Nouwen turns next to the contemplation of time (pp. 8-10).
When I read his words, I was reminded of a visit I had recently with a pastor who said to me, “I can get people to write a check quicker than I can get them to volunteer their time.” He went on to say that he believed time is the most-precious commodity people have—with many of them feeling they simply don’t have enough of it.
In this way, Nouwen notes, time can be viewed as something of an enemy. Before we even get out of bed, we dread the day. We are hardly aware before the depressing feeling of “I have too much to do” begins to sweep over us. Time becomes something to fight, because it’s through time that we find expectations mounting faster than we can fulfill them—including things our church, faith community, or charitable organization may need from us.
I’ve thought about this a lot, because I can so easily feel pulled in too many directions by a single day’s demands. And to be honest, I don’t see it getting any better. Our technological toys and trinkets only increase our time demands.
Nouwen offers no magic pill or plan. But he does invite us to think of time more in terms of kairos than chronos. What happens if we see the tasks and engagements which time demands as “means” through which we can see and respond to God—instruments through which we can offer ourselves in service to God?
Immediately this means we do not have to “change” anything—which we may, in fact, be unable to do. But it does mean that every moment can be a God-moment, either to receive something or to give something. Every bit of time can be a receptacle for love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
The holiness of time is not initially to be found in trying to “manage” it (although some of us may actually have to do this), but rather to be found in experiencing it as a “means” of grace—grace to be embraced, or grace to be offered.