Uncle Screwtape, the master tempter, in C.S. Lewis’ great work, The Screwtape Letters, writes a letter to his nephew, Wormwood, about the best ways to tempt humans. He mentors the junior tempter to convince his human that he has plenty of time. By wasting time, the devil can keep him from doing good acts. Screwtape writes:
“You no longer need a good book, which he really likes, to keep him from his prayers or his work or his sleep; a column of advertisements in yesterday’s paper will do. You can make him waste his time not only in conversation he enjoys with people whom he likes, but also in conversations with those he cares nothing about, on subjects that bore him. You can make him do nothing at all for long periods. You can keep him up late at night, not roistering, but staring at a dead fire in a cold room. All the healthy and outgoing activities which we want him to avoid can be inhibited and nothing given in return, so that at last he may say…’I now see that I spent most my life in doing neither what I ought nor what I liked.’”
Time underscores the one thing we have in this world that we can truly control.
In an ideal world, I might have learned the importance of time management through penetrating spiritual insight with the primary goal being, the good of my soul. In the real world, however, I learned to budget my time better by becoming a freelance writer and starting my own sports website.
My motivations aside, the importance of making precise use of time is crucial for making the most of our lives, both professionally and personally. I’ve found in business the annoying tendency to get sidetracked into all kinds of little projects, which don’t have economic value. Conversely, it takes sustained effort to focus on the activities that have higher value.
What’s interesting is that the high-value activities are the most rewarding in a personal, as well as a financial sense. Even if I’m not sure an article will draw traffic, the high-value projects always leave me with a good feeling when I’m done—a sense that something positive is happening. Conversely, when a low-value project is completed I almost feel annoyed at myself for having bothered.
When you’re in business, making these measurements is a requirement, both financially and for personal sanity. For people married and with kids running around, or for single parents, it’s necessary to keep the household moving along.
But what about for the single person living alone? Is it really that important to measure the hourglass that precisely?
I believe the answer is yes.
The value of time on this earth was not created for businessmen or those with kids. It’s a universal principle that applies to everyone, and wherever we are in life, God has something he wants us to accomplish. For single people this is more difficult. The ways in which they should spend their time is not as readily apparent by their state in life. The single person has to carefully discern God’s plan.
This can lead to all kinds of challenges, including time-wasting activities that clutter the mind and achieve nothing.
We are all guilty of indulging in time-wasting activities—for me it is aimless surfing the Internet—but the focus of our lives has to be on building value. Perhaps it’s a unique contribution to human culture (if you’re artistically inclined) or lifting people up (if you’re able to volunteer time). Maybe it’s rebuilding a relationship within your circle of family and friends or reaching out and expanding that circle. No matter what we are called to do, we must ask ourselves: How can we build value if we are too busy wasting time?
The need to maximize time has to be seen in a Catholic context. It doesn’t mean rushing wildly from one thing to the next, as the fast-paced American culture would have. It means having the strong spiritual foundation of prayer and then maintaining the consistent mental focus necessary to keep on track.
As Father Time passes on his duties to Baby New Year, make a resolution to invest your time in doing good. We’ll never master it, but we can at least try. And through our efforts things will get better for us, and those around us.