It was a Tuesday morning, and I was in a rush as usual. I had a quick list of groceries to pick up, and I pushed my shopping cart up and down the aisles hurriedly. It was a race car cart with a small girl at the wheel, but though it gave the illusion of speed, as all parents well know, it was cumbersome to push and maneuver, more like a dump truck loaded off-kilter. I kept bumping and knocking items off shelves in my hurry, only to have to stop and put them back, apologizing all the while to other shoppers I was impeding.
I finally made my way to the produce section to gather up the last of the items on my list, just a few fruits and vegetables. As I parked the ponderous race car near a bin of apples, the toddler girl poked her head out the window.
“Buy me some apples, Mommy!” she insisted, reaching for a red apple from the bin in front of her. She would be a fruititarian if I let her.
“I’m choosing some apples right now,” I assured her. “Put that one back. Mommy is going to buy these apples over here.” She replaced the apple onto the stack, as I selected the ones I wanted to purchase and counted out a dozen apples into my produce bag. I finished collecting what I needed and moved on to the checkout.
Out in the parking lot, I had just finished transferring my groceries to the back of the car and strapping my daughter into her car seat. I turned back to the race car to retrieve her fuzzy pink ladybug blankie. Wrapped up within layers of fuzzy pink comfort were two red apples.
My daughter had shoplifted.
“Oh,” I groaned. “I don’t have time for this!” I would have to get the child back out of the car, return to the store, wait in line again to purchase two more apples when I already had a dozen, load the girl and her apples back into the car, all while precious minutes of my day ticked away.
I looked around me. I was standing alone in an empty parking lot. No one would know if I just drove off without paying for them. At 99 cents per pound, the value of two little apples couldn’t equal more than a dollar. Surely one dollar wouldn’t make a difference. And I would save so much time.
A serpent hissed in my ear, dark and cunning, tempting me with stolen fruit. Just go. No one will ever know.
I made a quick decision.
I reached into the car and unbuckled my daughter’s seatbelt. “Sweetie, I just found the apples you hid in your blankie. We can’t keep them because we didn’t pay for them. We have to take them back to the store.”
I carried her and the two red apples back into the store, explaining all the way why it’s wrong to take something without paying for it.
I found a clerk and handed her the apples. “My daughter just shoplifted these apples,” I explained, flushing red with embarrassment. “We are returning them.”
“Sorry,” the little one said sheepishly but sincerely.
The clerk took the apples and helped solidify the lesson. “Oh,” she said to my daughter. “You don’t ever take things from the store. That’s wrong.”
I caught her eye and mouthed “thank you,” and we returned to the car, discussing in three-year-old terms the potential consequences for stealing.
What bothered me on the drive home was not the fact that my three-year-old had shoplifted. She hadn’t had this lesson before. She didn’t know better. This was the day she learned that stealing is wrong.
What bothered me about the incident was the temptation that swirled around me to steal two apples, not for the lack of a dollar, but for the lack of time. I am not strapped for cash in my life (at least not to the point that I can’t spare a dollar for a couple of apples), but I am pressed for time. Always. There are never enough minutes in a day to accomplish all that I feel needs to be done. I’m always fighting for time—fighting with time—to fit in those things that I value most.
My struggle against time is my great weakness, my Achilles’ heal, my point of vulnerability. For the want of time, can I be tempted to break my commitment to my core values? This incident made me worry. What other compromises have I made in my life for the lack of time? What else am I stealing because I think I don’t have time to do the right thing?
And I began to realize . . . I steal moments.
I steal moments from my family—moments for tenderness, moments for laughter, moments for making memories, teachable moments with my children. I rush right past them and snatch them away in my hurry. My children constantly ask me for my time—to read a book, to play a game, to snuggle while watching a movie—and I respond all too often, “Just a minute. . . . Just let me finish what I’m doing, and then I can help you. . . . I’m busy right now. Can you do it by yourself?” For the lack of time, I rob my children of moments with me.
Sadly, I steal moments from others in my life, as well—moments for friendship, moments for connection, moments for sharing. I often think of people I care about but don’t take the time to call or send an email or invite them over. I don’t stop to let them know they are on my mind and I care about what they are going through, and moments meant for relationship are lost, stolen away by my busyness. “We should get together for coffee sometime,” I promise but never set a date. These potentially precious moments are lost to selfishness or mundane tasks when I could instead be serving others, loving them through my time.
Worst of all, I steal moments from God—moments for truth, moments for revelation, moments for fellowship, moments when I should be listening and learning. I desire intimacy, yearn for truth, and yet I hurry past opportunities to be with Him, filling my time with things necessary but so much less important.
I hear the hiss of the serpent, echoing from Eden, from ages past before the world sank from God into a black crater of selfishness. Isn’t this what the serpent was after all along—to steal our moments? Moments of intimacy. Moments of unspeakable joy. Teachable moments face to face with God in the garden of His presence, breathing in the wind of His being in the cool of the day and reflecting back the brilliance of His splendor. We shared the beauty of God in these moments. But they slipped away—our moments of tenderness within the embrace of the divine nature—by the lure of things less valuable. Divine moments stolen.
God wants them back, these moments taken from Him, taken from us. He sent His Son to go after them, from heaven to earth, from eternity into time, from life into death, all the way to hell and back, to recover these moments. He redeems all things, recovering all things lost—even time.
“But how, in my day-to-day under the endless responsibilities of motherhood, is my time redeemed?” I wonder. “How do I stop fighting time and find intimacy?”
I go in search of answers to Ephesians 5:15-17.
“So be careful how you live. Don’t live like fools, but like those who are wise. Make the most of every opportunity [redeeming the time] in these evil days. Don’t act thoughtlessly, but understand what the Lord wants you to do.”
As I study this passage, my attention has also been drawn to Jesus, my example in all things, to examine the way He handled time when He was living within it. I’ve discovered four concepts from Ephesians 5 that I have recently been absorbing into my life, along with an example from the life of Jesus in Mark 6.
1. See Accurately
“So be careful how you live.”
There is one example in the New Testament when Jesus Himself didn’t have time. In Mark 6, just following a ministry tour, “Jesus said, ‘Let’s go off by ourselves to a quiet place and rest awhile.’ He said this because there were so many people coming and going that Jesus and his apostles didn’t even have time to eat.”
Let’s consider the setting here. Jesus and his twelve guys had just come back from a ministry trip, traveling from village to village on foot. They had just given all of their time to the needs of people, teaching, healing, freeing them from their demons. They were exhausted. And even though they had come to the end of their trip, people were still coming to them, making demands on their time. They were giving so much that they didn’t even have time to eat or rest.
To be human is to live within the confines of time, and even Jesus was subject to time’s limitations. But here, when we see Him not having enough time, what He didn’t have time for was Himself. He prioritized others above Himself always, continually and generously giving His time to others, putting His own personal needs, even the most basic needs like food and rest, aside.
I imitate this kind of selflessness only in motherhood, when my personal needs are pushed aside for the needs of my children. But for those outside my little brood, have I ever given my time this generously?
“Be careful how you live,” Ephesians 5 tells us. Literally in the Greek this phrase is “see accurately how you behave.” In the parking lot of the grocery store I began to see. My eyes were opened to my weakness as I struggled to choose between time and morality, and I became newly aware of this constant tension in my life. Perhaps my priorities are in need of some reordering. God is making me suddenly aware, by His Holy Spirit, drawing my attention moment by moment to these choices when they come. Be careful. Pay attention. See accurately. I now find myself asking constantly, “What will I do with this moment?”
2. Choose Wisely
“Don’t live like fools, but like those who are wise.”
Jesus was tired and hungry, so He and his friends went by boat to a place where they could be alone to rest. When they got out of the boat, a crowd had gathered, waiting for Jesus. And how did He respond? He might have turned them away, saying, “I’m sorry. I don’t have time right now. Let me check my ministry schedule. . . . I’m not scheduled to speak again until Monday. Come back then.” Instead He had compassion for them. He accepted the interruption, despite His own weariness, put His personal needs on hold once again, and began to teach them right then and there.
Time, or the use of time, is the line that divides wisdom from foolishness. Wisdom skillfully discerns worth and invests time in that which has true value, while foolishness wastes and squanders time on that which is worthless.
Jesus chose to allow interruption because spending time with these people had true value. Teaching a crowd on the beach wasn’t in His plan for the day, but He allowed this sudden diversion out of compassion. He chose to love them through His time. He chose to invest meaningful time in people.
How often have I rushed though this passage without giving any thought to the way Jesus chose to give His time? But now as I look closer, I realize I have much to learn. None of us will ever hear these concepts suggested at a time management seminar, and yet this is God’s wisdom on time:
Welcome interruption. Have compassion. Set aside your plans to give time to those who have need.
3. Reclaim the Moments
“Make the most of every opportunity . . .”
It got late in the afternoon, and Jesus’ buddies suggested that He send the crowd away to go eat in the nearby villages and farms. “You feed them,” He responded, still completely focused on the needs of the people.
This is when things got a little tense. “What?! We’d have to work for months to earn enough money to buy food for all these people!” His buddies protested. Notice the conflict—they were concerned about lost time, months of work consumed in providing a single meal for a throng. Here they were supposed to be getting a little R & R, and now Jesus is suddenly asking them to cater a meal for five thousand men plus women and children at a remote beach location. Imagine the logistics involved! These guys were already hungry, tired, and probably cranky . . . and now this!
But Jesus redeemed the time. You know the story. Five loaves of bread. Two fish. He fed five thousand men and their families on somebody’s picnic dinner and even had leftovers. I will point out again that this was the first time Jesus and His friends had had a chance to eat all day; they were already hungry before the crowd had ever gathered. And yet Jesus gave His time. He didn’t send them away. He had compassion for their needs.
Is this the secret to time’s redemption? To give time selflessly to others? Is this the key to reclaiming the moment?
