“To Him to whom we must render an account” – Hebrews 4:13
About 35 years ago, I sat down to compose a complete account of what I was doing and how I was spending my time as a recently ordained auxiliary bishop here in Milwaukee. To that end, I compiled a very detailed report/analysis of my daily activities over a two-week period. I figured that the archbishop ought to have an opportunity to see what I was up to on an hour-by-hour basis, and to offer any suggestions which might make my ministry more helpful or effective. Needless to say, it was also a fascinating (and illuminating) experience for me as well. I remember being stunned to realize that I spent two hours a week just packing and unpacking my formal praying clothes for events.
A few weeks ago, I decided that it might be opportune to repeat the experience. Now about seven years into retirement, I wanted some assurance that I was using my time well, even as I enjoyed the new freedom from formal administrative duties. I continue, of course, to offer Mass during the week at the parish and around the archdiocese on weekends as needed. Driving any distance has become a bit more of a challenge. I’ve given a few talks, especially during the autumn when we were commemorating the 500th anniversary of the Lutheran/Catholic Reformation … a topic close to my head and to my heart. I still wanted, however, to see precisely how I was spending my time.
Time itself is a great gift from God, limited even though given freely. We never quite know when God may decide to call in the time cards and see what we have done with his investment. I wanted to have an honest sense of it all on this side of the great divide.
My first step in the process was to list all the various activities that make up my life these days … including some of the domestic household chores for which I am now responsible.
My various regular activities include a surprising variety from the predictable daily prayer, homily preparation, to the celebration of the Eucharist, letter writing, serious theological reading and preparation for any parish talks I may have agreed to accept. There are the mundane things like email, meal preparation, lighter reading (novels), YMCA senior exercise programs and brisk walks in the neighborhood, shopping errands by auto, plant and aquarium maintenance, meals, an afternoon nap as needed, a quick trip to the Cousins Center for the mail and the inevitable social chatter in the house or parish office. I even included a category for time spent watching TV, playing solitaire on my computer while waiting for something else (just to get an honest handle on the amount of such distractions) … and the realistic category of simply looking out the back porch patio window. Each activity was assigned its own specific number.
Then I developed a single-sheet grid form which spreads out each day from 6 a.m. to 9:30 p.m., dividing the day into little squares, each representing a six-minute segment.
I carried the pad with me every day for two weeks, noting the corresponding number of each activity to which I dedicated that particular six-minute segment. I was surprised to realize that virtually nothing takes less than six minutes, no matter how inconsequential the task.
The final assessment of the results is still under scrutiny, but the entire project has been illuminating, even if sometimes annoying and bothersome. Perhaps only a retired Biblicist could come up with such a bizarre self-study or project. I quickly realized, however, that I initially spent more time with solitaire that I had realized, and cut it back … and that it was easy to become engaged with reading great murder mysteries at the expense of the finer magazines to which I subscribe.
With the New Year, and another year in blessed retirement, I again realize the great gift given to me, and I am determined to make the best of it without becoming unscrupulous, self-centered or ungrateful. On Holy Saturday evening each year, the Western Church inscribes the year’s date on the Easter candle and solemnly declares:
“Christ, yesterday and today, the beginning and the end, the Alpha and the Omega. All time belongs to him, and all the ages. To him be glory and power, through every age and forever. Amen.”
I decided to take that prayer seriously, and not only at Easter. It’s a great New Year’s exercise. Having determined all-too-clearly the “what” of my life, I now face a more thoughtful reflection on the “why” and the “how.” I commend the exercise to anyone crazy enough to give it a try.
Happy New Year.