Making the most of time
A few minutes into my writing of this column, two chubby little hands pushed open the door to my workroom, revealing a red-haired, 18-month-old interruption. He came to me for help as he struggled to put on his coat, missing the armholes with every attempt. I helped him put it on, although I knew that none of the others in the house wanted to take him outside since they were watching football on TV.
I need to get this piece written, I thought to myself, and move on to grading papers and getting ready for work tomorrow. Another voice in my head told me to make the most of the time with that little tike because his visit would soon end; he would grow up and be gone all too quickly. In a few minutes we headed out the door to see the cows in the neighbor’s pasture and to pick kale in the garden.
In years to come I won’t remember what column topic I labored with today, but I doubt I will forget the scene as my grandson stood mooing at the cows in the late November twilight. Sometimes choosing to make the most of the time isn’t the most productive route in terms of achievement.
Of course, I have the perspective that age brings. As a young mother, I did not make the most of the time because of fear — fear of not meeting other people’s expectations, fear of not measuring up or my children not measuring up, fear of failure. I was too busy jumping through hoops to hear the still, small voice of another way to live.
A friend passed along to me a small booklet called “Tyranny of the Urgent!” by Charles Hummel, a writer for InterVarsity Press. In it he recounts a conversation with a former boss who gave him a life-altering piece of advice: “Your greatest danger is letting the urgent things crowd out the important.”
The urgent things, he says, are the pressing demands of right now that have a way of taking over every moment — “Parkinson’s Principle: work expands to fill all the available time.” It’s the I’ve-got-to-do things that keep us running and running without a sense of accomplishment, a never ending to-do list.
The important things don’t demand immediate attention but are of more long term value: calling or sending a note to someone who needs encouragement, spending time with a friend or family member, praying, investing in the eternal, not just the temporal. The important things left undone will cause the “if only I had. . .” regrets at the end of our lives.
Hummel also says that “unlike money, time comes to all of us in equal amounts.” Twenty-four hours, no more, no less. How we choose to spend our time reveals our priorities.
Of all my mother’s many relatives, one of her brothers-in-law, Uncle Hubert to us children, remains vivid in my memory. He spent time with us when we visited with his family. He could have read the paper or watched television, but he always pulled out the checkerboard to challenge us to beat him at checkers. He would think out loud when he planned his strategy, teaching me as we went along in the game. I remember his gravelly voice, his bushy eyebrows above twinkling eyes. He made me feel valued because he related to me. He gave of his time.
During this Christmas season upon us, people focus on gift-giving and the pace of life gets hectic with decorating, shopping, performance practices, parties, concerts, and other events. “The tyranny of the urgent” can be at its worse, causing us to forget the most important thing. Christmas without the Savior is an empty proposition.
So, here’s to making the most of the time, not stretching ourselves out of shape to make more of it, but being careful how we use the 24 hours we have. A little bit goes a long way with a child.
Arlene Neal is a wife, mother, ASU alumna and community college instructor. She lives in Dudley Shoals. Contact her by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.