The paradox of our bloated schedules and shrinking hearts
By that I’m not asking, “Is the Doomsday Clock perilously close to midnight?” Rather, I’m asking, “Are our days shrinking? Are there fewer hours, minutes and seconds in a day than there used to be?”
Yes, I know — that’s impossible. But doesn’t it feel like that sometimes? Don’t our days often feel like we’re trying to stuff more and more rocks into an ever-shrinking sack?
Let me tell you about the event that prompted these thoughts. The Task Manager on my phone alerted me to an urgent task that I must perform by a certain time. I looked at the title and the description of the task — and I had absolutely no idea what the Task Manager was referring to. I don’t remember adding it to the Task Manager, and I couldn’t recall why I set the due date and reminder for when I did.
Well, misery loves company, as the saying goes, so I texted a friend whom I suspected had had similar experiences. Below is the content of our text conversation.
ME: Did you ever get a task reminder from your phone and you have no idea what it refers to?
FRIEND: No. I don’t even try anymore.
ME: Maybe I should look into that option …
FRIEND: Maybe. Be warned -— it requires despair.
ME: I can easily imagine slipping into those loafers …
That exchange was (mostly) made in jest, but it raises a challenging question. When it comes to the management of time and energy (amateurs talk about “time management”; professionals speak of the coordination of time and energy — having time but no energy is as useless as having no time), are our only options fighting a losing battle or surrendering in despair?
About four years ago, I wrote in this space an essay called “What More Would God Need to Give You for an Extra 30 Minutes of Your Time?” And I said then: “If we come to [Christmas Midnight] Mass early, we are declaring to God, ‘You are worth my time.’ It’s a double irony, isn’t it? First, we offer the eternal and timeless God our time. (Yet time is a great gift, when it is offered by one who knows that eventually he will die.) It’s also an irony because we must give to God the one thing we hoard like misers and that we spend like drunkards, and that is our time. People who spend countless hours looking at cute photos of ugly cats on the internet begrudge God an extra 30 minutes once a year.”
You see, I believe that our principal problem is not that we lack skills in the management of time and energy — although I think most of us do. Our principal problem isn’t that we don’t have enough software or journals to manage our time and energy. I suspect that the principal problem is that we overcrowd our lives, we manically overschedule, we panic and despair, because we’ve forgotten who we are and who we are made for.
Most of us are immersed in a culture of utility — we value ourselves and others in terms of how useful we and they are. We are trained from our earliest days to strive to acquire and consume. We are repeatedly taught to run after the next new big thing that will make our lives easier, better, happier, more status-worthy, or at least less painful. We live for the moment, but we are made for eternity.
St. Ignatius Loyola wrote of “the First Principle and Foundation,” which states: “Man was created for the praise, reverence and service of God.” Consequently, whatever leads me to the end for which I was made is good; whatever leads me away from that end, even something that in itself may be morally neutral or even good, is bad for me. I am to pursue the former and avoid the latter.
What if we managed our time, our energy, our resources in light of the truth that what matters most is that we die as saints ready to meet God face to face? What if we lived our lives sure that we enter this world with nothing, that we leave this world with nothing, and that are called to use all of our time, talent and treasure for the love of God and neighbor and the salvation of our own soul? If we really believed that, we wouldn’t likely find ourselves torn between the awful choices of repeating our failures or to stop trying by yielding to despair.
What we need are not new tools, techniques or skills. What we need is a change of heart, a conversion. And that process of conversion will be the topic of my columns in the coming weeks.
When I write next, I will speak of battling the temptation of discouragement, and its ugly cousin, disappointment. Until then, let’s keep each other in prayer.
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