My time is not my own

My time is not my own. There is nothing startling about this and there certainly is nothing unique about this. Every parent has experienced the reality of another person’s schedule taking precedence over one’s own. Everyone who has ever had a job of any kind has experienced that there are things that you have to do that you don’t particularly want to do and there are times when you have to lay aside your own dreams and desires for the simple process of getting a job done. Every person who has ever ridden on an airline or gone to a doctor or dentist or stopped by the post office to buy stamps knows the feeling of having to wait for an undetermined amount of time because someone else’s schedule is, at the moment, more pressing, or at least more powerful than your own.

Our experiences teach us that there are ways to lessen those pressures. Children grow up and mature. They can be taught patience. Businesses hire receptionists to handle telephone calls and respond to walk in clients so that an executive can get other work done. Even doctors and dentists can learn to design practices that are not based on people having to wait. Still, there are occasions when one’s time is simply not one’s own. Schedules have to be adjusted and adapted to the needs and wants of others. There are times when waiting can be a blessing.

I have worked, over the years, to hone my skills and meditation and prayer so that I can take advantage of the times when I need to wait for others. Rather than get upset and watch my stress levels go through the top of the chart, if I see a period of waiting as a break from a busy schedule and understand that a few moments of meditation and prayer have a great value in my life, I can turn what otherwise might be a very negative experience into a productive and positive time.

The partial shut-down has tested my patience in this regard, however. A simple phone call can turn into an hour-long counseling session if the person on the other end of the line is bored or depressed or upset by having to experience quarantine. I never know for sure what to expect when I make or return a phone call these days. And, with other church staff persons working from home and practicing self-isolation, I don’t have a receptionist to take the calls that come into the church. I don’t have support staff who understand my schedule. Congregational members who are used to having a cheerful answer each time they call, become upset when there is no one to answer the phone. They have no way of knowing that I am talking on the other line, or cleaning a bathroom, or emptying the trash. They assume that if they call and there is no immediate answer that I’m staying home. I know this because I can monitor my home voice mail with my cell phone. Within minutes after someone calls the church and does not leave a message, I’ll get a message on my home phone something like, “I tried to call you at the church, but you weren’t there, so I called your home . . .” Those who have never worked in a church will be surprised at how often that happens.

We have worked in the same church for 25 years and we have always tried to take Monday as a day off, but the assumption during the coronavirus pandemic is that days off no longer count. I know that I’ve encouraged this a bit as I am now coming to the church to broadcast daily prayers each day, but it seems like it has more to do with the fact that for those who are sheltering at home, the days all run together. The distinction between days is hard to maintain.

I am aware that this whole journal entry is a bit of whining, and I don’t mean to complain. I have a good job. I have a paycheck each month. I am not somehow the victim of an injustice. Yesterday, I spent some time on the phone with someone who had been laid off and who is trying to get his application for unemployment completed. We are all in this together, and the changes in my work and life are not somehow worse than, or even as bad as, the challenges that others are enduring. The letter to the Corinthians says, “Now you are the body of Christ, and individually members of it.” One of our teachers used to say, “You can’t be the body of Christ all by yourself.” I have the honor and privilege of a particular role in the church, but this isn’t just about me. The tensions and stresses of he ministry are not aimed at me personally, and I need to learn not to take a comment or a phone message personally.

Part of the answer to my complaint that my time is not my own is, “Of course not. Why did you expect that it would be.” Part of the answer is to remember that the Church isn’t about me in the first place. I can take a day off and the church won’t fall apart. I can let a phone call go to voicemail and the Gospel will still be passed to the next generation.

And there is enough time for me to take a little bit of time for myself. I can leave a few tasks undone.

Since my time is not my own, and since all that we have belongs to God, I need to teach myself to be a better steward of the time that comes from God. I need to remember the commandment about taking a sabbath. Free people follow God’s commandments and free people learn to take time off for rest and recreation.

This journal entry may not be of use to anyone else, but it is a lesson that I seem to need to learn over and over again.

Copyright (c) 2020 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!