One of the more personally frustrating letters from Screwtape to Wormwood is missive #21, which has something to do with using “the claims of life” against the patient. Screwtape writes:
Now you will have noticed that nothing throws him into a passion so easily as to find a tract of time which he reckoned at having at his own disposal unexpectedly taken from him . . . Now he is not yet so uncharitable or slothful that these small demands on his courtesy are in themselves too much for it. They anger him because he regards his time as his own and feels that it is being stolen.
From there he continues:
You must therefore zealously guard in his mind the curious assumption that “My time is my own.” Let him have the feeling that he starts each day as the lawful possessor of twenty-four hours. Let him feel as a grievous tax that portion of this property which he has to make over to his employers, and as a generous donation that further portion which he allows to religious duties. But what he must never be permitted to doubt is that the total from these deductions have been made was, in some mysterious sense, his own personal birthright.
I’ve been thinking a lot about time recently, partly because the almost-constant refrain of how time seems to be moving during Our Current Moment (both too fast and so slow) and partly because it’s a major (the major?) thread in Root’s Congregation in a Secular Age.
I’ve also been thinking about it because timing has been out of sync for me for almost four years. For the last four years (give or take a quarter), I’ve been almost consistently double-booked at worked. And for the last year, work has remained overly-busy (most of the time) while non-work time has been empty because of a lack of places to go and things to do. It’s created a real disconnect for me. And then trying to connect with others often means (for me as a single guy) adopting or adapting to the schedules of others (like staying up later than usual or getting up earlier to make up for other time given). It’s an interesting conundrum.
What do you do with the time that you have? And what do you do with the time that is allotted to you by others? How do you steward it well, all the while knowing that it is not your own? And how do you steward your time well when the time-zones of others overlap your all the time? How do you balance what you are responsible for with who you are potentially responsible to?
“What’s mine is ours,” I suppose. Though none of it is quite that simple, especially when conversations about what we all hold in common aren’t all that, well, common.
(image from cslewis.com)