It’s almost 11am in Cork, Ireland and I’m sitting for the first time in a Quaker worship service. There are about twelve others in the room, all of us in pews facing the room’s center with its small wobbly wooden table and one candle. The sun is slightly peering through the window behind me and everything smells old, like it has been curating in tradition. At exactly 11, the service begins. No welcome, no song, no opening prayer, announcements, no words spoken, we simply enter silence. One hour of silence, called the Great Silence in the Quaker tradition. Each person gently setting their body, mind, and heart before God. Listening…
In the center of this silence, I felt God offer me a gift. A gift for this moment and for my whole sabbatical and maybe even for life. “You have been given the gift of time, use it wisely,” echoed in my mind and soul. I sat there for the next thirty minutes, unwrapping this gift so generously offered. It felt new, beautiful, and precious. The gift felt like something I had always had with me, yet rarely noticed.
I’m slowly starting to believe that one of the greatest gifts God has ever given us, that we can offer ourselves, and bestow on each other is the gift of time. This summer my family was offered that gift in the form of an eight week sabbatical. We traveled to Paris to eat bread for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. To London to stroll through the parks and cry watching The Lion King on stage. To a breathtaking farm on the Isle of Man to feed cows, baby sheep, and eat at a table with some of the most hospitable people God ever created. And our trip truly bloomed when we spent five long-slow-weeks in the quiet, simple, ancient, and beautiful ground of Ireland. Surprisingly the joy of the sabbatical wasn’t directly found in the sites seen, our food tasted, and the adventures had, but in the gift of time given.
We live in such a culture where time has become a commodity to be used and abused, or a product to be sold, or a challenge to be conquered. Our goal in life seems to have become about doing things as effectively, productively, and fully as time will allow. And though I believe the “effective” use of time can be impressive, I no longer believe it wise.
I often found myself “bored” at times in Ireland, looking at the cows as they strolled by, playing with my kids and little distraction of what’s next, or reading one more chapter of a book because we had no invite to rush off to. It was in this so called boredom that I tasted a fullness of life like no other. Time became a like flower in bloom. There was no rushing it, and the more we allowed it space and presence the more we discovered the beauty of each petal, dew drop, and color. God seems to have given us all the gift of time, to be present and aware of the world around us, to take in the words and long conversations of others, to silently open our eyes to the creation we live in and are part of, and maybe even fall into the mystery of God with us in this beautiful mess we call life. I wonder if in our life, time has become a gift or a tyrant, an open space or rat race.
Now that we are back I find it difficult to daily unwrap that gift that God so graciously has given. But I believe it’s worth fighting for. Seeking the moments of beauty, scheduling a day with nothing to be done, staying in a conversation 20 minutes longer than I’m comfortable with, and most importantly for me sitting in the presence of God (within and all around) open in heart, mind, body and soul.
“You have been given the gift of time, use it wisely.”