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photo by The Journal Garden | Vera Bitterer on Unsplash
February 04, 2019
As February begins, we have all had time to fail at our New Year’s resolutions: more workouts at the gym, making the bed every morning, waking up earlier. Maybe your goal for 2019 was to manage your time more efficiently. Pope Francis, on the other hand, wants us to learn how to do the opposite: to become time-wasters.
“Parents, can you ‘waste’ time with your children?” is a question Pope Francis has asked often. What he is asking, of course, is not whether parents are spending their time on things of no value. Rather the pope wants to know if they are doing the most valuable thing of all: lavishly giving of themselves to their children. Do we offer children in our culture the gift of our time—time spent merely enjoying each other’s company in conversation, play, reading aloud, going for a simple walk? Do we offer anyone that kind of time?
Using this question as a self-examination is helpful (and deeply convicting) to me as a parent. Have I given time generously to my children and moved past my own misguided rubrics of what makes a day worthwhile (i.e., getting all the things done)? Have I left my overflowing email inbox behind and spent time romping around the backyard with my kids? Have I put my own priorities on pause to have a conversation with my 9-year-old about whatever he is interested in at the moment—even if it is another chat about the intricate details of Minecraft?
These considerations are not only helpful for those of us with children in our care. They are helpful for considering the generosity of our interactions with anyone God places in our life. Our culture obsesses over productivity while dismissing essential human connections. We struggle to acknowledge what is truly valuable in our pursuit of efficiency. How does pouring ourselves out for others benefit our pocketbooks or careers? It does not. This commitment cannot be quantified or give us the same feelings of satisfaction as checking off a task from our to-do list. But we need to extricate ourselves from this warped mindset that lauds achievement at the expense of attentiveness to others.
I had a college professor who told me that as a young academic, he was irritated whenever interruptions to his work arose. A student in need of guidance would knock on his office door just as he was getting to the heart of a writing project. A lecture was coming together beautifully when a colleague suffering a loss needed a listening ear. Over time, he came to realize that what he had viewed as interruptions were the real stuff of life—the things that truly mattered on an eternal plane. Is everything else—our tasks, obligations and the weariness of the world—the real interruption to the work of lavishing our time on others?
As a rule, our schedules are far too packed. In our twisted culture, we boast of our frantic busyness in order to bolster our worth. “I am important!” we tell ourselves as we rush through our days. Our daily lives leave us so exhausted that sitting in front of a screen may be all we have the energy to do with our limited free time. We guard the vestiges of that time like a miser. Will my evening plans of binge-watching a show on Netflix evaporate if I answer that phone call from a friend who needs a listening ear? Should I pour a bowl of cereal and rush off to finish a project rather than sit down for a leisurely meal with my family members? Should I stop to greet my next-door neighbor, or will it result in a conversation I am too exhausted to have?
Are we tired of working in a system of mere productivity and efficiency that fails to acknowledge our humanity and that of others? I think as a culture we are waking up to the fact that we desire the human connection we have been desperately lacking.
While there are economic and cultural obstacles to being generous with our time, it is perhaps, at heart, a spiritual matter. What we need is what Servant of God Dorothy Day calls “a revolution of the heart.” And a good first step is to make a resolution, as the new year gets going, to commit to offering time to our children, our parents, our friends, our neighbors. This resolution can be our chance to reflect how our heavenly Father generously pours out his love upon us. Our wallets will not grow fatter, and our to-do lists will not shrink, but our joy will expand as we honor the image of God in the people he has placed in our lives and our glorious obligation to love them as he loves us.