Saturday, April 6, 2013

Time

The other day, I accidentally left my phone in a friend's car for a few hours. When I walked up to campus later that morning, sans phone, I realized just how liberated I felt. I had no obligations. I couldn't check my e-mail to check the status on the latest Political Review issue coming out, or to make sure that my assignment was still due on Friday, or to see if I'd heard back from a job I was interviewing for.

I ran into a couple of friends who I chatted with for awhile. There was none of the usual sense of urgency in the conversation; I felt no pressure to go on to the next task for the day, mainly because I was blissfully unaware of the time. I took time to walk slower and notice the beautiful spring weather. I enjoyed feeling alive.

Our Western culture revolves around time. We fill our daily planners with time scheduled for meetings, homework, eating, volunteer time, and even social functions. We prize completing tasks in the most efficient, quickest way possible. We envy those who achieve renown early in life. We publish books and give seminars on how to cram as many activities into as little time as possible.

To make things worse, we place the most value on that which can be measured. The number of connections on LinkedIn. The number of likes on our Facebook posts. The number of baptisms. Our GPA. The number of shoes we have. The number of friends we have. Girls we've kissed. Girls we've dated. How long we read the scriptures. How many times we've read the scriptures. How many job interviews we've had. Starting salaries. Profits. GDP.

It's as if having more of all these things automatically makes us better people.

I totally disagree, but unfortunately, I am a product of Western culture, and so I often fall into the trap of more=better. I judge the success of my day by how much work I've done or how productive I've been as measured by how many tasks I've accomplished. In the busy routine of school and work, even social activities become boiled down into numbers.

However, how much of what is really important in life can be measured by numbers? I doubt very much that the Lord will look at our planners to determine the number of tasks accomplished, ask us what our GPA was, care very much about our ending salary, or even demand us why we didn't have too many baptisms on our missions. Of course, the Lord will hold us responsible for how we used our time; I'm simply arguing that we shouldn't let life become a numbers game.

How much of our time can we honestly say has been quality time, where we stopped to help someone, skipped a class to listen to an old friend, meditated about life, spent our entire scripture reading session on one verse, did something we liked just because we wanted to do it, read a book that wasn't required reading, visited our home/visiting teachees outside of the monthly visit?

Elder Uchtdorf sums it up brilliantly:

"Isn’t it true that we often get so busy? And, sad to say, we even wear our busyness as a badge of honor, as though being busy, by itself, was an accomplishment or sign of a superior life.

Is it?

I think of our Lord and Exemplar, Jesus Christ, and His short life among the people of Galilee and Jerusalem. I have tried to imagine Him bustling between meetings or multitasking to get a list of urgent things accomplished.

I can’t see it.

Instead I see the compassionate and caring Son of God purposefully living each day. When He interacted with those around Him, they felt important and loved. He knew the infinite value of the people He met. He blessed them, ministered to them. He lifted them up, healed them. He gave them the precious gift of His time."

It's something I'm trying to work on. 

Monday, April 1, 2013

Now

"...for behold,now is the time and the day of your salvation..." (Alma 34:31)

When I was younger, I once read a story from a book of Eastern European folk stories.

A young student once complained about the difficulties that naturally accompany life. An old lady appeared and gave him a ball of yarn, telling him that if he ever wanted to skip the more tedious parts of his life, all he had to do was cut the yarn and time would pass by in an instant. Bored with school, he cut the yarn and found himself done with his studies. When he was called into the army, he cut the yarn and found himself back at home; when his kids were giving him problems, he cut the yarn and found them grown; when his marriage was suffering, he cut the yarn and found the problems resolved. He used the yarn so much that he quickly arrived at the end of his life. However, he found only a sense of emptiness in his waning years. He hadn't really served his country, he hadn't seen his kids grow up, and he hadn't really cultivated his relationship with his wife. He had just skated by with his yarn, never being challenged and never really developing. In short, he hadn't really lived.

How often do we have trouble living in the now?
How often do we say to ourselves, "Oh, I just have to make it through this semester/meeting/problem/job and then I'll be happy. And then I can do all those things I've always wanted to do."?
How often do we "cut our yarn" by living in moments past or yearning for the proverbial greener grass on other side?
How often to do we stop to embrace our opportunities for good, service, and love that are always around us no matter the circumstances?
How often do we stop and simply enjoy the feeling of being alive and knowing that we are children of God?

Fortunately, I think the old woman came back just before he died and allowed the boy to go back through and live his life again. Or something like that. It seemed to have a happy ending. Unfortunately for us, we don't have the opportunity to go back and relive our lives if we're unsatisfied. There is no return policy for the inimitable gift that God has given us.

But fortunately (for me, at least), we can't skip any parts of it. And for that I am grateful.