Time is a funny thing. It is so rigid and uncompromising, and yet so fluid and elusive. For some it passes quickly and for others the second hand hangs motionless. How can something observed and equitably measured around the world be so personal? The clock marches at the same beat for every person on the face of the earth, passing with the same cadence, each second equidistant from the next. And yet, the expectant mother past her due experiences it much differently than the child who is given five minutes before bed to the man who braces himself for the inevitable impact of the vehicle coming through the intersection. Time is both flexible and hard.
Yet, I have noticed time speed up as I get older. I know it hasn’t, because science tells me that it ticks along as it always has, but it feels faster. It’s August already. How did that happen? I do remember being in July and June; pretty sure I was present and accounted for in each of those days but how did August get here so quickly? And how did I get two teenagers? I’m too young to have teenagers living in my house. I know they are mine because they still resemble the little kids in the photos I find all over our house. Speaking of houses, I have a mortgage! I thought mortgages were only something old people had. I’m not that old.
My perspective of what old is has changed too. I used to think 40 was old. I don’t think that anymore. In fact, I don’t even think 70 is old. When people die in their seventies, I now think to myself, “Wow, that is young.” Is it because I know I am closer to 70 than I am to the baby born into my wife’s family a few weeks ago? Maybe.
With all our understanding and calibration, time remains a mystery. One of my long time favourite biblical phrases is in the apocalyptic narrative found in the 12th chapter of Daniel. The prophet is shown terrible visions that were still yet to come, but still shrouded in secrecy. With understandable curiosity he asks the obvious question, “How long will it be until these shocking events are over?” The answer he is given is both wonderfully precise and ambivalent at the same time,
“It will go on for a time, times, and half a time.”
I love that. For generations, scholars and teachers have clamoured to announce the answer to this prophetic riddle. And at one time, I among them. But now, I appreciate the vague, poetic beauty of this answer. It reflects perfectly how time passes for all of us in this modern age. This answer is specific enough to recognize that there is indeed a measure; an allotment of minutes, days and years to fulfill, but murky enough that we cannot rush to the fridge calendar and plot it with a big red Jiffy marker.
No, our present reality within the mystery of time is preserved. We do not get to magically cut corners to the end. Instead, we are given the privilege to continue living each day with the currency of faith. Each day is like the talent given to the servants in Jesus’ parable to invest wisely and properly until the master returns. How long will it be until this happens?
Only time will tell.
Until then, the days will continue to tick by, and we will get a little older, and our kids will get a little bigger, and our mortgage will get a little smaller (I hope!). Even now, the second hand on the clock in this room continues it’s cycle with measured, rigid precision. It announces time lost that I will never be able to reclaim. And yet I have a full expectation of many more times to come. The question now is not how much time is left, but how it will be lived. Will it go quickly, or pass slowly? Either way, my prayer is that it will be full.