There is a saying among people who are in prison and it goes like this: “Do your time. Don’t let your time do you.”
I could tell you a few other catch phrases, but I’ll save that for another day.
It means this: You may be doing time for a number. Because that’s what happens when you are sentenced, your name gets replaced with a number. But the time doesn’t have to do a number on you.
Some of the most insightful and free people I know are doing life sentences. Maybe because life as they knew it was stripped away and all they were left with was a face off with time. They become students of it, learning that they can’t change the past, but they can impact the future. They often extend wisdom to younger inmates that enter the prison system with words of caution: be careful with your one and only life. Take a long look at the way you are living.
I didn’t plan on writing about time and living intentionally this week. In fact, the topic I prepared wasn’t even close.
But then life interrupted as life tends to do.
It happened in the form of an unwanted phone call.
A tackle to the blind side.
The possibility that was once feared, now a new reality.
And suddenly I find myself mid Wednesday trying to process the events of the day and only able to think about this topic of time.
Ann Voskamp, a favorite writer of mine says this:
“Sometimes the best use of your time is to stand and listen to a clock. We’re all terminal-and we all just want a number. What size is this bucket of time? How many days do I actually get?”
My house is silent for this brief moment. All I can hear as I write is the tick tock of the clock in my living room. I think there is part of us that wants to know our number and another part that doesn’t. If we did know, we might not fully live out our days. They might become tinged with the sadness of finality. But the same could be said for the not knowing. It can become tinged too. Because if we aren’t careful, we become careless and waste our years.
When I was little, I used to play this game with my cousins called What time is it Mr. Fox? The designated “Mr. Fox” stood at one end of the room, their back to the rest of us playing. We would ask Mr. Fox for the time. With each number called out by Mr. Fox, we would inch closer that number of steps, eventually inching close enough for the moment Mr. Fox would yell MIDNIGHT and turn around to chase us. I don’t particularly like being chased, so I’m pretty sure I squealed the loudest.
“And why am I thinking about Mr. Fox on this Wednesday evening as I write this?” I ask myself.
My heart answers:
“We are all inching one step closer to game over. You can’t change your date. But you can change your days.”
There was a time when the thought of that might have induced a feeling of doomsday dread for me.
When the what if’s loomed like ominous shadows. When I would allow myself to be filled with apprehension and wring my hands as if it might prevent an unwelcome outcome.
Two years ago, I received a message late at night that a mutual friend was killed in a motorcycle accident. Right in the middle of a warm spring, sun filled afternoon. I doubt that he woke up that morning with the feeling that his number was up. He was my same age. A husband. A father. An officer. All I could envision was the last time I spoke to him about our sons who are the same age. I couldn’t wrap my mind around the fact that he was gone.
I hear the echoing words of James chapter 4 in my mind: “What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.”
We can’t always prevent unwelcome outcomes. Even when long life and the future seem like they are guaranteed, they are not. It’s a dangerous illusion.
All we have is this moment. The very one you’re in as you read this. I hope we can learn to fully show up for it. To realize we are in charge of our own happiness. No one else is. To live and love others as if we might never get another opportunity to circle the sun.
May we do our time and not let our time do us.
Reference: Voskamp, Ann. (2017) Be the Gift. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan.