It’s About Time (To Make Peace in Your Most Important Relationship)

“Know your fight is not within; yours is with your time here.” 

–John Mayer

mindfulness

Why would four generations of formally dressed people gather in a pub on a Thursday afternoon? If you can picture it, you can probably guess.

A funeral.

Two toddlers are alternately laughing about nothing and wailing about French fries. Their mother looks tired and sad. I wonder if it’s because of the person she lost or the little people she still has. Their father wrangles one of the kids while trying to carry on a conversation. A baby boomer eats quietly, while another gives her attention to her phone and the digital distractions it contains. And sitting at the end of the table is a married couple from the greatest generation. They trade the kind of sparse but loving conversation only possible after sixty years of marriage.

I came to the pub to take a break. I invited my wife, but she told me I needed some time alone. Wise woman. Life has been moving fast. Faster than I can handle, I think, and I entered the pub hoping time would slow down a little bit.

Instead, it expanded.

Into four generations.

As I watched them, I realized: time isn’t racing by; time is marching on, at the same slow and steady cadence it has since it exploded into existence. And, as I watched the subtle and sacred exchange of love and relationship amongst four generations, I realized: there is at least one relationship in my life with which I still need to make peace.

My relationship to time.

I’m always fighting with her.

Time

I never have enough of it. I’m always trying to do one more thing and then running ten minutes late. I blame time for not being big enough for me.

When I was a kid, I always worried about the future, about death, and the next dreaded event on my schedule, like a big test or a big date. I wanted time to stop so the dreaded thing would remain on the horizon. I blamed time for bringing bad things to my doorstep.

In my youth, I’d lay in bed at night making an inventory of my regrets. I’d wish I could go back and do something over again. I’d blame time for not having a reverse button.

Sometimes, I encounter a moment so sublime I feel like the joyful ache of it will split me apart. In those moments, I want time to stop. But it doesn’t. The joy always slips away. I blame time for not cooperating with my ecstasy.

Other times, I want time to speed up. When I’m anticipating a summer week at the beach, I wish I had a time machine and could skip ahead. I blame time for refusing to quicken its pace.

Except sometimes it does. I mindlessly search the web and time suddenly slips by and I wish I had it back. I blame time for disappearing.

Time. She simply is who she is, and yet I blame her for so many of my problems. If I quit picking on her, I wonder what I would focus on, instead?

You and I

A day after I watched the family in the pub, I’m watching my oldest son perform in his school talent show.

He’s singing a song called “The Riddle,” and he’s singing it a capella in front of half of the school. It’s an ode to the passage of time and fathers and sons and the mystery of existence. I can remember the afternoon I heard it for the first time and cried because I didn’t know if I’d be up to the challenge of fatherhood. Now, a decade later, as my son stands on the brink of middle school, I’m more aware than ever of the inexorable passage of time.

The image of the family from the pub flashes through my mind—a family celebrating and mourning the passage of time—as I listen to my son add his own vocal beauty to these already beautiful words:

 I guess we’re big and I guess we’re small

If you think about it, man, you know we got it all

‘Cause we’re all we got on this bouncing ball

And I love you free

I love you freely

Here’s a riddle for you

Find the answer

There’s a reason for the world

You and I…

Life has been full of drama lately. Some of it real. Much of it of my own making. Mostly, I have just been wrestling with time. Wishing I had more of it. Wishing I could slow it down and speed it up and pause it and reverse it. But a mourning family and a singing son reminded me, while I’m fighting with time, I’m missing the people in front of me. The kids who are growing up and the wife who loves me and the friends I’ve failed to reach out to and the strangers I strip of dignity by rushing by them.

Why do we need to make peace with time?

Because until we do, we can’t find peace with people.

When we quit fighting with time, we can let it be what it is, and we can settle into this moment. When I’m able to do that, what I discover is, there is a reason for the world. And the reason isn’t getting more done or having more fun. The reason is you and I.

Time is a container for the love we exchange. No more. No less.

We’re all just here for each other.

So let’s make time for that.

You can leave a comment by clicking here.

—————

Audio: Audio will be unavailable in May, while I’m finishing a book proposal.

