For many of us, keeping track of time is essential as we go about our day. In fact, we talk about it in all kinds of ways:
I’m out of time. Oh, look at the time. It’s time to go.
We have alarms that tell us when it’s time to get up. We talk about having a lunch time, a bedtime — and somewhere in between all of that, we’re supposed to find time for those we love and the things we need to do. We often don’t feel like we have much downtime, let alone time to kill. We tell others: I never seem to have enough time — and they usually nod their head in agreement, finding themselves as short of time as we are.
And yet, we recognize that life isn’t simply about finding time. We also instinctively know it’s about redeeming it.
In their insightful book, Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes, Randolph Richards & Brandon O’Brien note that in the West, we consider time to be a limited resource. We consider ourselves generous to people when we “make time” for them – while being very aware of not monopolizing others’ time. We are very much into “time management.” Many of our values are grounded in how we see time: efficiency, punctuality, planning.
Richards spent a number of years in Indonesia, and he describes the fishermen he knew there. He would tell them he had many things to do, and was worried about “running out of time.”
They asked him: How can you run out of time? There is always tomorrow, until one day there is not – and then it won’t matter.
Time is so much a part of how we live that we don’t even think about the fact that it’s embedded in the English language, with its past, present, and future tenses. I was surprised to learn from Richards & O’Brien that many languages don’t have these “tenses of time.”
Richards says that in Indonesia, worship would start at “siang,” a word that can be translated “midday.” Being a westerner, Richards tried to tie that to a time on his wristwatch, but he eventually learned that ‘siang’ was connected to temperature, not time. Once the morning turns hot, it becomes ‘siang’.
But, as Richards asks, “How do you start church at hot?”
Well, as he learned, you start church based on temperature rather than time when time isn’t your focus. You’ve likely heard that the New Testament has 2 words for time: chronos and kairos. Generally speaking, chronos is chronological time. It’s the schedule and the structure that so many of us build our lives around. Kairos, meanwhile, is what happens in moments of time. It’s the meaning of time, and the opportunity that this day, this time, provides. Or, put another way: chronos is when we show up for church; kairos is why.
As Richards & O’Brien point out: “We Westerners can focus so much on the time (chronology) that we miss the timing” (the meaning of the moment).
Chronos is what time your small group starts. Kairos is the conversation that develops with the hurting friend who meets you there.
Chronos is the class schedule that tell you what classroom to be in and what time to be there. Kairos is the deeper understanding that develops when open-minded learners consider the beauty of math, or the lessons of history, or the insight of a good novel.
Chronos is the many medical appointments our aging parents, grandparents, & friends have on their calendars. Kairos is the opportunity to learn patience as we help them get to the doctor, and develop gentleness toward them as body & mind continue their inevitable decline.
Chronos is committing to be a mentor to a younger person. Kairos is putting aside your busy day, being fully present with them for that hour.
We have no choice but to live in chronos. But we get to choose whether or not to receive kairos.
Where are moments of kairos waiting for you in the chronos of your day, today?