Monday, June 27, 2011

Time is short

Time is short. No, this is not a prediction about the end of the world. That event is far from imminent, unpredictable, and more likely better understood by astrophysicists than theologians.

Time is short in terms of each person’s longevity. Even for a newborn baby who will live 100 plus years, time is short. A person can dramatically shorten his or her life but cannot double or even increase by fifty percent her or his possible lifespan.

Awareness of life’s brevity seems to increase with age. Young adults, like many of those to whom I ministered as a military chaplain, often feel both invincible and as if they will live forever. Conversely, some of the very elderly to whom I have ministered have felt as if in a holding pattern, waiting to die.

Some data from the 2010 American Time Use Survey by the U.S. Labor Department prompted these reflections (Joe Light, “Leisure Tops Learning in Survey,” Wall Street Journal, June 23, 2011). On average, Americans age 15 and older spent 3hours, 58 minutes working in 2010. That’s a decrease of six minutes from 2009 and twenty-six minutes from 2007. The decreases probably reflect both higher unemployment rates and an aging population.

What’s interesting is how people use their additional non-work time. Watching TV increased by five minutes, to 2 hours, 31 minutes per day. Sleep time also increased five minutes a day. Leisure time on a computer increased 13 minutes per day between 2007 and 2010.

The survey involved interviews with 13,200 people. Changes tend to be small. Interpreters deemed the amount of additional time spent watching TV, sleeping, and using the computer – 23 of the 26 minute decrease in work time between 2007 and 2010 – to indicate significant demographic trends.

The person who wishes to live abundantly, to live fully and well, would seem well advised to spend his or her time wisely. Each moment is lived only once. At the end of one’s life, will an extra 30.4 hours of television per year really have enriched one’s life? Will an extra 122 hours of computer time per year come with subsequent regrets?

The abundant life invites us to live intentionally, to choose those activities that seem most likely to bring happiness. Some TV and computer time are good things. Adequate sleep, especially for a harried and overworked person, can be a very good thing. What is the right balance to seek for each individual?

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