My dear Wormwood,
Men are not angered by mere misfortune but by misfortune conceived as injury…. Now you will have noticed that nothing throws him into a passion so easily as to find a tract of time which he reckoned on having at his own disposal unexpectedly taken from him. It is the unexpected visitor (when he looked forward to a quiet evening), or the friend’s talkative wife (turning up when he looked forward to a tête-a -tête with the friend), that throw him out of gear. Now he is not yet so uncharitable or slothful that these small demands on his courtesy are in themselves too much for it. They anger him because he regards his time as his own and feels that it is being stolen. You must therefore zealously guard in his mind the curious assumption ‘My time is my own’. Let him have the feeling that he starts each day as the lawful possessor of twenty-four hours. Let him feel as a grievous tax that portion of this property which he has to make over to his employers, and as a generous donation that further portion which he allows to religious duties. But what he must never be permitted to doubt is that the total from which these deductions have been made was, in some mysterious sense, his own personal birthright.[i]
I have read The Screwtape Letters a few different times in my life – once in high school, once in college, and then again recently after the birth of my third child. It wasn’t until after I had kids that the full impact of this particular section hit home for me. How easy it is for us as parents to consider our time our own! How easy it is to feel angered when someone else places a demand on “my time”! How easy it is to play the martyr in our own mind when we graciously sacrifice “my time” to do things like change a diaper, hold a crying baby in the middle of the night, take our kids to the park, or any other of a host of activities that involve the needs of people other than ourselves.
A moment’s reflection will make it abundantly clear that our time is not truly our own. Each and every moment of life on this earth is a gift. I may have the ability to end my own life, but I do not ultimately have the ability to extend it. I do not cause my own heart to beat. I do not cause the blood in my body to take the oxygen from my lungs and deliver it to my cells and organs. All of this happens by God’s sustaining hand, or, as Hebrews 1:3 puts it, “[Jesus] upholds the universe by his word of power.” “In him all things live and move and have their being” (Acts 17:28) says Paul. Or if you prefer Luther, “I believe that God has made me and all creatures; that he has given me my body and soul, eyes, ears and all my members, my reason and all my senses, and still takes care of them” (SC 1st Article). Our time is not our own, it is a gift to us from our Father in Heaven.
How then should we spend that time?
We spend our time in our vocations. In my God-given vocation of father, my children have just as legitimate a claim on my time as I do. In my vocation as husband, my wife has just as much right to my time as I do. No man is an island, entire unto himself. I am not an island, entire unto myself. My time is not exclusively my own because I live in relationship with the people God has placed around me – my wife, my children, my sisters, my parents, etc. When I spend time with my children, playing in the yard or going to the park, they are not robbing me of my time. I am not giving them my time. It’s not my time in the first place – it is God’s time and he has placed me on this earth to be a father to my kids. When I go for a walk with my wife or spend an evening around the fire instead of watching the game, I am not sacrificing my time, because it was not mine to begin with. It was a gift. Every moment I am alive on this earth is a gift given not only to me, but also to the people I am in relationship with, especially within my own home.
Let us thank our Lord for the precious moments he gives us on this earth. Let us think twice about selfishly bickering in our families over “my time” or “your time.” Such comparisons are the language of the law. Let us rather live in the joy of forgiveness, recognizing that we have not been given the judgment we deserve, but have been spared by the blood of Jesus. We are not conformed to this selfish world’s view of time, but we are transformed by the renewal of our minds. We present our bodies as living sacrifices, holy and acceptable to God, which is our spiritual worship (Romans 12:1-2). As one of my former professors put it, “Baptized into the death of Jesus, believers are now to offer ‘spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ’ (1 Peter 2:5). Spiritual sacrifices are bodily—they have to do with the stuff of ordinary life, a life that is lived by faith in Jesus Christ and in love toward the neighbor in the everyday places of vocation—in the family and on the job, in the congregation and in the community.”[ii]
So the next time you are begrudgingly headed out to that Christmas party, or to your kids’ school function, or to any other activity that you feel is wasting your time, take a moment to reconsider whose time it truly is and maybe you’ll find yourself thankful for all the people in your life who want to spend some of their time with you.
[i] C.S. Lewis Screwtape Letters – Letter #21 (emphasis added)
[ii] Pless, Rev. John T. A Small Catechism on Human Life. St. Louis: LCMS Life Ministries, 2006. (p. 52)