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  • Writer's pictureDoug Weiss

It's about time

It's been said that human perception of time is subjective. When we are pleasurably engaged, time moves far too quickly but when faced with boring or unpleasant tasks, it moves at an inexorable pace. This is a rich subject for a post, and you might think my intent is to talk about how we use our time in this world, but that isn’t quite where I am headed.

As anyone who knows me well could attest, I have not always been a patient person. In fact, as a younger man I wore my impatience as a virtue. I was not one of those people who valued indecision, prolonged inaction, or was unwilling to confront the present. I was someone who wanted to get on with life. Well fast forward a few decades. A lot of the hard edges have been knocked off me by life’s experience and I have a different perspective today. I’ve learned to wait.

Now don’t get me wrong, I am still restive when it comes to matters of injustice and inhumanity among other things, but I am far more aware than I was in my youth, that solutions to many of our human trials cannot be hastened. Impatience is a form of hubris. It supposes that our limited and narrow understanding of the universe is sufficient to equip us with the answers to every life situation we encounter. I wish it were so, but so far, I’ve experienced precious few examples of mankind’s ability to forge durable solutions to any of life’s many challenges. For all our well-intentioned meddling, we have little to show for our effort.

I suspect that one of the cosmic secrets is that actions must await a time when they are ripe. Even if we know what must be done, acting too soon or too late will lead to naught. So, what are we to do; how do we know when it is time to act?

Relying solely on our senses is unlikely to prove successful—as I pointed out, we don’t have a very solid understanding of time and often lack the vision to see beyond the near-term consequences of our actions and interactions in the world. Sometimes we are called upon to act in an instant, relying on instinct, training, and values to guide us. At other times, we are in a quandary—unsure when to take those actions that will affect our desired aims.

I am no smarter about this than anyone else, but I have found three litmus tests that have served me well when I am standing at the cross roads of a decision:

Is my need to take action at this particular point in time something that arises out

of my desire or something that is prompted by an external urgency?

Am I acting out of a belief that I alone have some ability or responsibility exceeding those of others, or am I acting in concert?

What is at risk, and what, if anything, is to be gained?

The first set of questions helps me to untangle my human needs, wants, and desires which can be massively compelling, from an objective understanding of the circumstances. We are cunning creatures, and can easily convince ourselves the time is ripe because we want it to be so. By ferreting out what is impelling us to act we have an opportunity to unmask self-imposed urgencies.

The second question helps me to test for my white knight instincts. Who exactly is requiring me to act and why alone? There may be a perfectly legitimate reason to do so—but in my experience a good way to sniff out my altruistic ego is to ask whether anyone else sees the same need for immediate action. If they do then perhaps it is my job to lend my energies to a common purpose.

Finally, the last two questions are a good way to get in touch with my motives. If I cannot qualify what the risks and rewards are, and assure myself I am not acting out of self-interest, it’s a good bet I should not be doing anything more than sitting on my hands.

As readers of my weekly musings, you are surely wondering how this all relates to the theme of these posts, relationships, and especially those we have with that higher being I refer to as God. There is an expression, perhaps you have heard it before, “in God’s time”. If there is anything that almost all faiths agree upon it is that God is not operating on our timetable. He exists outside of time in general and certainly human lifetime. Sometimes, in our impatience, we get tired of waiting on God to take action, so we take it upon ourselves to act. That seldom works out well in the long run.

We do this even in the case of mundane things. When will I find the job I seek, the person who will love me, that winning lottery ticket? And sometimes we do it when we are being crushed by much darker issues—when will I or my loved one be well again, when will I be delivered from an injustice? There are of course no answers to these questions. God seldom appears to respond—though we may attribute outcomes to him if we get the answer we want or blame him if we don’t.

I am not speaking from an abstract perspective. Like most of you I have had my share of questions for God and asked him for immediate intercession. But what I have learned, both when relief came almost instantly and in –dare I say, miraculous ways, and when it did not and I was devastated in the moment, is that always and inevitably what occurred in the now did not prepare me for what was to come. It is a good thing we cannot travel in time and see our future—and equally good that we cannot spend our time living in our past. We are not equipped, because we see time as a finite thing. To see and know about future pain would not soften it a bit, even if we could see beyond it to a brighter outcome. And to dwell morbidly in our past reliving experiences however much desired knowing what awaits would rob us of our humanity.

So, I wait. I wait on God to act in his time when it comes to the important things in my life. After all, he alone can see where it’s all leading, and I trust that is exactly where I need to be.

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