If I could have more money or more time, I’d take more time. No doubt.

There’s so much I want to do in this world, too much to see, to experience, to know. Nothing puts me in a foul mood like wasting time. There’s not enough of it to begin with. If I’m in a project around the house and I realize I’ve lost time to a careless mistake, I want to scream. Sometimes I do. I despise taking a wrong turn on the road somewhere, and I almost refuse to backtrack to get on the right course. I hate wasting time.

Some years ago I read that Bill Gates, one of the world’s rich’s men, said he didn’t believe in church because sitting there on a Sunday morning wasn’t a very efficient use of his time. I’ve pitied Mr. Gates ever since. He and his wife have given an impressive amount of their wealth away. It’s a shame he hasn’t learned the same important lesson about how to use his time.

I want to tell you about the best three hours I’ve spent lately.

I didn’t make a dime. I didn’t make any contacts, write any contracts, collect any business cards for future reference. I didn’t produce any goods, create any new products, conceive any new ideas. And, even being heavily engaged in the “intellectual property” business, spending a good deal of time writing and speaking, I didn’t use these hours studying for a sermon, thinking about theology, or blogging about current events and a Christian ethic. 

For a little more than three hours on Tuesday of this week, I mostly just sat. What a waste of my time.  Or maybe not.

Mary is dying. Her diagnosis of pancreatic cancer, just two weeks ago, caught us all by surprise. Like most pancreatic episodes, hers has been aggressive and unrelenting. Three weeks ago she was in the office doing her routine – and the truth is we don’t know exactly what that is, what all she does, because over the years she just picked up everything that fell through the cracks. We’ll probably be discovering these things for months.

A 92 year-old aunt and one cousin are all the family Mary has. The aunt doesn’t drive, and the cousin is busy with a medical practice, so Mary, who has walked the grounds at 3900 Park Road since there’s been a church on that corner, suddenly found herself dying, alone. I can’t bear that thought. So on Tuesday, I sat. Most of the time she didn’t even know I was there. I’m pretty sure that didn’t even matter.

Many of our church members have volunteered to do the same, pitiful, inefficient, wasteful thing, and in the words of that Mastercard commercial, that inefficiency is… priceless.

The still air is broken only by her labored breathing. Occasionally she coughs. I take a Kleenex. When she cries out, restless in her sleeping, I rub her arm. I remind her I’m there. She sleeps.

It’s not that I like spending my time this way, but despite the old adage, time is not money, it’s so much more important than that. And the paradoxical thing about dying is that nothing can teach you quite as much about living.

Mary knows more about Charlotte and PRBC than anyone I know, and even there, as she passed her time, quietly dying, she was my teacher again: the proper measure of time isn’t “efficiency.”

I need to waste more of my time more often.


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