by Rev. Dr. Krista S.Givens
Today, we continue with a common resolution: Prioritize! Do you feel like your running all the time; doing too much; juggling too much and focusing on too little; neglecting your self, your relationship or your family? Then PERHAPS you – and me – and we all need to prioritize; to figure out our priorities and stick to them!
Having our priorities “out of whack” begins with our concept of TIME… and that leads to our scripture from the book of Ecclesiastes:
For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
2 a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
3 a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
4a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
5a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
6a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to throw away;
7a time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
8a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace.9
As we hear these words from the book of Ecclesiastes, it is interesting to note that the author of this work is unknown and he is called “The Preacher” although he is much more than a preacher: a teacher, a philosopher, a poet. These are, as theologian Paul Tillich wrote, the “words of a man who lived about 200 years before the birth of Jesus; a man nurtured in Jewish piety and educated in Greek wisdom; a child of his period—a period of catastrophes and despair.” (1) And we hear the despair in his words… “What gain have the workers from their toil?” …. The sense that all in life is “vanity” and “a chasing after the wind.”
And yet, this passage from the book of Ecclesiastes 3, from verse 1-9 has such lasting resonance that whether it is due to the musical version of the text in a popular song called “Turn! Turn! Turn!” (set to music in 1959 by Pete Seeger and made famous in 1965 by the Byrds)… or whether it is the repetition we hear at funerals and memorials, the message of the text seems true.
There is a time for every purpose under heaven. Seasons come and seasons go, and there are patterns in our lives that we can count on. Such is the nature of our lives. In his book, The New Being, theologian Paul Tillich distinguishes the difference between our contemporary concept of time and the ancient concept of the author of Ecclesiastes:
“The Preacher is first of all conscious that he is timed; and he points to our timing as a secondary matter…. He starts his enumeration of things that are timed with birth and death. [These] are beyond human timing. They are the signposts which cannot be trespassed…. The modern business man is first of all conscious that he has to time, and only vaguely realizes that he is timed. Of course, he also is aware that he has not produced the right time, that he is dependent on it, that he may miss it in his calculations and actions. He knows that there is a limit to his timing, that there are economic forces stronger than he, that he also is subject to a final destiny which ends all his planning. He is aware of it, but he disregards it when he plans and acts.” (1)
Our life is comprised of moments, turned to hours, turned to days… And each increment of time is our most valuable commodity. We have mere years to live this life and thus our most sacred possession is the collection of moments and our decisions on how we spend these moments.
* In that vein, I will turn your attention to this chart (all numbers are generalized….):
- Sleep – 8.8 hours
- Work – 8.2 hours
- Household – 2.3 hours
- Leisure – 3.5 hours
- Misc. – 1.5 hours
According to the 2017 of the American Time Use Survey, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics states the following:
- The average amount of sleep we get is 8.8 (men at 8.7 and women at 8.9 hours)
- Employed persons worked an average of 8.21 hours on the days they worked.
- On the days that they did household activities, women spent an average of 2.6 hours on such activities, while men spent 2.0 hours for an average of 2.38.
- Then we have the Leisure and Misc. categories. Of those who engaged in leisure activities, men spent more time in these activities (5.6 hours) than did women (4.8 hours) for an average of 5.0 hours. For the “Leisure” category, we include watching TV, socializing and communicating with others, sports and exercising. (3.5 hours)
- For the category labelled Miscellaneous we include making telephone calls, writing and sending emails, and other non-classified activities. (2)
“There’s not enough time in the day. I need more time….” We say, but “There is time for everything under heaven…” So the problem is not the amount of time we have (we have the same 24 hours a day everybody else has!) but the way we distribute the time we are given. So, let’s discuss the distribution of our time – our most precious commodity.
So how do we change our time distribution? We change the way we split our wedges. Instead of Multitasking – watching TV, spending time with the kids and working on the computer simultaneously for 3 hours… why not devote an hour for each task? An hour of focused attention?
* What if (by setting goals, by determining what was the most important aspect of our lives, by determining what we would like to focus on in 2019) we choose to move around some wedges? What if we were to increase the amount of focused attention each day in the thing or activity or person we love the most? What if we could spend an hour of focused attention on our passion, our gifts, or our spouse? What if we could spend an hour of focused attention on our selves – improving our physical, spiritual, emotional health?
As the writer of Ecclesiastes tells us, in verse 11, “everything is suitable for its time.” So let us give each relationship, each endeavor, each task its due, and stop cheating ourselves out of our best efforts. Let us put away the distractions, and focus our attention on what really matters…
In our culture it is difficult to be a focused individual, alert to the task at hand. With so many distractions in our surroundings, it is difficult to be single-minded. But as Matthew tells us in our lesson from the gospel,
13‘Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction, and there are many who take it. 14For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it.
Let us take the narrow road, and distribute our time wisely. May we use our wedges, our focused hours of attention on cultivating our relationships, on doing meaningful work well, on being happy and enjoy ourselves as long as we live, for as the author of Ecclesiastes reminds us, in verse 13 “it is God’s gift that all should eat and drink and take pleasure in all their toil.”
In 2019, let us adjust our priorities to reflect the people we want to be, for our sake, for the sake of our families, and for the love of God and God’s people.
1. Paul Tillich, The New Being: Chapter 21, found on http://www.religiononline.org/showchapter.asp?title=375&C=34
2. Table 1: US Bureau of Labor Statistics, Time Spent in Primary Activities table, found on http://www.bls.gov/news.release/atus.t01.htm