Five thousand families had followed Jesus to a remote lakeside beach because He just happened to be in the vicinity. Five thousand families had abandoned whatever else they could have been doing that day, letting go of their plans and agendas to spend time with Jesus, to be taught by Him, capturing the opportunity of a few moments with Him. As the afternoon drew on and it got late, these people all had to provide for their families. It was dinnertime, and their children were hungry.
Earlier we saw Jesus welcome interruption to spend time with these people. Here we see an opposite, but equally powerful principle at work. This time Jesus refused to allow interruption. The needs of the people threatened to interrupt their time in His presence. However, instead of sending the people away to fend for themselves, Jesus met their need without interrupting the gathering. These people had given their day to be with Him, and He would not allow their pressing needs to cut short their time together, so He fed them right there on the beach. He redeemed their time.
Redeeming time is buying time, recovering lost time, making the most of every opportunity. Redeeming time is the process by which I am no longer a slave to time, constantly struggling against it, squandering it in worthless pursuits, but time now serves me in those endeavors that add value to my life. Redeeming time is reclaiming the moments.
If I am willing to follow Jesus’ example, two key principles emerge. First, welcome interruption. I reclaim moments by compassionately giving them away. What a concept! It seems contrary to all I’ve ever known—to reclaim time by giving time—and yet something within me is stirring, even as I write this, that I am stumbling upon truth that will bring freedom to my life.
The second key principle is to refuse interruption. As I set aside my plans to spend time with Jesus, my time is redeemed as I refuse to allow my needs to disrupt my time with Him. If I spend time in His presence, I can expect Him to restore that time and meet my needs within the relationship, not by fending for myself. Again, this concept is completely contrary to my natural inclinations, but I am intrigued as I realize that the needs of five thousand families were met as they remained in the presence of Jesus, not by rushing away to meet these needs themselves.
As a mom, this has been my greatest struggle—feeling the need to rush from His presence to tend the practical needs of my family. And yet, here I find the tension ease as I realize that my most basic needs and the needs of my family can be met within His presence. I don’t have to interrupt one for the other. He is willing to continue with me through the day, on into mealtime as I feed my little ones, as I sort laundry and sweep floors, as I drive to and from the day’s activities, without having to rush from that which He wants to teach me. He redeems my time as I remain in His presence. I have begun to pay attention to the orientation of my heart in the midst of my practical endeavors, praying all through the day as I take care of my family, becoming ever aware of His presence with me.
But how can I know when to welcome interruption and when to refuse it?
4. Know Your Purpose
“Don’t act thoughtlessly, but understand what the Lord wants you to do.”
Immediately after feeding the crowd, Jesus sent His buddies back across the lake in the boat. He stayed behind and said good-bye to everyone as the crowd finally dispersed, again sharing His time, even in the send-off. Then He went up into the hills alone to pray. When He finally got away, finally had a moment to Himself, what did He do with the time? He prayed. He sought intimacy in relationship with His Father. He reaffirmed His purpose.
The passage in Ephesians 5 reminds me that redeeming time is intricately linked to knowing my purpose. If I am to use time well, making the most of every opportunity, I must first understand what God wants me to do, where and how and to whom I am to give my time. I must understand my purpose, knowing what God’s intentions are for me. Purpose comes only through relationship, as I draw close enough to God to share His desires and know His heart.
This is where I find balance. There are countless good causes, ministries, charitable organizations, church programs and outreaches to which I could selflessly give my time, all of them clamoring for volunteers and much-needed man hours. I could fill my life with good causes, but what would I gain? If the giving of my time is not driven by purpose that flows out of relationship, I am merely filling my life with good deeds in Jesus’ name . . . without really knowing Him. (See Matthew 7:22-23 below.) For even a good cause can be an interruption that pulls me from His presence, and I must refuse it in exchange for that interruption which aligns with my purpose.
Relationship reaffirms purpose. And purpose reorders time.
When I finally have a rare moment to myself, how will I spend my time alone? Will I drop everything for any opportunity for relationship with the Father, drawing close and reaffirming my purpose? Will I welcome every interruption that serves my purpose to generously distribute compassionate love to those in my life? Will I refuse any interruption that would take me from His presence? Will I allow Him to redeem my time? I wish I could answer all of these questions affirmatively, but I’m still allowing this process to work itself out in my life, as I choose moment by moment. Time will tell. . . .
Later that afternoon after the morning shoplifting incident, my daughter latched her child gate, stood on the other side, and announced loudly, “I’m a policeman, and I locked you in jail, Mommy!”
“I’m in jail? What did I do?” I asked her.
“You stealed apples from the store!”
I was guilty—not of stealing apples, but of stealing moments—and waiting behind toddler bars was my penance. But this prison was actually my freedom. This was a moment redeemed. The morning’s lesson had stuck with her, and there would be no more shoplifting. The time I had given that morning, time I had counted as wasted, was given back to me as a gift. She had learned what was right. I sat for a moment behind bars, waiting to be released by a small policeman dressed in pink, reflecting on the use of my time—on moments lost and regained, given and redeemed—and I breathed a prayer of thanksgiving to Jesus, who redeems all things . . . even stolen moments.