Not too long ago, somebody repeated an interesting saying to me. I doubt it was an original thought; rather, it has been repeated over and over again and probably attributed to 20 different people. So I won’t try to correctly attribute the original author, but the meaning is excellent just the same.
“Time is the only thing you spend that you can never get back.”
I have been reminded of this indisputable fact over and over recently. Writing this very column is one example, as the staff of The Tennessee Magazine was kind to patiently await my submission as it was submitted dangerously close to the print deadline. If you’ve never had a regular deadline for a work product, the clock does start to tick a little bit louder and a lot faster the closer you get to “zero hour.” My pastor friends say that is especially true for Sunday mornings. Unfortunately, I usually need to hear that clock ticking louder and faster before I get serious about finishing my work.
But we all face pressures of some kind to complete a task because, for the most part, life does operate on a schedule. Each and every day the mailman has to finish his rounds. Mom or dad have to prepare meals for the kids. The store must open and close its doors. Many of our pleasures and hobbies even come with a time limit. So it’s natural for us to push back and try to escape the pressures of time. Perhaps that is why I am a baseball fan, as it is the only major team sport that does not utilize a clock.
But, I don’t think efficiently managing our time and meeting deadlines are what the saying intends to communicate. It’s not a question of how we spend our time — it’s urging us to ponder why we spend our time. Why do we choose to spend the limited amount of time we have on this Earth doing the things we do? What is the purpose of that time, and is it truly worth it?
I recognize that for many of us, we may not have a choice in how we spend all our time. We have to work a certain number of hours to put food on the table and pay the rent, for instance. But that makes the hours left in the day that much more precious and valuable. Are you using those hours in a way that has meaning, or are you just playing “Angry Birds?”
I have four young sons, so I have been feeling especially convicted by this question lately. For example, our twins just had their very first baseball practice. As I watched them on the field listening to their coach and running around the bases, my mind started to wander. What items were left undone at the office this week? What will happen next month in the Congress? When should I get that ding in the truck fixed?
And then, as I was needlessly worrying about things that could wait, I almost missed it. The boys fielded a grounder and threw it to first base. And they both looked straight at me with a look of pride, excitement and happiness that I hope I’ll never forget. Thankfully, I was watching at that moment and gave them a big thumbs up. It was a brief few seconds, yes, and their accomplishment wasn’t something that will be written about in the history books. But what if I had still been thinking about work or reading email on my phone? That moment in time would never have repeated itself, and I probably would never have known that it even occurred.
There are a lot of choices we make in life that we can correct if we get it wrong. Not so with the way we spend our time. So my question is this: What moments have you missed? And was whatever you were doing worth it?