© Doug Slagle, Pastor at the Gathering UCC, All Rights Reserved
We have 168 hours in each of our weeks. There are 720 hours in an average month and 8,760 hours in a year. Over a ninety year lifetime, one will have 788,400 hours of time. How much is just one of those hours worth? Since an average person in the U.S. can expect to earn approximately 1.1 million dollars over an entire lifetime, the economic worth of each life hour is about one dollar and forty cents. That seems pretty cheap. If you waste an hour here or there, no big deal! We can make that up or even not worry about its loss too much. But what if we waste an hour a day? Over that 90 year lifetime, one will have thrown away $45,990. That is some serious money.
The problem with this approach at placing a dollar value on our time is that ultimately such a method is meaningless. The credit card advertising campaign telling us that certain life experiences are priceless, is essentially true. How might a dad value even one hour a week spent with his son or daughter in meaningful connection? What dividends of love, affirmation and wisdom might result from those weekly one hour sessions? What bank account of memories might be created – of ballgames, important conversations or life lessons taught? How much do we value an hour of lying in a loved one’s arms, hearing his or her heartbeat and simply finding a quiet peace together? Such an hour might seem wasteful when we could be working or surfing the internet or watching the latest show on TV. We each might tell ourselves, as I ask these questions, that such moments of deep connection with a loved one or friend are not wasted and that they are, indeed, priceless. But, how many of us – in the midst of all of the choices we have for spending our time – regularly choose to meaningfully and lovingly talk to a spouse or partner, play with a child or visit a friend? How many of our 788,400 life hours are simply idled away creating nothing memorable, productive or meaningful?
Our message series this month is framed as a question, “Let’s Get Rich?” Last Sunday we discussed finding an appropriate attitude towards money – understanding that it has practical and spiritual significance to improve the condition of humanity and all creation. Money is to be put to use and not hoarded. It is to be earned and it is to be freely given to make our world a better place. For today, I hope we can reflect on how we value our time and how that relates with our attitude towards money. We learned last week that simplicity in how we live has a high value. Do we allow a love of money and things to control us or do we control them? Do we limit them and seek, as much as possible, simplicity in our lives? If we do, then I propose that the value we place on our time will increase. Indeed, we might move from a mindset that time is money to one which says that our time is priceless. It has infinite value. Every hour of every day is precious. Once it is gone, it can never be reclaimed.
Johan von Goethe, the renowned German writer, once said, “Many people take no care of their money till they come nearly to the end of it, and others do just the same with their time.” And Henri Louis Bergson, a noted French philosopher of the early 20th century, noted, “Wherever anything lives, there is, open somewhere, a register in which time is being counted.” Ka-ching. Ka-ching! Another hour spent. Was it worth it?
The implicit message we learn, therefore, is that while time is NOT money, it is its own currency. It is of immeasurable worth but, since that is so, it must not be wasted. It should, like money, be used for productive purposes – for ourselves, our families and then for others. Like money, it should be used simply and not extravagantly – time should never be simply thrown away. We use it not only for work to meet our basic economic needs but we also use it for rest, for renewal and for personal fulfillment. In this regard, the spending of our time – like the spending of our money – must be done with wisdom.
As Americans, we are known for our work ethic and industrious attitudes. As a nationality, we are efficient and no-nonsense individuals who spend vast amounts of time at work – to make money. As we discussed last week, work has its value and we are to earn what we eat. The Biblical book of Proverbs wisely notes that, “The sluggard craves and gets nothing, but the desires of the diligent are fully satisfied.” But, in studies at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business, Americans work, on average, far more hours than is needed for their basic well-being. Studies show that as wealth has increased in the United States, we have responded by working even harder. Our desire for money has only increased. When levels of general happiness are measured in our country, however, we have stayed at mostly the same level over the past half-century. We are no happier for our extra wealth. In Europe, however, as their wealth increased, they responded by working less while their general happiness levels have greatly increased.
The Wharton study found that if we think about money and our work too much, such thoughts become self-fulfilling. We simply want to work more. If, however, we spend time thinking and planning about other uses of our time – like time with family or other less lucrative pursuits, we will indeed then spend more of our time doing those emotionally enriching things. This holds true for rich and poor alike. How we think about our time – do we think mostly about work, or do we have a balanced perspective about it – is key to our happiness. We will act in accord with our thinking. Once again, the Bible is a source of wisdom. The Psalms tell us, “It is vain for you to rise up early, to retire late, to eat the bread of painful labors. So consider your mortality, so that you might live wisely.”
We learned last Sunday that it is possible to have a spiritual perspective toward money. As Doug Meredith noted during our talk back time, money is an enabler of either our best or our worst attitudes. The love of money can enable greed, lust and arrogance. Or, a respect for money can enable a healthy work ethic, generosity and compassion. The same must hold true for our time. Do we hoard it solely for ourselves – to work, rest, and use as we like? Does it inspire arrogance on our part – our time is too valuable to give to simple things like reading, laughing, meditation, play or conversation with others? Do we make productive use of our time – to meaningfully connect with another person or to work diligently and fairly? Do we give away time to others – do we volunteer – to visit with a friend, to play with a child, to serve someone or some organization in need? Indeed, just as I said last week that an audit of our checking accounts might best reveal our attitudes towards money, so too will an audit of our calendars or day planners reveal our attitudes towards time. Is our time and is our money spent selfishly – with just ourselves in mind – or are we giving, generous and caring in its use?