Next Post: Carving Out a Place in the World

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Disclaimer: My writings represent a combination of my own personal opinions and my professional experiences, but they do not reflect professional advice. Interaction with me via the blog does not constitute a professional therapeutic relationship. For professional and customized advice, you should seek the services of a counselor who can dedicate the hours necessary to become more intimately familiar with your specific situation. I do not assume liability for any portion or content of material on the blog and accept no liability for damage or injury resulting from your decision to interact with the website.

Kelly is a licensed clinical psychologist and co-founder of Artisan Clinical Associates in Naperville, IL. He is also a writer and blogs regularly about the redemption of our personal, relational, and communal lives. Kelly is married, has three children, and enjoys learning from them how to be a kid again. You can find him on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • Jasmine

    Thanks Kelly for the insights. Making peace with time – so true and relevant to our lives. I am someone who constantly multi-tasks and struggle and get bored with just paying attention to one thing. I try to complete things as quickly as I can because I feel like my brain is always in the “fast-paced” mode and I can’t make it slow down (and probably also because I am quite impatient). Interestingly, I attended a videoconference at work today in which a researcher discussed about resilience and burnout in health professionals (I work in the hospital). One of the strategies suggested that helps with resilience was to focus 100% on the task at hand and trying not to multi-task, because it does not demand as much attention or energy and we can do things at a pace that is natural. I will try to work on making peace with time – both at work and in my personal life.

    Thanks again for the post.

    • drkellyflanagan

      Jasmine, thank you for sharing this! From both a personal and a professional perspective, I’d second the idea of single-tasking. In fact, sometimes, when I can’t get my mind to slow and can’t keep it on one thing, I will narrate in my mind (maybe even out loud), what I’m doing at the moment. “Opening the fridge, taking out the milk, closing the fridge, putting the milk on the counter…” It always helps to center me.

  • Shel Llee Flexman-Evans

    Beautiful. You’re right, you know: in the briefest encounters and the longest relationships, the rushing we do can crush our sense of wonder and appreciation of the particular, peculiar, and perfectly lovely person we are sharing our moments with. Thank you for the mindfulness, Kelly.

    • drkellyflanagan

      Thank you for your alliteration, Shel. : ) I’m a sucker for them, and this one is a wonderful description of people: particular, peculiar, and perfectly lovely.

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  • Patricia

    Dr. Kelly,
    Just what I needed to read this morning, a reminder of my relationship with time. Loved the imagery of the four generations and their relationship with time. Thanks for a thoughtful post this morning.

    • drkellyflanagan

      You’re welcome, Patricia; I’m glad it came at the right time. Sorry, couldn’t resist the pun. : )

  • Life Takes Over

    This is one of the most beautiful posts I have ever read. Your insight into Time is much needed for me right now. Thank you. I am ever grateful for your writing and the time I spend reading your articles.

    • drkellyflanagan

      You’re welcome, and thank you for such encouraging words!

  • Doug Scott

    Thanks Kelly…GREAT post! Thanks for gifting us with your amazing way with words. Given some of our recent exchanges, I have a bit of insight into all of the things you have pulling on the precious few minutes of time that you have each day. And it’s a ton of stuff. I’m so glad you were able to have this pregnant pause to consider your battle with time. And in so doing and from this post, you’ve given me reason to do so as well. Thanks for that.
    As you so eloquently put, like everyone else…I’m constantly battling with time…mainly to DO something…to get everything done…and often to please those that squeak the most. And tragically, who get’s lost in my lack of margin and inability to prioritize are those who matter the most…and those who I don’t even recognize are there…being all wrapped up in DOing and my self-involvement. And that is why I often close my bedtime prayers with my girls with…”God, please help us see those people you put in our lives as you see them…so that we can love them and serve them as you would…bringing life to them and to us.” And as you stated, that likely won’t happen until we make peace with our relationship with time. Thanks again my friend. – D.

    • drkellyflanagan

      Doug, thanks again for your encouragement. I love the way you end the day with your girls. God’s at an advantage, being outside of time and all. It makes sense that we ask for his support! : )

  • An amazingly insightful post. I have often been contender with Time. I think I’ve made an uneasy truce with her recognizing her constraints bring both humility and hope. Humility in all I must recognize is beyond my ability to control, hope because all these longings point to a greater eternity.