Stewardship of one's time. Philippians 4:13, "I can do all things through Christ which strengthens me."
As previously stated when many hear the word stewardship they immediately think of finances. However, there is much more to Godly stewardship than our finances. As Christians we are called and held to a different standard, a higher standard. Not only does this include our finances but, also our time management skills.
Time management is an area that I personally find challenging. For many years I couldn't understand why because time, in and of itself, is concrete. We all have 24 hours per day, 168 hours per week, 727 hours per month, 8,760 hours per year. Time is non-discriminatory. All of us, each and every one, has been allotted the exact same amount in any given day, week, month and/or year. I used to ponder, "If time is so concrete then why do many of us, especially me, find it so elusive?"
Once my husband and I grasped the concept of "managing our money" and we stopped allowing our "money to manage us", our perspective changed thus, helping us to improve our financial situation. Upon realizing that I had personally grasped and, through trial and error, had successfully implemented this change in my life, I had a personal revelation - "I found time to be elusive because I was not managing time, I was allowing time to manage me." I realized that I needed to establish my priorities, make a plan and work my plan.
There are many, many, many tools readily available to assit one in planning out their time - aka time management. However, try as they may, I still see so many people struggling with this issue. It seems like they've tried every idea and tool available and they still have trouble grasping that ever elusive thing we call time. In my own personal situation, all the tools and ideas failed because tools and ideas are not where one begins when it comes to time management skills. I had skipped previous steps and evaluations and I have a strong suspicion that many others have too.
The first area of focus in learning to be a good steward of one's time is prioritizing which, consists of three steps. The first is to recognize the season of our life. The second step is to accept the season of our life. Time may be concrete but the seasons of our lives are not. They are ever changing. Most of our lives will consist of four seasons. They generally include a spring, summer, Autumn and winter. Spring is the time of our life when we are children and teenagers. During this season, our time is, for the most part, managed by others. We then progress into our summers. This is the period of life that is the most adventurous AND busy. We enter adulthood, careers, marriages, and train-up our own families. The third season of our lives is autumn. Autumn, I think, is one of most beautiful seasons. Our careers are established, our husband or wife has become an extension of our self ("...and the two shall become one") and we can see the fruits of our labor in our grown children who are starting their own careers, marriages and families. During the autumn we have a tremendous oportunity to mentor the younger generation who is experiencing the summer of their own lives. Finally, most of us will experience a winter. These are the conclusion years of our lives. They complete who we are as a person. These years are meant to be grand because we get a glimpse of our legacy. We see our grandchildren grow up and some of us get to see a fourth or, for those of us who are really blessed, a fifth generation branch forward.
We must learn to recognize where we are. We must be content with and embrace the season we are experiencing. I find myself to be abundantly blessed in that I have been given an Indian summer. In regards to weather, an Indian summer is most commonly know as an extended summer. The heat of summer lingers, the trees keep their green leaves a little longer than usual and it often feels like the cool crisp air and the beautiful multi-colored leaves of autumn will never arrive. In my specific situation, my eldest child is 17 years older than my youngest. By the time I enter the autumn of my life, my husband and I will have have been growing and training up our family for approximately 37 years. Now days, most people's summer season lasts approximately 25 years. I am blessed with an Indian summer. I find it unfortunate that many seem to have a very difficult time entering the autumn season of their life. They continue to be too involved in their adult children's lives OR they make the terrible mistake of unnecessarily taking on the parenting role of their grandchildren. (note: I am not referring to those who are forced into parenting grandchildren because of the death, incarceration or other extended circumstance of their own children.) Here of late, I have met many folks whose children are adults, but mom and, sometimes, dad still drives them to the doctor for minor illnesses or check-ups, these adult children go to mommy's house when they have the flu (with all the grandchildren in tow), mom and/or dad is contacting prospective employers after job interviews, mom and/or dad is taking sides or getting overly involved in marital disputes ... this list could go on and on. It is obvious that these folks have either not recognized that the summer season of their life has ended OR they refuse to accept it. They are attempting to create their own Indian summer. They are doing themselves, their own families and society a great injustice. They are missing out on the joys and wonder their own autumn. How sad skipping autumn and jumping from summer into winter without the magic and scents of autumn. They are stealing their own children's summers by not allowing their children the satisfaction of victory of independently overcoming challenges. And they are robbing God of the mentor ship they have to offer the church and society.
