Time

The Passing of Time, A Lesson Learned, and Grace

Dr. Mark Poindexter

My daughter, Michele, turned seventeen this week.  I don’t know how that happened.  It wasn’t that long ago I was holding her in my arms and rocking her to sleep.  On her birthday, my wife posted a picture on Facebook of a time I took Michele canoeing and the paddle was as tall as she was.  I know that was just last autumn even though the date on the picture said it was more than a decade ago.  

Time moves only one way, it marches forward.  Though our perception of time changes, it moves at the same steady pace it always has.  One moment flows into the next, the sun rises and sets, today becomes yesterday and tomorrow becomes the present moment.  Our children don’t stay little.  They grow into adults and have children of their own, who, likewise, won’t stay little.  And no matter what our mind tells us about how young we think we are, our bodies remind us that each day we are getting older.  One exercise I take couples through in premarital counseling is to imagine that they are at their twentieth wedding anniversary and what they would like for their relationship to be at that point.  I asked that of a couple recently and the prospective groom said, “Man, I’ll be almost fifty years old then.  That’s hard to even think of myself as that old.”  I told him that I was already past fifty and it wasn’t quite as bad as he was fearing.

Time passes and there is nothing we can do to change that.  All any of us can hope to do is to use the time we have to the best of our ability, to live life to its fullest and seek to make the world a better place.  My daughter, in her seventeen years of life, has taught me one very specific way that I might use my time.  Michele has Crohn’s disease.  Crohn’s is an autoimmune disorder that causes her intestines to swell and ulcerate.  The disease causes a loss of blood and prevents the absorption of nutrients into the body.  So those with Crohn’s are often anemic, which leads to a lack of energy, and usually have difficulty growing because their bodies are not taking in the nutrients from what they have eaten.  As a fifth grader, right before she was diagnosed, Michele weighed just slightly more than 50 pounds.  Left untreated, Crohn’s can be a devastating illness, even beyond devastating.  Though there is no cure, Michele has responded well to treatment. Her illness has stayed in remission and she has grown into a healthy young woman.

Here is the lesson that my daughter’s illness taught me.   Before she was diagnosed, Michele, would hardly eat anything at all.  I thought she was just being a difficult nine year old who only wanted to eat certain foods.  So I would make her sit at the table and eat a lot of the food on her plate.  She would even say with tears in her eyes, “Daddy, it hurts when I eat.”  I would say, “Oh, it doesn’t hurt.  You just need to eat.”  I’ve always been a “rub some dirt on it and keep going” kind of person.  Thankfully, my wife began the process of trying to find out why Michele wasn’t growing.  There were a series of tests done and I remember the day the doctor brought out the pictures of her intestines taken with a scope.  The doctor showed us the pictures and said that Michele has a “severe case of Crohn’s” with ulcers, hundreds of them, from the top of her esophagus down to her anus.  Her entire digestive track was ulcerated.  She had been telling me how much it hurt and I did not listen.  I thought I was doing the right thing by making her eat.  I couldn’t see inside of her, so I didn’t think anything was really wrong other than she just didn’t want to eat.  The truth, the painful, awful truth for me, is I was causing her more pain.  After the doctor showed us the pictures and we agreed to a course of treatment, I went off by myself and cried for quite a while, kicking myself for not being the parent I should have been.

I have learned, however, from this experience with my daughter the importance of truly listening to people.  And of realizing that so much of who people are and how they act in the world is often the result of things we can’t immediately see, experiences they bore as children, grief they suffered as an adult, chemical imbalances that even the latest medicines have trouble equalizing.  Because of my experience with my daughter, I have learned to not be as judgmental of the behavior of others and try to be more grace filled as I encounter people who see and experience the world differently than I do.  I’ve learned the importance of these powerful words, “Be kind for everyone you meet is carrying a great burden.”           

A number of years have passed since Michele’s diagnosis.  Every day she has to take more pills than I can keep track of – though she knows them all.  And every eight weeks we have to spend a day in the hospital as she has chemical infusion therapy.  At least as of now, the pills and the infusion will always be a part of her life.  Michele’s diagnosis has changed our lives in numerous ways.  We have joined the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation. Through it we receive a lot of information about the latest treatment options.  We also offer our help with various events and fundraisers. Michele has determined she wants to go into the healthcare industry, possibly as a physician.  And I have learned that grace isn’t just a concept we preachers talk about.  It’s a reality that each of us should extend to one another because so often we don’t know what’s happening inside a person.

As time passes and I grow older, my prayer for myself is that I have more grace toward others today than I did yesterday, and even more tomorrow.  It was a tough lesson to learn, so I’m bound and determined to try and get it right in whatever time I have left. 

Time Bandits

There is a kid in every group that has sudden outbursts of seriousness. For me, it has been Will. Once in a while the joking and teasing give way to deep insight, especially if we are talking about the end of the world. “So, the Mayans stopped making notes after 2012! So What! My calendar doesn’t go any further than 2012. Calendars are cyclical. Maybe they figured someone would grasp the concept of cyclical by 2012!”

Time can bring out the serious side in many of us and bring out the crazy in others. Some feel time as a stressor, worried they won’t get to complete their to-do list or their bucket-list before running out of time. Some experience time as a task master, pushing them forward with no grace. Some feel time is rapidly clicking away and that Jesus is saddling up the horses of the apocalypse for next year's Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade.

