Learning to Loiter

I’ll never forget an interaction I had with an older woman at the grocery store when my second son was about six months old. We were rolling along at Publix, where shopping is indeed a pleasure, and this sweet and well-intentioned woman grabbed my arm and stopped my free-cookie-eating-moments-away-from-imploding cart of two boys under 20 months. She said to me, “Time flies. Treasure every second.”

While I appreciated her perspective, it felt like the farthest thing from the truth at the time. It was not even noon, and I was already exhausted, as we had been up for 6 hours and had already gone on a walk, done laundry, had two meals and played every noisy toy in the house. Time felt like it was crawling at a glacial pace, time was far from flying.

Time is indeed a funny thing. We tend to live in extremes when it comes to our relationship with time. We are either wishing it away, praying it would move more quickly or wishing it to slow down.

Either way, we are playing tug of war with time. Back and forth.

I have lived most of my adult life in an abusive relationship with time. Though I am prone to hyperbole, this statement is no exaggeration. Most days I am trying to master time or it is mastering me.

I remember judging the students in college who would sit on the lawn, tossing the frisbee for hours, solving all of life’s mysteries, visiting with every friend or goose who happened along the way. Don’t get me wrong, I did my share of those things, but only after I had successfully squeezed all the efficiency I could out of the day. At that point in my life, time was something that I dictated and filled from sun-up to sun-down. It was there to serve me.

Motherhood finds me at the other end of that spectrum, where most days I feel like time is mastering me. Before I have even winked, it seems like it is noon and I am still in my pajamas with unbrushed teeth, surrounded by a pile of laundry. I am no longer a great master of time. I often end most days feeling guilty that I have “let time slip away from me” and have very little to show for my day. It seems I cannot get on top of time, that is always getting ahead of me, leaving me running behind to catch up.

Year ago I read a fascinating book by Sue Bender called Plain and Simple that chronicled her months spent living in and among the Amish community. In her prologue, she describes her relationship with time. “I didn’t know that my addiction to unrelenting activity produced a quiet desperation that permeated every cell of my being.”

One of the things that most shocked and shaped Bender about the Amish was their relationship with time.

She wrote, “The women moved through the day unhurried. There was no rushing to finish so they could get on to the important things. For them, it was all important.”

She says that among the Amish women, “Time was full and generous. It was as if they had uncovered a way to be in time, to be part of time, to have a harmonious relation with time. For me time was a burden.”

A harmonious relationship with time. It seems like such a novel idea, yet Jesus was offering his disciples this very thing when he was walking on their earth two thousand years ago.

He told the crowds not to worry about tomorrow, that each day would take care of itself. He called them to learn from creation, to be like the lily of the field who did not toil or fight with time but lived peacefully, trustingly in time. He told them to become like little children so that they might inherit and live into the kingdom of God.

Children seem to live so naturally in time. I don’t see my children biting their nails, looking at their Lego calendars, trying to make sure their hours are productive.

Children loiter, they wander about the house, moving from task to task in an unhurried manner. They dawdle putting their shoes on, eating their breakfast, getting their homework done.

I am eager to learn how to dawdle more, how to walk through my days in a more trusting manner, believing that God has good things in store for each hour, leaving more room in my schedule for Him to call an audible should He see fit.

When my identity is secure in Christ, when I know I am significant and loved by simply being His, I don’t need to wrangle time to make me look or feel efficient or important. I can move from task to task in that same “unhurried manner” as the Amish, knowing that each task is significant in its own way, be it running the country or running my household.

When I know that God holds my hand and walks me gently into the future, I can hold Phinny’s little hand and toddle down the cul-de-sac to look at the ants and the birds.

When God has wrangled my busy heart into stillness, I am free from the need to wrangle time. Little by little, I am learning how to loiter.

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