Our newsletter series on my new book, Beyond the Offering Plate: A Holistic Approach to Stewardship, launches today. First up is writer and pastor, MaryAnn McKibben Dana on the topic, “Stewardship of Time.” In our culture of busyness and endless to-do lists, what does a Christian approach to stewarding time look like? MaryAnn suggests a Christian view invites us to look death straight-on, without fear.
Next week the series continues considering stewardship of work.
Adam Copeland, Center for Stewardship Leaders
Stewardship of Time
MaryAnn McKibben Dana
Last year my daughter played a lioness in her middle school’s production of The Lion King, which meant the soundtrack was on high rotation in our house for several months. I always get a lump in my throat when Simba finally assumes the kingship of Pride Rock, a role he’s been resisting for much of his life. Though his father is gone, he will always be with him -- Simba is connected to the great “Circle of Life.”
Just as touching for me is a simple line tucked into that song: “There is more to see than can ever be seen, more to do than can ever be done.”
I’m touched by the paradox that while we are connected to something eternal, we ourselves are finite, painfully restrained in what we can experience in this life.
That paradox is what I like to call Psalm 90 theology:
Lord, you have been our dwelling-place in all generations… from everlasting to everlasting you are God…
The days of our life are seventy years, or perhaps eighty, if we are strong; …they are soon gone, and we fly away. (vv. 2 and 10)
The eternal God is our dwelling place. But God’s eternity doesn’t give us unlimited time. When we’re tempted to inflate our own importance, Psalm 90 brings us back to size. We need that psalm to remind us that we’re never truly in control of our own lives. The days are soon gone.
Psalm 90 reins us in when we’re tempted to stress over the small stuff. Writer Anne Lamott tells the story of shopping for a dress with her friend Pam, who was dying of cancer. Anne turned around in the dressing room and said, “I don’t know… does this one make my hips look big?” Pam looked back at her with great love and said, “Oh Annie… you don’t have that kind of time.”
“Don’t blink -- it goes by so fast.” It’s the rare parent of young children who hasn’t been hit with that advice by more seasoned parents. I marvel at the passage of time and how it shows itself in the people around me -- the crinkles deepening around my husband’s eyes, the dimple on my fourteen-year-old’s face that hasn’t changed since she was three, or the top of my son’s head that won’t fit under my own chin much longer. The days are soon gone.
It’s absolutely essential, I believe, to be intentional about how we live our days: how much activity we pack into our lives; whether we are attentive to the people around us, or perpetually beholden to technology’s buzzes and dings, and our own easily distracted minds.
The tricky aspect of stewardship of time as opposed to other forms of stewardship is this: we never really know how much we have. As a 45-year-old, I know what my actuarial tables say. The number’s not far off from the psalmist, who confidently assures me that the days of my life are seventy years, or eighty if I am lucky. But there are no guarantees, and I know it can be gone in an instant.
Yes, our material possessions can also disappear without warning. Hurricanes and tornadoes rip homes apart. Lehman Brothers collapses; the pension vanishes. But such catastrophic events are rare. And anyway, it’s stuff, which can often be replaced. What can’t be replaced are people: the young mother, cut down by cancer; the father of three on the verge of retirement, felled by an undiagnosed heart condition; the teenager in the car spinning out of control.
It feels macabre to bring up death in this way. Yet for me, it’s the foundation of a faithful stewardship of time. God is eternal; we are beautifully and painfully not. Knowing I will die someday doesn’t paralyze me; it animates me. If I am one without hope, I’m going to try to deny death, or cheat it. If I can stand on my Christian hope, however, I don’t need to fear death… but nor should I squander this gift God has given me.
*Want to read more? A fuller version of this post appears in the new book, Beyond the Offering Plate: A Holistic Approach to Stewardship, edited by Adam Copeland. To order visit: Amazon, Westminster John Knox, or Barnes & Noble.
The Rev. MaryAnn McKibben Dana is a writer, pastor and speaker living in Virginia. She is author of Sabbath in the Suburbs and the forthcoming Improvising with God. Her writing has appeared in TIME.com, The Washington Post, Religion Dispatches, and the Christian Century, and in a regular column for Presbyterians Today. She is a mother of three, a haphazard knitter, and an occasional marathoner. Connect with her at her website, The Blue Room (theblueroomblog.org).
We invite you to attend, “Beyond Abundance: Faithful Stewardship Language to Fit Our Realities” a daylong stewardship conference at Luther Seminary, Aug. 23, 2017 (10 a.m. – 3 p.m.). For more information, and to register, visit this website.