For so many people, time is an enemy. It is a constant fight as they rail against the limits of time continually bemoaning that they do not have enough time for all that they want to do. But surely part of what makes not only living well but leading our organizations effectively is that we learn the grace, the wisdom and patience of living in time rather than fighting what Fr. Thomas Ryan calls “the poverty of time.”
There will always be those days when we put in some long hours. Or a week here and there where we are up early and still up late because of an unforeseen development. A pastor realizes that because of something that happened on Saturday morning, the sermon for Sunday morning will need to be re-framed if not completely re-written. We are heading into a series of meetings that impact one another and so we are putting in the necessary time to go from this committee meeting to the full board and yes, this means some long hours. But as a rule, we are only truly living in the here and now – present to this organization at this time and in this place – if we live graciously within the limits of time.
Coming to this capacity – to live in time – requires at the very least the following.
First, clarity about what it is that must be done. To use the phrase from the exchange that Jesus had with Martha [and Mary]: what is the one thing needful? What needs to happen now because it is a requirement of our employment or responsibilities or because there is a pending deadline and to meet that deadline, what it is that needs to happen today? This is actually a good principle or rule of life: to do today what needs to be done today – not because we are living in the moment, necessarily, but because we see what is coming and we know what needs to happen now.
Second, it means knowing how to say “no” or “no thanks” or, “regretfully, I need to decline your invitation or your request.” It means that we are not beholden to the expectations of others. This is not because we are not generous or willing to help others; it is merely because we accept the limits of time. it is wise to regularly check our spirit and confirm that we do have a generous heart and a willingness to serve. But we avoid what might be called a “misguided generosity.”
Third, it means that we are able to let others carry the weight or share the responsibility – as often as not because we delegate or we invite participation. Sometimes it is delegation: we move it off our desk or our “to do” list because it is simply not imperative that we are the one that does this. We ask: given my role or responsibility, what must I do [the one thing needful]? And, further, where can others partner and support and lead with my support and encouragement so that I can do what I need to do [back to No 1].
And finally, of course, living graciously within the limits of time means that we accept – with equanimity of spirit – what cannot happen for the very simple reason that there was not and is not enough time. Hopefully at the end of each day and each week and each season of our working lives we can to some degree say: I did what was needed. It is more than likely the case that we did not do everything we could like to have done. But we did what we could, within the limits of time. And so at the end of the day or the week we live not frustrated or resentful about those limits, but with a settled spirit we live with grateful contentment for what we were able to do.