So many of us, in one way or another, squander time. We let shallow interests consume our attention, seeking constant distraction in busywork, small talk, television, smartphones, laptops, tablets, etc. Why?
While I have no comprehensive answer, I know one cause: a faint awareness of the fact our time on earth is limited.
Back in 1922, a Parisian newspaper, Lâ€™Intransigeant, asked French celebrities for their answers to this big question it had cooked up:
"An American scientist announces that the world will end, or at least that such a huge part of the continent will be destroyed, and in such a sudden way, that death will be the certain fate of hundreds of millions of people. If this prediction were confirmed, what do you think would be its effects on people between the time when they acquired the aforementioned certainty and the moment of cataclysm?"
Andrew Schmiege, who referenced this question in an article he wrote for the Wall Street Journal (A Proust-Apocalyptic Story, 1/22/2018), recalls something that happened when Hawaiians were falsely warned of imminent nuclear destruction in early January of this year. â€œJust after the false missile alert was issued,â€ he writes, â€œtraffic to a major porn site from Hawaii sank 77 percent.â€
It makes you wonder what other things would be dropped or re-evaluated when it sinks in that life is transient.
Mindful of the brevity of life, the Psalmist prays, â€œSo teach us to count our days that we may gain a wise heart.â€ (Psalm 90:12) Which raises the question, what would change, if we, like the Psalmist, took our mortality to heart? What would change in our priorities and relationships?
How would we spend our time? What would we want to do? Who would we want to be with? What would we want to say?
I suspect weâ€™d find those requests for help that interrupt our schedules worthy of our immediate attention.
Forgoing overtime at work to paint an older personâ€™s home or missing a meeting to visit someone in the hospital wouldnâ€™t matter so much.
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Standing up to an injustice, sharing a personal story of faith that revives hopeÂ â€“ whatever acts stem from kindness and love, weâ€™d take the time to do them.
The point being, an acute consciousness of our mortality would move us to choose meaningful expenditures of our time over the meaningless.
Reading the novel The Chosen decades ago, I was deeply impressed by these words of a Jewish father to his son:
"Human beings do not live forever, Reuven. We live less than the time it takes to blink an eye, if we measure our lives against eternity. So it may be asked what value is there to a human life â€¦ if our lives are nothing more than the blink of an eye? â€¦ I learned a long time ago, Reuven, that a blink of an eye in itself is nothing. But the eye that blinks, that is something."
To live in the blink of an eye (from eternityâ€™s standpoint) but with reverence and kindness and love â€“ ah, thatâ€™s the eye that blinks.Â
Warner F. Davis a retired Presbyterian pastor. Warner has released a spiritual memoir titled, “Peace in a Mad Dog World: Finding Security When My Need For Control had Failed Me,” through Virtual bookworm Publishing. For more information about his book, visit warnerfrancisdavis.com