Most of the time, I enter work when it is dark outside and when the place is silent, and I slip in the back entrance, deposit my lunch in the company fridge, and fill a glass of water and make my way to my desk to stealthily begin the day. At times, at least for three months of the year, I can regularly be found at work for half of the day or more on a Sunday, creating reports and sending them out while no one except perhaps the cleaning crew was around to see me, at times even unlocking the building for the students and instructors of the Saturday Academy who were happy to see me despite my distinct lack of interest in drawing the attention of anyone on a quiet day. Such hours certainly count on my paycheck, as I am a wage earner and all hours that I am clocked in count, but they do not often count in a social sense, as people only think one working if there is a certain degree of visibility.
The vexing question of what time counts matters in other contexts as well. As a teenager, I had wished to sing the song “I’m So Happy I Can’t Stop Crying” for a congregational variety show. The song, by Sting, from his Mercury Falling album , told a story of an ugly divorce from the point of view of the father, who notes the existence in the park of other Sunday fathers who try to do their best within their given time, given that there is a general bias towards granting custodial rights to mothers in the absence of some serious problem on their part. Speaking from painful personal experience, there can be a great deal of resentment when it comes to the sort of time that is spent with different parents . If one parent shows oneself inclined only to enjoy the fun times and pass off all the unpleasant tasks, like taking sick children to the hospital or something else of that nature, to the other parent, a substantial amount of bad blood will develop between two parents who should be partners and allies in seeking the best interests of their common children. The absence of quantity time tends to lead people to seek quality time as a substitute, but this is usually a fallacious sort of quest, as genuine quality time depends on having enough quantity for there to be sufficient context. We know that someone is fun not because we are always having fun when we are around them, but because we know they have the capacity for fun in the midst of being able to handle the serious issues of life. Frivolity may work for a while, but sooner or later the serious business of life intrudes and someone has to show themselves able to handle the difficulty of such situations, as unwanted as they may be.
What hours count in our own lives? Are we quick to compartmentalize our time and divide it up among different people who are never to meet, never to see each other, never to know about each other? We may find, much to our dislike, that different parts of our world have the tendency to bleed together, and that try as we might we cannot keep our world separated and neat and tidy and in various boxes, because everything is connected in some fashion. The scriptures tell us that we should redeem the time, for the days are evil. We are all accountable with how we use the time we have. This is not so much a call to add more activity to our already crammed lives, but also a recognition of the fact that time, like any other undeserved gift we are given, comes with accountability attached to it. We are stewards of something that belongs to another, and we do not know when we will suddenly be taken from our comfortable or uncomfortable existence and held to account for the way that we have lived our lives. Most of us may have little to fear, and some will likely have a great deal to regret about the way that they have lived their lives. At any rate, by the time we are accountable, the time to do anything about the time we wasted is gone. Most of us, in fact, have wasted a great deal of time in that which was without profit either in this world or in the world to come, in either making life better for us or in honoring God or in serving other people, but such is the life.
How do we count in the calculations of time that others make? Do other people enjoy spending time with us, find great pleasure in the hours passing as we eat and talk and play games together? Do other people find us pleasant to work with, whether we are casting shade by making witty comments about something or another or doing our work productively and enthusiastically. Do other people find us reliable as well as enjoyable? These are questions that we might be tempted to answer either negatively or positively based on those experiences that come to mind, but if people we judge to be of sound mind and decent character enjoy our company and appreciate our efforts and are able to pleasantly enjoy our presence and our conversation even when they have heard all of our stories and become familiar with the way we operate, then truly we are doing something well, living life in a good fashion . May it always be so for us. Which hours count? They all do, in many ways, over and over again.
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