We have this funny idea about time. Let me give you an example:
The alarm goes off, playing a cheesy song on the radio. I roll over, turn it off, and dress for work, thinking about how I need to begin my morning prayers. I walk out of the bedroom door and a cat has puked on the living room rug. Stumbling over to fetch some paper towels, I am greeted by a horrendous smell: the litter box needs to be cleaned…again. Ugh.
Disgusted, I pull on the paper towels and knock over a glass on the kitchen counter creating another mess, this one composed of glass and water. The birds hear the clanking of the glass and get excited: “Feed me! Feed me! It’s morning! Whoopee! Feed me!” they sing with their usual morningtide gusto.
Seeing me stump back into the room, the cats roll around on the rug playfully, never mind the pile of puke next to them. I grumpily begin wiping and cleaning, petting and feeding, all the while thinking, “It is time for prayer and I’m stuck out here cleaning messes. I don’t have time for this!” or even worse: “God, if you really wanted me to pray, you wouldn’t have allowed all of this to take up my time!”
Perhaps later that day I will get stuck in traffic, try to be clever and take a back country road, only to get stuck behind a tractor. I’ll be late to meet a client who is also in a hurry and desires to be somewhere else.
A LETTER FROM HELL
In his popular Screwtape Letters, CS Lewis has the demon Uncle Screwtape write to his apprentice nephew, Wormwood, the following note regarding a human over whom Wormwood is watching and attempting to corrupt:
Men are not angered by mere misfortune, but by misfortune conceived as injury. And the sense of injury depends on the feeling that a legitimate claim has been denied. The more claims on life, therefore, that your patient [the human] can be induced to make, the more often he will feel injured and, as a result, ill-tempered.
Now you will have noticed that nothing throws him into a passion so easily as to find a tract of time which he reckoned on having at his own disposal unexpectedly taken from him…
You must therefore zealously guard in his mind the curious assumption ‘My time is my own.’
…In the long run either our father [Satan] or the Enemy [God] will say ‘Mine’ of each thing that exists, and especially of each man. They will find out in the end, never fear, to whom their time, their souls, and their bodies really belong – certainly not to them, whatever happens.
NOTHING IS MINE
The brilliant CS Lewis here teaches a critical lesson that is perfectly in line with the fathers of the Orthodox Church: everything we have, including our bodies, our thoughts, and our time, are on loan to us.
We entered this world owning nothing,and yet we feel like the time that we live is our own. “These 24 hours belong to me!” is the lie that we are taught from childhood. We believe it, and then when an event occurs that challenges that notion (such as what I outlined above), we get bent out of shape because both the universe and God are completely indifferent to our false sense of entitlement to any minute of the day.
WHAT I HAVE LEARNED
Whatever life throws my way, I am learning to accept it. Perhaps I am stuck in traffic because God wants to teach me patience. Maybe the morning was crazy because God was attempting to teach me that prayer begins the moment I am semi-conscious, not just when I am in my icon corner. The great saints pray noetically every waking and sleeping moment. I’m not anywhere close to that, but if I can keep my thoughts on God throughout the day when I am conscious then that is a good place to be.
Regardless, this day does not belong to me, and if I focus simply on keeping my thoughts on Christ, indifferent to the circumstances that I find myself in, then I will in fact be living in the will of God for my life. His divine will for my life has little to do with my occupation or hobbies, but much to do with the interior workings of my heart and what sort of thoughts I allow to roam my mind.
God has gifted us with this amazing life and the time that we have in it. When we think that the time belongs to us, we spoil the gift and are incapable of truly enjoying it with Him. But when we give every moment of the day to Him (and do not say “my” or “mine” about anything) then we will find rest, peace, joy, and hope by dwelling in His presence within us no matter what is happening around us.