Be careful then how you live—not as unwise people but as wise, making the most of the time, because the days are evil. So do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.
I was reminded again this week of something I should have done. Something I should have treated as more important. Something I should have prioritized, but didn’t. Something I considered less…important? Urgent? Or maybe I never gave it that much thought at all. Maybe, in the press of the urgent and the demanding, in the tyranny of what needs to be done right now, I just never really considered it at all. It was a long-view item on my to-do list. No one was expecting it of me, or would have known I had or hadn’t done it, or would have even thought of it, probably. And yet, now, the fact that I didn’t think of it or didn’t prioritize it seems important, somehow.
How can that be?
I still remember the time in college I forgot to send my grandfather a birthday card, or even to call him. I have no idea now, of course, what I did instead. I’m sure I thought whatever it was mattered. I’m sure it felt urgent and important at the time. And now I can’t even remember what it was, or why it crowded out those small gestures that would have kept his feelings from being hurt. (And he was hurt.)
How does it happen that we miss such obvious things, and then hours or days or weeks or months or even years down the line we look back and see? How much better, in some ways, if our ignorance was perpetual, if we never saw. Then again, sometimes I think it’s the ability to feel regret that makes us human. That’s how we grow, after all. That’s how we become wiser. We call those who seem to be missing this essential capacity for regret sociopaths, and shut them away if we can, because we know the damage they’ll do and never feel even a twinge.
As my son gets older and ever nearer that fateful day where he packs up and heads out to live the rest of his life, I think more and more about that insistence of Paul’s that we should make the most of the time. Sometimes we live as though we think that means we should cram our lives full, load our schedules with commitment after commitment, appointment after appointment. In an explicitly Christian context, we think in terms of one more Bible study, one more opportunity to witness to someone, one more church activity attended. We think of time as something to be filled, something to be spent, something to be jammed full of frenetic activity. There’s always something more to conquer, something more to accomplish, more trophies to collect, more lives to impact, more metaphorical notches to carve into our metaphorical six-shooters.
Funny, though: as my son gets older, I’m thinking in terms of saying “no” more often. Given a choice of a quiet evening at home, when he’s going to be there, and rushing out to another appointment, lately you’ll find me more often at home. Not that he’s counting, or that he needs me there, or even seems to be paying much attention to the fact that I’m there. It’s just that, these days, what I find I’m in the market for above anything else is more time. More time with him. Not to impart wisdom, or do anything in particular, but just to be with him while I can.
As time gets more valuable to me, I find I’m trying to slow down, not speed up. I’m thinking of it more as something to be preserved, not spent. I’m thinking of it as something to be appreciated and enjoyed, not crammed full of activity.
Maybe we look back with regret at roads not taken, choices we’d take back if we could, because we don’t really understand how to value the time we’ve been given. There will always be something more to do. Saying yes to one thing always means saying no to another. Run as hard as you like, and you’ll always leave something undone that someone will say you could have done, should have done, whatever.
Making the most of the time you’re given doesn’t necessarily correlate to doing more — and in fact the relationship might be closer to inversely proportionate. Cram in more, and you may find that you’re more likely to miss something important. Always be trying to do more, and you might run a greater risk of passing on the things that really matter the most. Making the most of the time doesn’t mean being more efficient, learning to multi-task better, or getting more organized so you can fit more into your days.
No, making the most of the time is simply letting the One who gives you the time tell you how to use it.
Paul puts it this way: “Don’t be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.”
And, I have to confess, I don’t always know what that is. But I can look at Jesus, and I can see how he spent time. He spent a lot of time in prayer. Sometimes people were looking for him, wanting him to heal the sick or teach or whatever, and he’d be hidden away somewhere praying. Frustrating, to be sure. But Jesus knew he needed to be in prayer so that he’d understand how his Father wanted him to use the time he had. And so he ignored everyone else’s demands, didn’t worry about their schedules, and instead he went and prayed.
And when he wasn’t praying? He was with people. All kinds of people. He taught them on hillsides in groups, and he talked to them individually at wells, and he walked with them and he sat at their tables. He listened to their cares and fears, and he reassured them that they were loved and that they mattered, and when he told them that their Father in heaven loved them, they tended to believe him.
I know, that’s scary for us introverts who like our alone time. But we don’t have to be the center of attention to love and care for people, as long as our attention is on the fact that God cares most that we love him with all we are, and love our neighbors as ourselves.
So take a good, long, honest look at your schedule. What are you spending all that time on, and why? If it isn’t to draw near to God, or to show love for others, then you either need to think about what you’re doing, or why you’re doing it.
Making the most of the time you have may mean doing less. So that you can do more of the Lord’s will.
I have a feeling you’ll rarely look back on that with regret.