Week after week of 16-hour days--chasing deadlines, balancing office and family commitments, and trying to keep a friendly smile on an over-stretched face--I go through that regularly. But it only recently occurred to me that there might be a spiritual way to deal with time.
It started with a simple defensive action: get as far away as possible! I had flown 18 hours to visit family in South Africa, and settled in a rambling beach cottage on the southeast coast where no one's even heard of deadlines.
There I met a South African preacher called Daniel, whose voice booms like the Indian Ocean surging below his tiny church.
"One day I said I'd like to come to a service here," looking warily at the improvised structure he calls his house of worship. There is a roof over it, but there are no sides--just a few steel poles to support the gray iron sheets over the top. I asked "what time do you start?"
He grinned. "Whenever the people get here. Maybe one o'clock...or two o'clock...or three!" He enjoyed watching the incredulity on my face. "But we sing hymns, even on our way to church. The praise begins early--and never stops! We have so much to be grateful for."
Again that little smile. "Till the sun goes down...or later--much later! If people walk 10 miles without shoes to worship the Lord, we cannot send them home after an hour, as you do in your churches. We must fill them up. They must not go home hungry."
Clearly, Daniel meant spiritual food, although I guessed he would also find bread for anyone who really needed a meal.
I had been to services in Africa before, so I told Daniel what I appreciated about the way his people worship--their singing, their movement, their prayers, which are persistent, heartfelt.
"There's something else I love," I added, "and that's your hospitality. With us, if we expect seven people for dinner and eight show up, we panic. But for you it's no problem. The more the merrier!" And he laughed.
Then a little more seriously I said, "But there are some things I just don't understand, like when you say the wedding is at 10, and the bride only comes at 12:30!"
Now Daniel exploded with laughter. For his people, time is not an enemy. It's an opportunity.
During my conversation with Daniel, I learned that I had a choice. I could be uneasy with these different ways to handle time, or I could be open, accepting, adaptable.
I thought about walking 10 miles, with bare feet, and then thanking God for my blessings. About letting my praise rise, even as theirs did, like the call of the hadeda (African ibis) in the slow, sun-filled afternoon.
I tried all these things, and guess what happened! I didn't just slow down for the two weeks I spent by the Indian Ocean. The change of thought became a habit, and I brought it back to the office with me.
I now take more time to think through every project, listen to my coworkers, watch a sunset, and turn in prayer to God, the source of all peace, and the guardian of all my moments.
Most important, I am learning to leave behind any drift toward instant gratification, and becoming conscious only of God's goodness--observed not on the restless faces of clocks but in the unforced peacefulness of African standard time.