Space in Time
A couple of days ago, I read a New York Times article called “Work-Life Balance Poses Challenges Regardless of Wealth”. It is about that “riddle that” many of us “can’t seem to solve”: “how to balance the many interests competing for [our] time” – work, relationships, friendships, children, parents, our health, our hobbies. One woman quoted in the article said, “It’s the time squeeze to be a great partner, [to be a great] professional, [to] be in shape, and [to] have a great marriage. You have to be a pretty ruthless prioritizer.” She adds, “On the days when it all works out – when you’ve played and read books with your kids, crushed it at work, and had a nice dinner with your husband – it’s so rewarding. On other days, it’s tough.”
Multi-tasking. Prioritizing. Being “maniacally efficient,” as the article puts it. Being bound and even defined – and honestly, enjoying being defined – by a demanding schedule. These are things I tend to do. Like the woman in the article and perhaps like some of you, I try to squeeze the most out of every minute, every hour, every day. And there are times when I need to.
But following Jesus involves more than squeezing time and being defined by it. It also involves making space in time – or as Jewish theologian Abraham Joshua Heschel puts it, “seeing eternity in time” – and being defined by that.
In our Gospel today, a man runs up to Jesus and asks what he must do to inherit eternal life. Jesus says, “You know the commandments: ‘Don’t murder, don’t steal, don’t lie, don’t commit adultery, and honor your father and mother.” (I think it’s interesting that he doesn’t include “keep the Sabbath” in this list, although that is one of the Commandments, too.) The man says, “I’ve kept all these since I was a kid.” Then Jesus, looks and him and loves him, and in that love says, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, give the money to the poor, and then come, follow me.” The man was shocked, and walked away with a heavy heart, because he had a lot he’d have to give up.
I’ve had this talk with Jesus. More than once. For me it’s happened to be not so much about possessions, but about time, sense of control, pride in achievement, and basing my identity on these things. We had this talk during my high school years, which were high pressure, high performance, high achievement. We had this talk during my first few months in Virginia, when I was unemployed and underemployed and I struggled to find my identity without work I wanted to do. We had this talk during my discernment about going to seminary for three years, and all that would cost my family and me. And we talk about it now, as I, like so many of us, try to juggle different vocations: family, work, and things that give us pleasure.
How many times Jesus has looked at me and loved me and said, “Emily, you lack one thing: Give up your time, your sense of control of time for your own achievement, your assumption of time as something to pack things into and stake your identity in – and follow me.”
How many times I’ve walked away grieving, at first, because frankly, Jesus, that is a lot to ask.
BJ Miller is a palliative care physician who runs a hospice care center in San Francisco. He does some writing and speaking, too, and has a TED video that we’re actually going to watch in our 10:00am forum next Sunday. At one point in it, he’s talking about the various limitations that are part of being human, and the ways we humans find to make space within and despite those limitations.
For example, he says, our “need for food has birthed cuisine. [Our] need for shelter has given rise to architecture. [Our] need for cover [has birthed] fashion. And for being subjected to [time and] the clock, we invented music.” He goes on to talk about how we might make space death, around our final limitation. How we might make space around our inevitable aging and dying so that we don’t spend our precious minutes and our precious energy just trying to evade death, but might, he suggests, even crescendo toward our ends.
More about that next week. For today, I wonder how we might make space in our own every days, rather than just squeeze them for all they’re worth (though sometimes we need to do that). How might we approach “with boldness” that “throne of grace” to which the author of Hebrews invites us and encourages us? That magnificent throne of grace where we find Jesus looking at us and loving us and saying that we are not our schedules, we are not our relationships, we are not our achievements. We are his beloved. At the throne of grace, he says, “Come, follow me.”