Sometimes, Momma wants to watch a light-hearted movie and knowing her take on the usual John Wayne movies I have on hand, I keep her happy by picking a romantic comedy.
George Clooney plays a frequent flyer, in the movie Up in the Air, who begins to fall in love with a lady frequent flyer played by Vera Farminga. They began a casual romance with in-between flights. Both travel constantly for business. When he finds out she is married, she tells him that he is a parenthesis in her real life. Can you imagine such a hit?
My wife, I think, would say that I am a sentence, not a parenthesis. Either a long run-on sentence with too many conjunctions and no exclamation point or a life sentence without possibility of parole! I’m kidding, of course. My wife has been a godsend and she has more patients than anyone I know! Of course, that’s spelled with a ‘t’. She’s a doctor.
The movie, from 2009, speaks to time. How do we spend it? Spend is a great analogy for time. It is an unbelievably precious commodity of which we each are allotted at once, the same amount, and despairingly different amounts. By that I mean, we all have the same number of hours each day, the same number of minutes in those hours. What is different is how many of those days we are allotted. Some may have the three-score and ten years of which the Bible speaks. Others have but a few hours on this earth. The amount of sand in each of our hourglasses is our own and we cannot know its number.
My son and his wife just orchestrated the donation of a Cuddle Cot for a local hospital in memory of their triplets. The special bed allows a baby who has died at birth to remain cool and give the mother and father time to bond and grieve. A gift of time. Something those who have lost a child prebirth, such as my wife and I and my son and his wife, wished we could have had. You feel a strange emptiness as if you were robbed of time to spend with your babies. Thankfully, our God has destined us to be able to share infinite days with them for all the future. For now, though, such parents deal with the loss of time.
Perhaps one of the hardest things about living in America in the 21st century is time. Being ‘retired’ for a while now, I am still struggling with the concept of time, busyness, multi-tasking instead of relaxing, and I am realizing how much we miss by being too busy. We actually deprive those we love of the most important thing we can give them, especially our small children and grandchildren, when we do not have the right perspective on time. My grandchildren desire my time more than anything. I gift them time when they are talking to me and I am there, completely, listening, interacting, enjoying their faces and their desire to share what they are trying to tell me. Try looking directly into your granddaughter’s or son’s eyes as they tell you about their day. The story is only partly what you hear. You will sense the depth of the story by what you see. Give yourself a treat and commit to being wherever you’re at.
Our pastor said recently in a sermon about time, talents, and treasures, “When we see time as a gift, we will use it for (God’s) glory.” We will stop wasting it but, by that, I don’t mean we must stay busy. Exactly the opposite. We will learn to slow down, take in the world and the people around us. You can actually, smile at someone you pass on the street, play ‘go fish’ with our kids, or ride a bicycle around the block. Take time to pet a horse, scratch a dog behind his ears and watch him as he lays at your feet, his paws crossed, head on his legs drifting off to sleep. That’s God telling you to sit still for awhile and relax because you aren’t going anywhere especially if you have a really big dog! It’s a great way to worship.
Gospel centered time management, our pastor said, is worship. We realize that God is in control so we don’t have to be. The Bible reminds us to “number our days” and thus “gain wisdom” (Ps. 90:12). As a parent of crazy busy kids and school and work and sports and music and plays and meetings and… it’s hard to see it. “In parenting, the days are slow but the years are fast” our pastor declared and sitting at this end of the table now, I have to agree. I guess that sums it up, our place at the table.
Remember when you were little? At my grandparents’ house or other family gatherings the infants, of course, were off in a corner in a highchair where mom or an aunt or someone special would be caring for them. The youngest kids were usually at the fold-up card table out on the porch of my Papaw’s and Mamaw’s house in West Virginia. The back porch was screened in and the mountain behind the house came right down to the base of the porch. When you looked out the screened-in window, it was straight up. There was a steep path that led up to the chicken coop, to the little cemetery plot overgrown with weeds and then farther up was a field my Papaw worked with a plow drawn by a horse. When you got a little older you moved from the small fold-up card table to the bench at the long table, still on the porch. It took time and empty places at the table before, as a young adult, you moved inside. Now, I sit, not at the table of that old house in the small hollow between the mountain behind us and the creek, coalmine railroad and the mountain in front of the house, but in my own home. Here, I’m Papaw and at the head of the table. My grandchildren, the infants in highchairs, the smallest children at the fold-up little picnic table, the older grandchildren at the counter with stools and the adults gathered around the tables wherever they can find a place. So, it took awhile to get to this end of the table, but the years blew by. A lot of empty places have been filled with new faces, and so it goes. Someday my seat will be open. Time is a precious gift, indeed.
Are you really busy? Does it seem like you’re living the life of the guy from the old Dunkin’ Donuts commercial who was always getting up early to ‘make the donuts’ and then getting home late, until eventually, he met himself at the door? In the sermon I mentioned earlier, the pastor challenged us to ask God a question. Before you do it, you better make sure you’re ready for the answer. I’m still struggling with that one and I’ll touch on that in a minute. Ready? “Ask God what you should quit.”
Recently, I read an author, whose name I don’t recall, but I wouldn’t recommend his writing anyway. He had counseling credentials from somewhere. I think it might have been Bullwinkle’s alma mater, Wossamotta U. Much of what he said was shoveled from the stable floor but one thing did hit home. (Even a blind squirrel finds a nut once-in-a-while!) He talked about men needing a mission. We seem geared for some kind of mission and we take from that mission a bit of, or even a large part of, our identity. For those who follow Christ, our mission can certainly be God-honoring and we can go forth and do well. Others, perhaps still Christ-centered, may find their given mission in some other role. When that mission is no more, whether it be through retirement, illness, disability or another life-changing event; we struggle. I struggle. It is tough to be in this situation and then consider asking God what I should quit. I am learning how to revel in the role of Papaw. I hope that someday I catch a glimpse of the pride I saw in my wife’s eyes when I was serving in law enforcement or when I was preaching or teaching regularly, while I’m papawing. I’m sure it’s there, I just haven’t caught sight of it yet. It helps drive us. Some may say that sounds crazy but I’ve watched a lot of guys retire and struggle to regroup to find their new mission. I was told once, ‘always retire to something not from something. That’s how I see it work with men.
How women are wired? You’ll need someone with an electrical engineering degree to answer that one, I speak from only what I know and that isn’t much normally and when it comes to the wonderful world of women, forget it. They are wonderful and complex creatures, made by God for amazing things. Why so many women want to be ‘equal to a man’ confuses me. I started to write, ‘why lower yourself to that standard?’ That would sound like I’m demeaning God’s creation of man. So, rather I will write, ‘Why can we not celebrate the wonderful differences the Grand Creator designed for us?’
I don’t know how my wife will be when she isn’t running a thriving medical practice every day, when, no matter where we go someone says, “Hi Doctor Riggs!” and begin to regale their company with what a wonderful doctor she is. And she is, too. When she is no longer seeing patients every day and teaching residents every day, how will that be for her? She has always said she is wife, mother, grandmother and as a job, she’s a doctor. I believe that is how she strives to be. Life changes, dramatic ones can be tough. I doubt she’ll ever be completely done. One of the many things she is good at is appreciating time. She squeezes every moment out of every minute, even when she is relaxing and ‘doing nothing’ she is doing nothing to its utmost.
To graciously receive and appreciate the gift of time God has given us, such is our challenge. When we do, I believe we will worship our Creator, thanking Him for each moment. My desire is to relish my moments and to never be relegated to being not much more than a parenthesis in their lives. I trust that for those closest to me, when the sand in my hourglass has run out, memories will always spark a smile!