Here’s a riddle for you:
To have more than you is simply sublime,
So up the ladder of health, wealth, and trophies we climb,
Except for one thing,
Of which to have more — (is embarrassing),
We’re crowned when we have no more ___________.
Much of the “developed” world believes “more is more,” so “more is better.”
We measure our worth, value, and success by having more wealth, more fame, and/or more talent than someone else.
If we want to justify our existence and receive others’ respect, having “more” is nearly always better than having "less.”
For instance, we work hard so we can make more money.
We make more money so we can buy more houses, trips, and cars, and hopefully, more of them than others have.
Conversely, to have less money, or lose money, is a source of embarrassment and shame for many.
Likewise, we study hard to advance our skills.
We aquire new skills at our jobs to be perceived as more talented than others, and hopefully, be indispensable and sought after.
Also like money, to have less talent is a source of embarrassment and shame.
Since talent can make more money, and we can acquire more skills through our own efforts, there is almost always more to be had.
In essence, money and talent are renewable, endless resources.
We win “King of the Hill” when we can stand on top of the heap because we’ve amassed more money and talent than everyone else.
But not time.
We view time very differently.
The one resource none of us can create or amass more of, is time.
It is an immutable law shared by every human being: the number of seconds we have to breathe on this planet is finite.
Since there is no more of it to be had, you’d think we’d protect it more carefully.
You’d think we’d guard it, cherish it, and mete it out as cautiously as possible.
Instead, our culture affirms those who have the least of it.
It’s normative to brag about how little time we have.
In fact, we don’t even see it as bragging any more.
That’s just how we talk about how busy we are with:
Kids’ soccer games, homework, and their projects;
The house, laundry, yard, and shopping;
The email, bills, errands, and commitments;.
The job, the work, and the quest for promotions.
When it comes to time, we’re crowned “King of the Hill” not when we stand on top of the heap but when we let ourselves get buried under it.
How did we get here?
I found two insights from an article called, “Research: Why Americans Are So Impressed by Busyness,” (Ted Bauer, “Why Are Americans So Obsessed with Being Busy?”
In general, we found that the busy person is perceived as high status, and interestingly, these status attributions are heavily influenced by our own beliefs about social mobility. In other words, the more we believe that one has the opportunity for success based on hard work, the more we tend to think that people who skip leisure and work all the time are of higher standing. To measure beliefs in social mobility, we use the perceived social mobility scale (Bjørnskov et al. 2013) measuring the degree to which people view society as mobile and believe that work leads to success (e.g., “Hard work brings success in the long run,” “People have a chance to escape poverty”).
The research speculates that while being seen as a member of the “leisure class” used to bring status, and working for a living was gauche, something has shifted:
What has changed so dramatically in one century? We think that the shift from leisure-as-status to busyness-as-status may be linked to the development of knowledge-intensive economies. In such economies, individuals who possess the human capital characteristics that employers or clients value (e.g., competence and ambition) are expected to be in high demand and short supply on the job market. Thus, by telling others that we are busy and working all the time, we are implicitly suggesting that we are sought after, which enhances our perceived status.
[Source: Why are Americans so obsessed with how busy they are? Ted Bauer, Dec. 4, 2017, Medium.com]
None of this sounds to me like being this busy is of God, but of human ego.
As we enter stewardship season, how can we preach about the stewardship of time in a way that will help our listeners reframe our use of this precious, can’t-get-anymore-of-it gift?
1) Is time a gift or curse from God?
That is, do we see time as a curse from God, as if God taunts us by never providing enough of it in a day?
Or might we consider the blessedness of time because it is finite?
Notice how you feel about time. How many times in a day, for example, do you say or feel you don’t have enough time, or there aren’t enough hours in a day, or you wish you had more time?
How do you suppose God feels to hear us whine all the time about this gift we were given?
How would you feel?
Preach that the problem is not the amount of time we have or don’t have.
Maybe the problem is that we don’t receive the gift of time we are offered with the awe and reverence it is due.
2) Engage in Prayerful, Mindful Journaling
We can’t adjust what we’re unaware of.
Set your listeners and yourself a challenge: for the next seven days, jot down how you spend your every waking moment.
It doesn’t have to be in great detail. For this exercise broad strokes will do.
For example, “work,” “fun,” “responsibilities” (meaning, family, church, chores, and other commitments one must keep), and “health” (meaning, eating, exercising, and sleep), “transportation,” and “other.”
Note the start and stop times for each.
At the end of the week review the journal.
How many of these activities were in God’s service? How many were in service to the ego?
How many brought joy, and how many brought a rise in blood pressure?
What’s one thing that could be dropped that’s isn’t bringing joy in God’s service?
3) Give Up Perfectionism for Fall
We often talk about giving things up for Lent.
Why not give something up for fall, which for many feels like a “new year” anyway? It’s a great time to turn over a new leaf.
Perfectionism is the perfect thing to give up!
Ask your listeners do speculate what would happen if something weren’t done perfectly?
What if dinner had heated up frozen vegetables instead of making a vegetable casserole?
What if the lawn were mowed every ten days instead of every seven?
What if they offered 45” minutes a week toward the mission of the congregation instead of 60?
What if kids’ birthday parties were modest affairs instead of major blowouts on the scale of weddings?
What would happen?
Would God’s reign on Earth collapse? Would we not be admitted through those pearly gates?
So, we’re good. (Unless we just fill up our released time with a new variation on an old theme. See #4 below.)
4) Rest in Contemplatio
Use the freed-up time to rest in God’s presence.
That’s what Contemplatio is.
It’s the chance to hang out with God, doing nothing more together than staring at the sky—or staring at the ceiling.
Let our minds rest.
Our breaths still.
Our heartbeats slow.
And simply “be.”
We let ourselves be without justifying or defending or apologizing for how we’re spending those precious moments.
We rest in God without feeling compelled to get something else “accomplished.”
Instead, we do the most precious thing we could possibly do with our time: enjoy the Creator who made all things—us, this planet, our loved ones—and the finite resource we are guaranteed to run out of.
Preacher, what about your time?
It’s easy to preach an anti-busyness message to our listeners while continuing to run around frantically in our own lives.
It’s easy to believe that our call, our ministry, and our congregation are too important to rest from.
And yet, preachers are called to this stewardship of time. Just as Jesus was called to rest.
At Backstory Preaching, we believe it’s vital that preachers examine, plan, and protect their time—not only to preserve adequate time for sermon prep but more importantly, to preserve adequate time for soul care.
BsP’s 5-day process, seasonal sermon prep sessions, Preacher’s Planner, Spirit and Schedule Challenge, and a host of other tools and encouragements help Backstory Preachers to guard their schedules and their hearts.
Interested in joining this stewardship effort?
The Collective is a great place to start.