In a dystopian society, where the advancement of medicine allows for the prolonging of human life beyond the age of 100, a boarding school in the United Kingdom raises children whose sole purpose in life is to donate their organs to the rich once they become adults which the rich buy in order to live longer. This is, in short, the plot of the movie “Never Let Me Go” (2010), a metaphor that disturbingly expresses the thirst for life and the tragedy of living in spite of time.
In the final scene, Kathy (Carey Mulligan), a young woman raised in the infamous boarding school, looks back on her life and that of her loved ones. She prepares to enter the donation program from which she knows she will never come out alive and wonders “if our lives have been so different from the lives of the people we save… Maybe none of us really understand what we’ve lived through, or feel we’ve had enough time…” In the end, the movie allows the audience to plunge into their own fear that one day they may find themselves disillusioned with the time they have had and wasted.
Regardless of the religion we choose to govern our minds and hearts, time’s finiteness hurts us. On the blog of the evangelical pastor Marius Cruceru, a touching story stands as a testimony to the fact that the passage of time saddens even those with a childlike faith. Grasu was a former prisoner who learned about God in prison and, after his release, took advantage of every opportunity to learn more about the Bible. That’s how he got to spend time with Adrian Iosif, who would become his friend, and write his story.
“I saw him the day before he died. ‘I’m not well, brother. I’m getting worse.’ ‘You might meet God sooner than I do, Grasule’, I surprised myself saying. ‘You’ll sit at the table with Him’, which I immediately regretted saying.
“I was in front of a dying man and I felt like preaching. Grasu looked at me, exhausted with suffering, and gave me an answer which, for me, is a true confession of both the eschatological hope and the tragedy of the human condition: ‘I know. That’s why I’m not afraid. Now I am His sheep. But, brother, life is beautiful and I would very much like to hang around at the table for a while and talk to you…’”
Not everyone has the chance to know that their time is about to run out, and their sudden departure leaves their loved ones with the burden of regretting the life they haven’t lived to the fullest together. For many others, the last moments of life are moments of evaluation in which regret can be overwhelming. Anticipating this regret, some seek to prevent it by trying to exhaust all the meanings of the word “living”. Some of them even say that they have done it all and that they can die in peace.
However, in a world where time is not guaranteed, it is wiser to aim for the essential—the feelings that really matter, the values—than to aim for “everything”. The Bible has been a guide to these perennial values for millennia, and those who sincerely lived them out were able to face their dying moment even when they were forced to face it early (I’m thinking of the martyrs). And given the authority it claims—that of being God’s Word for mankind—Scripture is expected to have a say in people’s time here.
“I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10), Christ said in one of His sermons, indirectly assuring His listeners that His religion would not be a totalitarian one, suffocating its followers with rules. The vibrant, abundant life is the goal that Christ declared then and that resonates, even today, with the most sensitive desires of man. However, the definition of this life, as the very existence of the Saviour would exemplify, is profoundly different from the hedonism that is associated today with the idea of “living one’s life”.
Christ managed His time on earth in a way that contrasts sharply with the directions of productivity and quality time management. Conceived in terms of a contemporary campaign to preach the gospel, Christ’s life would not have had the impact it has had on history.
An uneducated, unknown, travelling preacher spent three years in small towns, often discouraging those who wanted to make Him famous by telling others what He had done for them. He insisted on maintaining a group of twelve tactless yet loyal followers, who at times undermined His aims.
He did not enjoy the support of any public figure, and, through the attitude He cultivated, He even attracted the disapproval of the thought leaders of His time. He did not seem to segment His audience (often speaking to people whose sphere of influence was limited to their village) nor did He seem to choose His speaking locations (often undersized in relation to public demand). By all the modern day metrics on how we should spend our precious time He seems to have failed to give His time value like it deserved.
However, Christ split history in two, before and after His birth, and revolutionized not only the thinking of the time and not just the space in which He lived, but strengthened entire civilizations, all over the world. Looking at the results, Christ’s time management was flawless.