A spiritual and balanced use of time must include its efficient and productive use. Since we will never get back any of our time, it should not be wasted. Time must be well managed and priorities must be set. In our daily lives, do we go from task to task with no set plan or do we allocate it according to what is most important? A daily “to do” list is a recommended solution to how we can waste time by running to and fro.
An efficient use of time is also important. Can we learn to delegate tasks to others who can do them better? Can we humble ourselves and recognize that we cannot do it all – we must share with each other our daily work? Asking for help, giving away portions of our work, getting an assistant or partner or seeking advice from another are important if we are to find time in our days to enjoy rest and be at peace.
Jesus offered his wisdom regarding another aspect for a spiritual use of time. We must be honest in our attitudes toward using and giving time. He said, “Simply let your ‘yes’ be ‘yes’ and your ‘no’ be ‘no.’” In other words, when we say “yes” to a project or event or other use of our time, it must be sincere and the task undertaken without regret. In the same manner, we must learn how to gently say “no” when others ask for time that we cannot give. Many of us have generous and giving hearts but we can also give beyond our abilities. We burn out and we lose control of our lives.
Finally, in another act of personal transformation that we discussed last month, I believe we must die to our own time needs. This does not mean that we do not find time for rest or renewal but, instead, that we see our time as serving a larger purpose than just for ourselves. Our time is to be used to build a better earth – for humanity, for fellow creatures and for our environment. We are to build heaven on earth, as I so often repeat. In that regard, we come to see that our purpose in life is not to simply exist for our own sake, it is to serve others – family, friends, community, complete strangers. When we do find time for rest, it is to recharge ourselves so that we can better improve the world.
We are also to give complete and honest labor at our jobs and careers. Wasteful or idle time at work is a form of theft. Do we give time to our families, close friends and associates – to build intimate and meaningful connections? Are we listening, empathetic and fully present during those interactions or are we simply using time with others to meet our personal needs?
After our time at work – used to earn money necessary for our needs and those of our families, and after time we give to loved ones to nurture vital relationships, and after the time we give to ourselves for rest, are we finding time to share and give away in volunteering? The actress Whoopi Goldberg said that if every American gave five hours of their time per week in helping others, it would be the equivalent work of 20 million full-time charity workers. Imagine what could be accomplished by that work force! And Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “I have the audacity to believe that people everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, and dignity, quality, and freedom for their spirits. I believe that what self-centered men have torn down, other-centered men can build up.”
For us here at the Gathering, such an ideal represents the core of who we are. We will continue to walk our talk. We will not simply speak in favor of justice, we will do our part to work for it. As a congregation, we will continue each one of us to volunteer in meaningful and significant ways. The work of this church cannot be done by a few. It must be done by all of us. This is not a place of spectators. It is a place of activists and givers and volunteers. I am personally so touched by all the work that goes on here – those who organize outreach to homeless kids, those who regularly show up to serve them, those who plan the music, who provide it, who manage our finances, teach our youth, host our Book Clubs, create our websites, plan our events, cook our food, greet our guests, serve at the Freestore, brew our coffee, assist homeless families..….the list goes on and on and on. We serve and give our time not for this congregation but to learn and grow and work for a better world!
My friends, I stand before you as one who must listen to this message more than perhaps any of you. I need to find a healthy perspective on my time. It is said that we can spend our time for a variety of wrong reasons – for greed, for ego, to avoid other tasks or to please people. Too often I spend my time worrying about what others think of me instead of focusing on the beauty of the moment. Without any desire on my part to brag, I have tried over the past year here at the Gathering to do my very best, to work as hard as possible for the sake of this great congregation and to serve with love and understanding. In the course of my work and the many hours I dedicate to it, though, I have sometimes neglected my daughters or Ed or my close friends. Commuting between two cities only adds to those issues. The busy aspects of this job can take me away from what is most important to me. That is something nobody has forced upon me. I have put those burdens on myself. I must hold myself accountable for finding time to meet my daughters for lunch, for knowing when to shut off the computer, for accepting the fact that I can only work so much, for simply enjoying the company of a friend. I have told several of you who work so hard here at the Gathering – don’t burn yourself out! I must tell myself the same thing.
I believe we are each so fortunate to have been born. Our lives are not without hardship and suffering. But they are filled with joy and love as well. We live for but a breath of time. Across the eons of existence, our years on this planet pass almost as a blink of an eye. A thousand years from now, our lives will barely be remembered – if at all. But that does not diminish our significance. We need not be remembered. Only that we mattered. We have a purpose. We can literally change the world. For every time you look into the eyes of your partner and tell him or her of your deep love, you have blessed another soul. For every child you hug and teach the ways of life, you have touched the future. For every tired or sick or hungry person – or animal – you have comforted, you have reduced suffering. What ripples in the pond of creation have we spawned by one act of our giving? Those ripples we create with our gifts of time spread ever outward, touching distant lives and far off places we will never know. Dear ones, let us indeed count the clock. Let us see the value of time. It is a currency to be spent wisely. It is a currency to spend generously. It is the only thing we really possess and it is the only thing we truly lose. Time for you. Time for me. Time for love and charity….