Part 1: How to Think About the Construct of Time

Today I want to process my notes from my last zoom with my spiritual director. This is going to be a two part topic. Today, we are going to pause to reflect deeply on how we perceive the construct of time. Then, we will discuss in part 2 how that perception of time affects our drive, planning, and ambition, typically related to future possibilities. However, before doing that, I will give you some context as to why I was processing with him what I did.

I am coming off a few days connecting with my 3 childhood best friends. We have been getting together for almost 25 years, which leads to some good laughter and rich reflection.

While on a hike, we talked about the current insights or principles we are processing as we all recently moved into our 40’s. I shared that one of the principal things I have been thinking about is how little of my life I have been truly present and living in the present. For me, I spend very little time thinking about the past. Based on my particular wiring, I have spent most of my life in the potential of tomorrow. I see the future and carry the weight of opportunity in the present. For me, it feels more like pressure of responsibility than anxiety. And it feels like this subtle open loop in the background preventing me from feeling fully present.

I am assuming in our fast-paced world, that many of us find ourselves with a similar struggle against how we conceive of time. We focus too much on the past or the future, struggling to experience the contentment of the present. We strive to balance work, relationships, and personal ambitions, all the while feeling pressured to plan for the future. That pressure of the future then finds it’s way into our present with anxiety, worry, or shame. Today I hope to share the gift that I got from pausing to ponder the significance of time and how it shapes our lives?

During my time with my spiritual director, I reflected to him about my difficulty managing my driven and visionary tendencies with my desire to be more present.

He reflected that in order to be more present, I needed to think more deeply about the construct of time. Here are some of the reflections and notes that I took.

Looking Back: The Jews' Understanding of Time

I was pointed to W.F. Albright who remarked that the discovery of history came from the Jews. The Greeks and Romans, viewed time as an endless cycle of repetitions, with the same patterns repeating themselves cyclically. However, the Jews saw time as an unfolding arrow, marked by revelation and development. Their concept of time revolved around the idea of progress, guided by a higher power, which resulted in the concept of history.

Luke, in his gospel, introduced a profound shift in understanding time. He placed Jesus at the center of history, breaking away from the circular or linear views. By doing so, Luke implied that the coming of Jesus was the most significant event in history, and the only event in history of significance, illuminating the past and the future through what happened on the cross. It is through the grace of God, the truth of who Jesus is and what he did, that from that moment, history and everything that preceded it is now illuminated. From that moment on, everything afterwards would be affected by that moment. It was the center of time. This Christ centered thinking of time was so significant that our calendars reflected that singular and primary moment in all of human history.

The Wisdom of Learning from the Past

I was also reminded that although we perceive time as past, present, and future, it is, in fact, a human construct. In truth, there is only the present, where both past and future reside. Now, history has value. By studying the patterns of the past in the present, we gain valuable insights to guide our decisions and actions in the present. This is often referred to as wisdom. The past is not just a distant memory but actively informing our present. It profoundly influences our decisions and choices in the present. To avoid repeating past mistakes, we must recognize the patterns and lessons from history. As Lord Acton wisely stated, "Those who don't understand their past are condemned to repeat it." By gaining wisdom from the past, we can make more informed and insightful decisions in our present.

So what about the future?

Most of my plans for the future do more harm than good. They set these contrived frameworks that are often more limiting in the present, by providing a boxed way of thinking, limiting the miraculous. Focusing on the future seems to add to anxiety, fear, and restlessness. It heightens the voices of shame that I am not doing enough, should do more, or am behind, all based on some preconceived expectation for where I should be tomorrow. I can find less value scripturally for future minded thinking aside from the value of eternal thinking. When I read Matthew 6, Jesus was pretty clear in Matthew 6:24 and James’ teaching in James 4:13-14, there is a wrongness, a sinfulness, in worry connected to the future. Then James 4:15 says “Instead, you ought to say, ‘If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.’” In regards planning for tomorrow, verse 15 points to the alternative of trusting God with the day, similar to the blessing of trusting God’s provision on a day by day basis, as Jesus told us to pray in the Lord’s prayer, praying for daily bread, like manna, not a storehouse of it so we can get to a point of not needing God.

Breaking Free from the Prison of Time

This principle has been messing with me. There is no such thing as the past or the future. They are made up. There is only history informed present which we are living right now. Tomorrow isn’t real. By focusing on the here and now, we unshackle ourselves from the regrets of yesterday and the pressures of tomorrow. I have missed this for most of my life, and I have missed the freedom and peace that comes with being present. Within the present moment lies true freedom - the freedom to choose, to act, and to be fully present. To connect more deeply with God and others. To be more intimately engaged with the Holy Spirit.

We have to think about how we think about time. It shapes our perceptions, choices, and the way we experience life. By reflecting on the wisdom of the Jews, the teachings of Jesus, and the importance of being present, we can break free from the chains of time and live more intentionally. At least I hope so, and trust the wisdom of my spiritual director in its potential. In the second part of this topic, we will explore how ambition and the concept of time are intertwined and how embracing present-minded ambition can lead to contentment and fulfillment in our lives.


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