So I admit it, I usually measure the value of a day by how much I have accomplished. Checking off the mental “to do” list somehow gives me a sense of fulfillment, like I am not wasting the gift of time. Even on vacation, the measure of a good day includes a balance of reading, writing, playing and chores. Any imbalance leaves me feeling disappointed, like the value of my day is somehow diminished.
It isn’t good. I know it. I am working on being free from the standards I create for myself. Because God doesn’t see time the same way I do.
I measure time by Chronos: the clock. God measures time by Kairos: God time or real time.
In her book Walking on Water, Madeline L’Engle describes kairos this way: “the time that breaks through chronos with a shock of joy, that time we do not recognize while we are experiencing it, but only afterwards, because kairos has nothing to do with chronological time. In kairos we are completely unselfconscious, and yet paradoxically far more real than we can ever be when we are constantly checking our watches for chronological time.”
I experience this kind of “real time” watching a brood of ducklings swim in formation behind their mother from the kitchen window, or while observing people interact along crowded urban streets. When I write a new story or read a great book. My son enters kairos scavenging beneath the lake surface for clams, and skipping them wildly on top of the water.
When we lose ourselves, unaware of time, we become more of who we are. As we touch on the wonders of creation we become alert to life as we live it; in a way we don’t when we are concerned about time.
So when I measure the quality of a day by how much I accomplish in a given period of time, this is my standard, not God’s. I wonder how much kairos I have missed because of a twisted focus on the clock.
I am alert to this distortion two weeks of the year every summer. A twenty-hour drive to rural Ontario, Canada takes us to kairos. A family cottage built behind a still lake, surrounded by tall pines, covered by cerulean sky and dangling clouds. Only the grumbling of the stomach reminds us of time. No alarm clocks, no schedule, no commitments, no makeup – just real time.
Days spent splashing in water and evenings resting on shore. Where conversation swirls light and storytelling provokes belly laughter. Focus shifts from who we are on the outside to what we are on the inside.
Chronos falls off us like crumbling concrete and what lies beneath – the real us – bubbles to the surface. And there is transformation. Like taking that first breathe of life all over again. We remember who we are.
And because we can’t be on vacation every day, I am learning that real time, God time, is found in losing myself in prayer amidst a life that is full. Not reciting a rote prayer or rattling off a list of wishes but praying like there is nothing else calling for my attention. Because when I lose myself like this, I remember who I am.
Aren’t we all desperate to know who we really are?
The paradox: this sense of identity we find in our productivity – the checks on our to-do list that make us feel good about ourselves – can actually be the very thing keeping us from true fulfillment.
It is time to remember who you are.