Time management in Jesus’s life
Peter Saunders, executive director of the Christian Medical Fellowship, is the author of a rich synthesis on time management principles drawn from the three years of Jesus’s preaching. He makes no less than ten key remarks on how Christ spent His time. All can be equally well applied by His spiritual followers.
The first thing Saunders points out is that Christ had a consistent devotional life. He spent time praying and studying the Scriptures, often retreating before sunrise to a solitary place where He could be in communion with God. “Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed” (Mark 1:35)
Another principle that is easy to recognize in Christ’s work, and that applies to anyone who wants to make good use of their time, is to have a purpose. Christ knew the purpose that governed His activities, the goal that encompassed any lesser goal He may have had. It was the divine mission to bring people God’s forgiveness. And for this publicly acknowledged purpose He worked hard, suffered death on the cross and rose again. “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:18-19).
Christ made time to have personal discussions, the conversation with Nicodemus, and the conversation with the woman at the well being just two examples of this reported in the New Testament. The evangelist John explicitly testified that the Gospels could not encompass the Saviour’s entire preaching activity, while at the same time implying, as Saunders points out, that Christ did not waste time.
“Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.” (John 21:25)
Christ knew the importance of physical rest and rest for the soul. That is why the Gospels report that, sometimes, despite the insistence of the crowd, eager for wise words and miracles, Christ left with His disciples to ensure a minimum of physical rest. As for the rest of the soul, He taught the disciples the true value of a weekly rest day. By releasing the Sabbath from the endless rules devised by the Pharisees, Christ taught them to experience a Sabbath that would serve their closeness to God. “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27).
Saunders also notes that Christ chose the people around Him, first so that they would learn themselves, then be able to teach others. He set priorities and did not allow His actions to be driven by the expectations of others. In the end, Christ did not sin, Saunders points out, remembering that breaking God’s law can undermine one’s life path, wasting energy and thoughts that could have been directed toward our vocation.
The recovery of time is the recovery of meaning
Somehow, these principles may seem more appropriate to a monastic life. After all, Christ lived in another age, influenced by different factors than those of today. Moreover, the patriarchal agrarian society, under Roman occupation, in which Jesus preached, does not perhaps have the same essential needs as the Westernized society of our days. However, He certainly did not face the same obstacles that would be in the way of one investing their time well.
We live in a consumer society, where having matters more than being, which is why people put in superhuman efforts to make a profit and have purchasing power. The technology created to make our work easier has actually pushed our productivity standards to levels unimaginable in the not-too-distant past, and the free flow of information, which was supposed to be a globalization of knowledge, has become a bombardment of irrelevance. We all live 24 hours days, but the direction we ascribe to these hours makes the difference in the end.
Managing your time today means taking control of your own life, because if you don’t, the social system in which you live will immediately be willing to assign you a role.
The sooner we understand that there are no “masters”, but only “robbers” in time management, the better. We are not the masters of time. Time is passing by, from infinity to infinity, and we cannot accumulate it. We can, however, direct its course, investing it in values, and we can select the sources that claim it, ignoring what could divert us from our purpose.
It is fascinating that if we look at it as a time-management textbook, the Bible comes with subtle answers. The life of a Christian is one lived in anticipation of Christ’s return and, in the sense of personal preparation for this event, it is always a race against the clock.
However, by the way it tells its stories, the Bible prioritizes the believer’s goals, giving them importance primarily according to the time to which they belong. When it speaks of the past, Scripture teaches that sins should not be forgotten, but “cured”: confessed and forgiven; that experiences are lessons that build us up, especially in our relation to The Infinite One. When it speaks of the future, it tells us that our plans are entirely in God’s hands, which should drive away our fears. Worrying only becomes pathological when our faith leaves us.
About the present, it says it is our only workplace, or even our battlefield. “Each day has enough trouble of its own” (Matthew 6:34) is perhaps the most important lesson about time in the Bible. The pains of the past are the troubles of the past. Worries about the future are the troubles of the future. Today has enough trouble of its own. If we understand that the present is all we have and that it is enough, it is very possible that the task of administering it will no longer seem like an impossible mission.
Alina Kartman is a senior editor at ST Network, the European version of Signs of the Times. A version of this article first appeared on their website and is republished with permission.