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Two Concepts of Time

There was a season of my life where I would reach the end of the day feeling like I had been a slave to my to-do list. I was busy running from one task to the next. And, even when the days were as productive as they were busy, I often felt unfulfilled at the end of the day. It wasn’t that things weren’t getting done; it was just that there was no time to appreciate what was being accomplished, and other times, it was that the tasks that were being accomplished were at the expense of being present with the people that matter most to me. I was overwhelmed, tired, and frustrated.

Time is one of our most precious gifts. Time is finite; we can’t “make time” (even though we often use the phrase); we can only spend it. Additionally, we don’t get “do-overs” with our time. So, we have developed and utilized tools to help us maximize our time, including watches, calendars, alarm clocks, time management apps on our phones, to-do lists, and many others. Ironically, we can allow ourselves to be controlled by these tools, which are supposed to help us stay in control, at the expense of the very moments the tools were intended to help us maximize. So, how do we break out of this cycle? Here are three strategies that have been helpful for my clients and me:

Consider the different aspects of time

In many situations, part of the challenge is that, in our culture, we tend to think of a time in a narrow and limited way. So, I will introduce the two different words the Greeks had to identify the two different ways they thought of time. The two words are chronos and kairos.

The Greek word chronos is the easiest for us to understand because it aligns with the most common way we refer to time. Chronos refers to the quantity of time. When we say, “It arrived at 3:07,” or “I am getting married in 18 days,” or “The cupcakes will be ready in 20 minutes,” we are talking about Chronos time. Most of our time management tools are built around maximizing time in a quantitative sense.

The Greek word Kairos, however, refers to the time in a qualitative sense. We tend to think about time in this way far less. However, when we say, “It showed up at just the right time,” or “We knew it was time to get married,” or “These cupcakes are taking forever,” we are referring to kairos time. Our hectic schedules can challenge our efforts to maximize time in a qualitative sense.

Of course, both understandings of time are important. A Chronos understanding helps us recognize the limits of our time and the need to act so we can move our stories forward. A kairos understanding helps us think beyond those limits to move our stories forward with intentionality and meaning.

Slow down to speed up

With a Kairos understanding of time, we can begin to see that sometimes the most efficient thing we can do is slow down and take a breath before rushing to the next thing. When we do this, we let go of anxious mental energy in favor of focused mental energy. This also gives us space to exercise a third strategy.

Ask, “What is this time for?”

When we are thinking about time with a chronos understanding, we will tend to ask questions like, “What do I have to do?” “Where am I supposed to be?” or “How long is this going to take?” In this sense, time is being spent, and we can find ourselves looking toward what’s next. But, when we are thinking about time with a kairos understanding, we might ask a question like, “What is this time for?” Asking this question can help us relax at the moment and consider taking in all the benefits the present moment has to offer. Asking, “What is this time for?” may save me from rushing to accomplish more tasks on my to-do list (quantitative) in favor of taking time to be fully present with my child who is asking for help with a school project or waiting to be tucked in at night (qualitative).

MEET TODD CRAIG: Todd currently serves as the Chief of Staff at Lighthouse Family Retreat. Prior to joining the Lighthouse staff, Todd served for 20 years as a pastor and church planter. His great passion is to motivate and empower people to live the abundant life they are meant to live. He lives in Santa Rosa Beach with his wife, Stephenie, and their three teenage boys, Ethan, Caleb, and Will.

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