Often I hear the expression “God’s Time.” Occasionally it refers to creation and how so much could have been done in a traditional week. Occasionally it refers to ancient times when God seems (based on scripture) more active in the world. More often that not, it is in reference to a patient future. “Things will happen in God’s time.” In other words, there is no use worrying when something will happen because only God knows when and it may not be soon.

In all of these, God’s time is either a construct of the past or future. What about the present? Isn’t this God’s Time too?

I have always believed that if everyone put their first priorities first, all our busy schedules would just click like a well maintained clock. I have always believed that if everybody made time for those things that are most important, they would have the energy to do all the things they claim they don’t’ have energy for. I have always believed this but have struggled to do it and lead a church family to do the same.

We do all kinds of things to “make time” in our lives. Calendars, agendas, smart-phones, workshops on multi-tasking, 5 hour energy drinks and cabinets full of time-saving devices for the kitchen. In reality, we can’t make or save time. It just keeps going.

The pressure of it drives some of us to act goofy avoiding the issue. The pressure of it drives some of us to drink, shoot-up, sleep-around, log-on, zone-out or what ever else we can come up with to distract our fearful minds. The outcome is a world that feels like it's moving even faster and more out of control. Maybe that's what we get for trying to control time.

A friend of mine recently shared an adaptation of scripture that seems to speak well in this present time. Instead of “Be still and know that I am God,” he says, “Chill out and know that you are not God.”

Ouch!

Researchers tell us that young adults (and not just those in the church) are spending a lot of money and Google search time on ancient prayer disciplines. Fasting, keeping hours, and other disciplines most often associated with monks and nuns. In this crazy hyper-speed world we live in, people are longing to live in God’s Time. They are looking to see how people did it in the past, hoping to find a better future. Searching for God’s Time.

It is interesting that ancient prayer disciplines are making such a come-back. There are places in scripture where the Disciples are off to keep the daily prayer cycle. The tradition was preserved through monastic orders among others. It is an ancient cycle of prayer that calls us to stop every three hours and talk to God.

Maybe we can find God’s time now. Maybe we can find a rhythm or cycle to life that is grounded in prayer. Maybe we can tell the coach or instructor or event leader, “no.” Maybe we can make time to simply listen and be present with family. Maybe we can give of ourselves to serve those in need. Maybe we can stop filling the calendar with stuff we hope will distract us from the reality that time is running out.

Maybe we can chill out and remember we are not God.

But we are God’s people.

Maybe we can find God’s Time now.

Circularity and Linearity...or Vice-Versa

We have come upon the Jewish High Holidays again. Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, began at sundown on September 28 (the Jewish calendar is a lunar one, and days begin at sundown); ten days later is Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. The ten days between are known as the Days of Awe, when Jews are supposed to contemplate the past year and areas in which they have fallen short, resolving to do better with the coming year. It is also a time to seek forgiveness from those whom we think we may have wronged through our actions or inactions. Such apologies are meant to be given sincerely, and in turn we are commanded to accept such apologies sincerely offered. I was thinking about the circular nature of our Jewish calendar as I flew home from Dallas to Kentucky, the yellow-green tobacco patches, the picket fences, and the ant-sized horses gamboling below. The browning of fields and just-turning leaves are harbingers of autumn just ‘round the bend,  as was the full harvest moon just a couple of days ago.

We seem focused on the linear, always marching forward in our culture, and yet it seems to be good to pause and reflect on the circular nature of time. In our temperate Eden of Kentucky, the browns, reds and yellows of autumn are followed by the white and grey of winter, after which the green and white of spring erupts, after which green summer comes. The never-ending cycle of renewal in our celebration and in our calendar should give us pause from the single-mindedness of linear pursuits, of the next job, the next task, the next duty. And yet, in the midst of such dedication, ambition, or dare I say obsession, the seasons of weather, of life, of even geologic time goes on. Winter follows autumn, mountains rise and fall, only to rise again over millennia. Perhaps we can take a certain comfort from such, realizing that a balanced view of linear progression and the circularity of time might enrich our lives. Yes, we have to work to survive, but yes, too, we have to celebrate the coming ‘round of celebratory seasons to truly live, just as we have to function as individuals; and yet to truly live, we must also acknowledge a whole greater than our individual selves, be that whole family, community, religion, or other entity. Balance and process, we must strive to live in that dynamic and healthy zone between the myth of American rugged individualism (which, let’s face it, never existed: we’ve always been interdependent upon one another in one context or another) on the one hand and being subsumed by the collective on the other.

So it’s the Jewish New Year, not the raucous celebration of the secular New Year, but an acknowledgment of the birth of the world. Following shortly thereafter, it’s the Day of Atonement, a day in which, examining ourselves, we realize that as individuals and as a community we have a long way to go, that it’s always process, and an end result is not forthcoming. That acknowledgement, however, does not give us license to abstain from constantly attempting to improve ourselves and our community.

Such were my thoughts as the plane descended to Bluegrass Field, to my Commonwealth of Kentucky. And even in the midst of celebrating the coming of the holidays, just around the corner from those holidays is my favorite Jewish holiday, Sukkot, the “Jewish Thanksgiving,” of which I’ll write later.

Let us celebrate linearity and circularity in our lives, both needing and leavening the other.