I’ve become confused about what it means to waste time. This confusion is making a mess out of my ability to do life as a human being, as a family man and as a pastor. To waste time means that we squander what we’ve been given. Careless with seconds we prove inefficient through misuse of minutes.
Clock-Time Anxiety and Guilt
And this, I think is where my agitation begins. I find that I habitually measure waste by the ticking of a clock. Too many clicks and anxiety pounds upon my door demanding to be let in. Guilt sees me driving too slow. Highways are made for fast transit so guilt bangs on its horn. It tailgates me. It rolls down its window, gives me the finger and hollers, “Get off the road you %*# turtle!” Speedy completion equals well used time. Slow completion equals misuse and waste. Being on the move equals making progress. Busyness is focus. Slow advance is distraction.
Don’t get me wrong. Getting things done fast by using a hasty deadline-frenzy to motivate us makes sense when the task before us involves making sales calls, or changing diapers, or getting to surgery in the ER. Likewise, we have to “get a move on” as my people used to say, when getting the cows in, or staining the deck, or completing a building project, or finishing our homework. Waiting too long before getting a sleeping bag to the homeless in winter, or before mobilizing a swat team in crisis or before rousing a battle squadron amid ambush can have fatal consequences. Act too slowly to roll up your car windows and the afternoon rains will soak your seats.
I Want to Get There Quickly
But right here a dilemma confronts me. Moral, psychological, physical, vocational and relational growth, by their very nature, often require massive quantities of time. This is where my confusion comes in. As a human being, unless I’m a prodigy, learning the piano is going to take years of awkward mistakes and uncomfortable practice. When we say “I do” at the altar with our spouse this does not mean that “we are done.” The trust required to say “I do” is substantial. But things await us in life that will require that our trust grows even deeper. Growing trust rarely happens hastily. If I ask my eight year old to carry the container of juice boxes from the car into the house its all good, but physically he isn’t able yet to carry the sound system speakers for worship-team set-up on Sunday morning. Not because there is something wrong with him but because there is something right. He has to be eight before he can be twelve. Likewise, my first sermon can make a huge difference in God’s hands, but that doesn’t mean that I can apply the Scriptures the way a pastor of twenty five years can. And just because I can start ministry programs and build a church building in two years does not mean that the spiritual growth of the congregation (or our own spiritual maturing) will go at the same speed.
Haste and the Pastorate Cannot Co-exist
I’m trying to say that most of what I do as a person, a family man, and as a pastor, involves entering the kinds of things that require years and lifetimes to complete. The nature of love, growth, sanctification, thought and skill requires that I give hospitable room to the time commitments these worthy depths require of us. When I try to apply clock-time measures of waste to these slow-advancing treasures I get flustered, I impatiently pressure others, I feel like a failure and incompetent.I quit way too soon. Speedy measures of accomplishment cannot mentor us in the skills of waiting, persevering and longsuffering. Without these skills we will rarely experience the abiding joys and satisfactions that only a long labor can produce.
Many of those in our congregation can do their jobs with the motto, “Speed equals value and success.” But the nature of what we are called to do as pastors will require us to throw this motto out. It cannot work for us. Human beings simply do not grow in their love for God and each other in this way. And no matter what our job is, it is a damaging thing to translate this motto into the way we make a home and make love with our spouses, the way we parent our kids, or the way we personally relate from our hearts to God. Maybe we’ve been giving up too soon on weighty things because we’ve tried to use haste as our means of accruing weightiness. A life or ministry of substance cannot happen quickly. Dear friend, using your days to give people the hospitable room that their growth with Jesus and each other will require, is no waste of time! It is a noble way to spend a life.
Do Not Be Discouraged
With this in mind, I’d like to share an old story with you. It is told by an old hermit.
A man had a plot of land. Through his carelessness, brambles sprang up and it became a wilderness of thistles and thorns. Then he decided to cultivate it. So he said to his son, “go and clear that ground.”
So, the son went to clear it and saw that the thorns and thistles had multiplied. So, his resolve weakened and he said, “What alot of time I should need to clear and weed all this.” So he lay down and went to sleep. He did this day after day.When his father came to see what he had done he found him doing nothing. He said to him, “Why have you done nothing until now?”
The boy said to his father, “I was coming to work father when I saw this wilderness of thorn and thistle and I was too intimidated to start and so I lay on the ground and went to sleep.” Then his father said to him, “Son if you had cleared each day the area on which you lay down, your work would have advanced slowly and you would not have lost heart.” So the boy followed his father’s advice and in a short time the plot was cultivated.
The hermit then spoke about the grace of God and added, “do a little work and do not be discouraged.” (The Desert Fathers, Penguin Classics, 72-73)