Time is a precious commodity. We only have so much of it, and we have to be able to use it well. The problem is, there are myriad ideas of what using time well looks like. Every worldview, every religion and every life philosophy will have something to say on how to live your life well. But I’m not just talking about the span of a person’s entire life here; what happens if we think about how to get the most out of a particular part of your life: a new job or, appropriately for me, your university years? Is the concept of getting the most out of that time even the best concept to work with? It quickly becomes clear that this is a topic in which questions are everywhere and answers are scarce.
Common among Western teens is the idea with the cringe worthy title of ‘Y.O.L.O’ – You Only Live Once. It started out as (and perhaps still is) a joke on social media sites (#YOLO) but it’s actually a pretty good description of the worldview of many of our culture’s young people. It’s the idea that, assuming that this life is all that there is, you should go and have as much ‘fun’ as you possibly can before you die. This normally involves drinking heavily, as well as many other activities that are probably more likely to shorten your one life than anything else. Of course, it can be a positive idea too: this attitude can lead to trying out new things that you otherwise may not have had the confidence to try; it can lead to cutting out hesitation where hesitation would really only waste time. However, on the whole, the Y.O.L.O attitude on life really isn’t for me.
In my first week at university, it didn’t take me long to realise how much there is that I could do here. Travelling around the stalls at Freshers’ Fair, you realise that there are so many potentially amazing activities to try out, but just not enough days in the week to do them all. As well as that, you have to be able to include some more unstructured social time and time to get all your work done. What this lack of time has done has forced me to look at the options I have available and decide what’s most worthwhile. In fact, it would be very easy to use up almost every evening doing something involved in church or the Christian Union. Some Christians would probably ask what’s wrong with this, but is a life in which all your socialising is done in Christian circles the best thing for us? Did Jesus only socialise with those with the same beliefs as him? As a Christian, I would feel that I was missing an important aspect of my life if all I did was associate with other Christians (even though you’re all lovely people).
So what now? I’ve mentioned ‘Y.O.L.O’ and the problems that I’m facing around organising my own time, but where do I go from there? I don’t have enough time to look at what every worldview says on time usage; I don’t even really have time to look at a few, so I’ll stick with what I know in the knowledge that, if you’re interested enough, you’ll look up the other worldviews yourself. The author of the book of Ecclesiastes (probably the elderly King Solomon) had a lot to say on the topic of time, life and meaning. Perhaps the most important question raised (and sort of answered) in Ecclesiastes is, ‘what is meaningful?’ I say ‘sort of’ answered, because much of what Solomon writes about is concluded to be meaningless reasonably swiftly. The philosophy that does come through, however, comes through strongly in 3:1-14. There is the idea that God has created the world in such a way that everything – from speaking, to dancing, to dying – has a prescribed place in the world, a prescribed ‘time’. But perhaps one of the most startling verses is 11: ‘He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.’
It’s a powerful verse, and one of my favourites. It sticks out through the gloom of Ecclesiastes like a buttercup in a wasteland. That said, it can be hard to know what to do with those ideas. As a Christian, it’s important for me to realise that actions often have eternal consequences; ‘Y.O.L.O’ doesn’t apply because, well, ‘Y.A.L.F’ (you actually live forever). Although everything we do now is done within the strict confines of what we perceive to be linear time, there will come a day when these actions mean something for whatever perception of time we have in eternity. It’s a fascinating subject. The point is, we need to think a little more deeply about what we do with our time than we would if we were just trying to have as much ‘fun’ as quickly as possible. We’re not talking short term here, we’re talking eternal term. This means that we need a little bit more thought, but that is understandable when the stone you throw into the pond can produce everlasting ripples. This idea can be scary, yes, but it can also be amazing. If you aren’t sure if there is a God, or which religion (if any) are true, then I would argue that there is nothing more important for you to do than doing whatever it takes to be sure, because if you sit on the fence all your life, you’ll never be able to use your time in the best way possible.
So whatever your worldview is, it seems obvious to me that we need to use our time here on Earth as well as we possibly can, but it’s worth bearing in mind that those actions might reach beyond our lives here, into something that, at present, we can only imagine.