The third step in prioritizing has to do with our relationship with Jesus Christ. Where is He on our list of prioritizing? I know many will scold me because I haven't placed Jesus before recognizing and accepting our seasons. However, I ask - when we haven't recognized or accepted the season of our life, how can we begin to put Jesus first? If we are living outside our season, aka out of order, then we will have a very difficult time placing the Lord in the position of first. Leviticus 27:30, "And all the tithe of the land, whether of the seed of the land, or of the fruit of the tree, is the Lord's: it is holy unto the Lord." I believe this includes our time. Our time has been given to us by the Lord. He has determined how many seasons we will spend upon this earth. We should gladly and with thanksgiving give 1/10 of it back to Him. We are all allotted 24 hours each and every day. The tithe of our time equals two hours and forty minutes to be set aside for Lord daily. This time should be spent in a combination of studying His Word, prayer, preparing for a Bible study class (as an attendee or instructor), volunteering for various outreach ministries, etc. We must recognize the season of our life we are in AND accept that season so we can then best prioritize our time with the Lord and still accomplish all the things we need and want to accomplish during each day.
The second area of focus when learning to a good steward of one's time is in recognizing the absolutes in our lives. The daily absolutes in my life are: time with the Lord, time with my husband and children, home schooling, preparation of meals, and the keeping of my home. When I began to scrutinize my priorities, I realized that I had confused many desires/wants with absolutes. For instance, I had a desire to be "super home maker extraordinaire" - I wanted to sew all my daughter's and my clothes, I wanted to cook and bake absolutely everything from scratch, I wanted a spotless home, I wanted my home decor to look like a magazine advertisement, I wanted the largest garden my property could provide, I wanted my garden to be as clean, neat and well designed as the one's in the gardening catalogs and how-to books, I wanted to home educate my children, I wanted to be active in the women's ministry, the kitchen ministry and the children's ministry at my church, I wanted to volunteer in my community, I wanted to be available to babysit for friends and family, I wanted all the gifts I gave at Christmas, birthdays, anniversary, etc. to be homemade, the list went on and on.
We must all stop for a moment and ask, "What desires/wants am I confusing with absolutes?" Homemade clothing and gifts, a beautiful garden, exquisite home interior are all very nice but, are they absolutely necessary for one to enjoy a simple and peaceful life? Are these desires/wants preventing us from giving back to the Lord? 2 Corinthians 9:8, "And God is able to make all grace abound toward you; that ye, always having all sufficiency in all things, may abound to every good work". When it comes to prioritizing our life, God has already given us an abundance of grace by allotting us 24 hours each and every day. It is our responsibility to prioritize that time sufficiently so that we may accomplish good works for Him. We must give some serious thought to our time management absolutes and desires/wants.
When I became aware that I had confused wants and absolutes with regard to effectively managing my time, I had to figure out how to get things in order. I began keeping track of exactly what I spent time doing each and every day. During this period, I kept a small pocket sized notebook and would quickly jot down various tasks/activities, the time began and the time finished. For instance, I wondered exactly how much time did I spend every day preparing meals and cleaning the kitchen? How much time did I really spend watching t.v. or surfing the internet? How much time did I spend in an average day taking or making telephone calls? How much time did I spend looking for things because of inadequate organization? At the end of the month I was very surprised by my tally. For instance, I found out that I spent more time watching t.v. and taking telephone calls than I had previously thought - I found that I had allowed many things to creep in that were robbing me of the time God had allotted me each and every day. These "time robbers" were also interfering with my relationship with the Lord.
Once I identified "time robbers", I made a list of my absolutes and the tasks/activities required to accomplish these absolutes. When examining the time spent with/for the Lord, I must be careful that the "work" I am doing does not interfere with or replace my relationship with the Lord. Other women my age are taking on more challenging areas ministry. As exciting as this is and as temping as it is to become involved with, I must recognize and accept that I have been blessed with an Indian summer. My ministry priorities, husband, children and home, are still very time consuming because our younger children are elementary aged. The Lord, my husband and children expect me to be their mommy 24/7. Unlike their older brothers, they are not yet adults and thus, they require intimate care on a daily basis. Whereas our adult children are busy enjoying and building the summers of their lives. To the older boys we have become mentors and are no longer their primary care givers. I strive to be wise with my use of time, thus I have had to step away from some areas of ministry and, as much as I'd like to be involved, I've had to decline some ministry opportunities. A time will come when I will need to transition into the autumn season of my life. When that time comes, the Lord will have a ministry suited specifically for my talents awaiting me. This same concept applies to my relationships with my husband and children. I must also guard myself so that the "work" (home schooling, cooking, cleaning, keeping our home) done for their benefit, does not become a replacement for their relationship. It's O.K. if we eat a quick meal of leftovers from paper plates once or twice per week. This allows us more time to spend together. It's O.K. if our home does not look like a picture from the "Southern Living" magazine. I promise you, our children would rather have a relationship with mommy than a "picture perfect" house to live in. Remember, I also have adult children, so I know this is a factual statement.
Once we recognize and accept the season of our life and we prioritize our absolutes, we are then ready to focus on the planning and working the plan areas of our lives. Next time, I will share some ideas that I've tried, sometimes successful and sometimes not. It is my prayer that you will take the opportunity this teaching has afforded and begin a new journey toward becoming a good steward of your time.