effect complaining that God is stingy and does not know the realities of life.

There are other problems with time-management approaches. They tend to treat our difficulties with time as primarily individual and technical ones. If we can find the right strategies for dealing with time and get our priorities in order, everything will be alright. But the pressure of time and pace of life today are also huge social and cultural problems, stemming from our deep-seated individualism and belief that everything can be resolved by using the right techniques and right - generally IT - technology. In fact only if we work at the problem of time together and help each other deal with the temptations to busyness, and only if we develop a less harried approach to time in our personal lives and in our congregations, will we make any headway. This means reducing our hyperactive program-oriented and committee-ridden church life in favor of more organic ways of operating and more shared leadership patterns.

Unless learning how to manage our time or order our priorities better is accompanied by a paradigm shift in our attitude to and use of time, we are not going to the root of the problem. When a pardigm shift does take place, all our questions about what we should be doing start to look different. Instead we find ourselves questioning some of our fundamental assumptions about what we should be doing anyway, out of which more creative and relevant, yet less busy and hectic, forms of ministry and church life will begin to develop.


Comments

Sarah McIntyre
May 13, 2012, 10:45PM
Thank you for this thought provoking topic
While I don’t disagree with anything in this post, I notice it causes question marks, challenges something within me, & raises tensions.
I do enjoy being busy, but I don’t enjoy being overwhelmed. I have within me a constant tension between the desires to make a difference and the need to live sustainably. I’m not sure how this tension will come to rest in me.
I look at the great people of history & I can’t imagine they strove to not be busy. In fact in our pursuit for sustainability is it really a pursuit for comfort and easiness. Many people whom lived for a great cause suffered great loss, spent time in jail, experienced separation or death from family members & loved ones. We live for a great cause – The Kingdom of God, yet struggle to find the same audacious commitment.
So is the root of the problem not busyness, but motivation? What motivates our leadership, our good deeds, and our pursuits? Practising audacious honesty with our motivations may allow for a livelihood of sustainability in the use of time. After all there is the bible verse; even our righteousness is like filthy rags to God, WOW!
Busyness has taught me to use time better. If I need a break from study, use it to clean. If I am driving somewhere use it to call someone you need to connect with or pray. Planning ahead, using each hour as best as possible including rest brings satisfaction for me. BTW I do love spontaneity though. Also importantly that feeling of not having enough time to connect with people has taught me to involve people in almost everything I do. If I’m going somewhere doing something, I think about who I can involve in this.
Whilst I do agree with an ‘organicness’ to our lives and ministry we’re going to have to realise ahead of time this takes a lot more time! Since moving into community I am almost always late, because I end up entering into conversation with people and then not leaving enough time to get organised to leave! & I hate being late!
In concluding, I don’t disagree but I don’t want to highlight this issue so much we promote laziness, or a lack of zeal to make a change (which takes great time and effort!) because this too is arising in our culture, to see a great example of this check out Bruno Marz’s song “The Lazy Song” safe to say it is very popular, particularly amongst the younger generation (& I am Gen Y) and there is a reason for that. Sometimes the pendulum swings too far the other way.

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