40 Million Minutes
Today is January 16, 2018. It is the start of the third week of the first month of the new year, and it is not unlikely to assume that in just two short weeks, you will be joining approximately 80% of Americans who fail to achieve the goals they hope to accomplish in the new year (we no longer call them resolutions as if to trick ourselves into actually following through with something). According to a study from 2013, only about "8% of people achieve their New Year's goals," a statistic that reflects our already pessimistic and cynical outlook on goal-setting, resolution-making, and an intentional effort to effect some positive change in our daily lives.
Like most people who try to hold on to some semblance of hope and forward progress for their lives, I have made resolutions in the past and was empowered by the prospect of genuine change and the image I had envisioned of where I would be, what I would look like, and how my life would be different. It is unfortunate that my future vision of grandeur and excellence in maintaining my goals slowly became a bit hazier as time wore on.
What I saw for myself was soon bogged down as I experienced first-hand how difficult habit-breaking could be. As time dragged on, choosing a healthier lunch option or forcing myself to go to the gym was set against the seemingly unconquerable comfort promised by consuming a calorie-rich meal that I actually enjoyed eating, or the allure of a recliner that rocked and nine seasons of The Office, that (in one of my many hot takes) only got funnier as it progressed. Choosing to read a book I had put on my reading list six months prior could not entice or bring me nearly as much joy as a Michael Scott "that's what she said!"
But today is January 16, 2018, and knowing how I have failed in the past to accomplish the goals I made for myself, I took considerable time to decide what I could do in the new year to stay on track and reach the end of 2018 resolute and accomplished.
For the past several months, there has been a recurring theme in my life that I think applies to each and every person universally as something we could all afford to do better. I have made many bad and good decisions throughout my quarter-of-a-century life. All of these choices, both the wise and the unwise, have had consequences on my relationships, my education, my future career, my health, and numerous other aspects in our daily lives that we often do not consider.
What informed those decisions and choices to do one thing over the other, to choose the bad over the good and vice versa, was largely inspired by what I held to be important at that moment in my life. As my wife and I were considering what we wanted 2018 to be about individually and as a couple, I came to the conclusion that stewardship was going to be my focus word for the new year.
I chose the word stewardship very intentionally, as being better at "time-management," a very common new year's goal for many people, does not get to the heart of why I desired this positive change. A simple definition for time-management is allocating time to what I consider most important and beneficial for myself. This could involve dedicating a certain portion of the day to exercise, limiting how much time we spend on screens, cutting out wasteful and purposeless activities from our daily agendas, or implementing a daily checklist to plan out the day.
The goal of being more effective at time-management, though not a bad ideal within itself, fell short of what I wanted because it appeared to me to be inherently selfish, a characteristic I have already mastered and do not need any more time to cultivate. Being better at time-management meant I was trying to use more time to do what I thought was important, what I thought would better myself, and demonstrate what I valued. Stewardship directs this inward focus outward and affirms a truth in scripture that is essential to being a good steward:
The earth is the Lord's, and all it contains, the world, and those who dwell in it. – Psalm 24:1
A comprehensive definition for stewardship, one that reflects the outward focus needed to be a good steward, is this: What do I do with what I have been given and for whom am I doing it? This definition does several things that helps to focus our attention outward, rather than how we can selfishly hoard time like another resource that is entirely at our disposal. This definition takes the individual, you and me, out of the equation almost entirely. It recognizes that everything, not just the breath in our lungs or the comfortable amenities in our homes, belongs to God. Further, it affirms that we have been entrusted with what God has given to us and we are responsible for how we have used these gifts and blessings.
The average lifespan for Americans found by a study from 2014 is 81 years for females, and 76 years for males. As I am a male, and barring any freak accidents, messianic returns, or health-related afflictions as a result of an irresponsible amount of pork-shoulders smoked and eaten, I have, realistically, fifty years of life left, no small amount of years. Though this time may seem inexhaustible, put another way, the minutes continue to tick away with no regard for how I am choosing to utilize them.
50 years of time equates to approximately 39,972,139 minutes. Should I decide to start exercising or cut out soda for longer than a year, we could plausibly adjust this number to 40 million minutes. When seen through this lens, I am forced to grapple with the reality that the shot-clock is counting down. I don't consider this a grim or depressing notion, because death is the great equalizer and the inevitable end of all humanity, but there are times when I experience some guilt over how much time I really have wasted. Perhaps a practical example from my life can help persuade you of the need to strive to be a better steward.
My wife and I recently started watching "The Great British Baking Show," and as much as I discounted and even ridiculed the show before we started watching, I've been hooked. We breezed through first season of the binge-worthy Netflix show, being wowed by colorful and creative signature bakes, lamenting over how dreadful so-and-so's technical challenge was but how they were safe from the chopping-block because of their show-stopper, and guessed during the dramatically-long pauses of the announcers who was getting kicked out of the tent.
After the final episode of the first season, I asked my wife how many seasons there were for us to watch and with the same relish a shipwrecked island dweller feels upon discovering a grove of coconut trees and a spring of fresh water, she replied, "four seasons, ten episodes each."
I am not advocating for an existence that doesn’t allow for those moments in life when we are able to catch our breath and relax, or spend time enjoying something that may not necessarily be a good use of time, but I am encouraging you to consider how your time is being used, and what that time says about what you consider to be most important. Like any good thing in life, it ought to be enjoyed in moderation, with full recognition that what we spend our time and on money is what we consider most significant and ultimately, praise-worthy.
Stewardship is something you can fail at, but as long as there is breath in your lungs, you can choose to be a better steward of what God has given to you with each new day. The benefit of cultivating a heart that is characterized by stewardship is that it diverts our attention from trying to better ourselves, our circumstances, our financial situations, and our relationships. When we focus on using what God has given us for Kingdom-purposes, we are given a new set of desires and wants, which eventually grow to supersede what we consider to be most important at the time. Thanks be to God that he us shows a better way that will ultimately guide us toward true satisfaction and joy in his purposes and plans.