“Taking” Time

“It takes an hour to get there.” Do you ever realise that when we talk about the duration of an activity we use the verb take? “How long will it take?” It’s an odd verb to use yet it’s such a normal part of our vocabulary that we don’t really think about what taking means. It gives the impression that our time is being used up or “captured”—it’s snatched away from us. The word comes from the Old English word tacan which means to get or capture, especially by force. Not the best way to think of how our time is used.

And time is all we have. We can’t escape it, yet we speak in a way that makes it seem time is snatched away from us. We might as well ask how much time we’ll waste. It’s as if we’re saying, “Well, that’s an hour I’ll never get back…”

Perhaps we can instead use the verb take in its first definition (in the New Oxford American Dictionary): to reach for and hold. Time is something cherished that ought to be embraced and held.

Beholding Time
Saint Ignatius doesn’t say a whole lot about time but it’s clear that he sees it as a sanctified time with God. In the Spiritual Exercises he encourages retreatants not to let the evil spirit get the best of them and to spend a full hour in prayer, not give up early. Why? Because that allotted prayer time is for spending with God. It’s holy.

Indeed any time we have is holy and special and God-given. We ought to reach out and behold it. It’s what we live in and where our memories live. When we reflect on our day (like in the Examen prayer) we are reflecting on time that is spent with God. Ignatius understood well that it is within time we operate and serve God and our fellow creature. “Be generous with your time, that is, do today, if you can, what you have promised to do tomorrow,” he once said. Ignatius instructed Jesuits to use their time according to their situation and mission. Jesuit novices are to devote much of their time to prayer. Jesuit scholastics are to allocate more time for studies.

Advice from Ignatius
Back in 1556 a brand new Jesuit named Fulvio Androzzi wrote to Ignatius from his apostolate in Italy. He was having trouble finding time to prepare his sermons. Ignatius responds by encouraging him to spend time first with the people he’s serving.

“…if little time is left for you to prepare your sermons, Christ our Lord will supply that defect. But throughout the day things might be so arranged as to give you more time, if more time is necessary, for one thing rather than for another. The good disposition and devotion of your patrons will be a great help to you in setting to order what should be better arranged….”

Yes, this Jesuit might want to adjust his schedule, but by devoting himself to the most important things (like focusing on the people he’s serving) the “order” of how his time is arranged will fall into place, and not without the grace of God. Ignatius might have a good insight here. We tend to cram our schedules so full that indeed our time is snatched away from us. Perhaps an adjustment of focus is needed.

Earlier I used the phrase “spend time”. If we think about time in this fashion, as a valuable currency—and time with God is no doubt valuable—we may want to ask ourselves how we are spending this currency. Are we spending it frivolously? I think Ignatius would say, spend it on relationships and the things that we cherish and value. Then, just maybe, time won’t be taken from us and we can instead reach out and take it, hold it, and then spend it wisely.

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