I often fall into the trap of thinking that the busier I am, the more I’m maximizing my time, packing the most I can into this precious, ever-fleeting resource. I may be a lustful, greedy, proud, angry, jealous glutton, but when it comes to sloth, I’m innocent! Is there, however, a possibility that I can be slothful even as I’m taking five classes, working two jobs, applying for funding to support a senior thesis, writing for the Ichthus, etc., etc.? I think the answer is yes, and I do not think the solution is to pile even more activities into my already busy schedule. After all, sloth has more to do with neglecting what God wants me to do than with generic laziness.
A couple weeks ago, I completely forgot about an appointment I had made—and put into my Google calendar—earlier in the week. I viewed this oversight as an indication that I have too much on my plate. Perhaps you can relate. In the case of my forgotten appointment, there was no real harm. But I couldn’t help but wonder: what if I had missed an appointment with God? What does God have to say about how I manage my time?
I recently listened to an audio recording of the Gospel of Mark. One of the first things I noticed is how many times the text describes Jesus as doing things “immediately” in the first chapter alone: “…immediately he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove” (ESV, Mark 1:10), “[t]he Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness” (Mark 1:12), and when he meets James and John “immediately he called them” (Mark 1:20), just to name a few examples.
Not only does Jesus do things immediately, but his closest disciples do so as well. When Jesus meets Simon and Andrew he tells them, “‘Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men.’ And immediately they left their nets and followed him” (Mark 1:17-18). Simon and Andrew had just towed in one of the biggest catches of their careers, but without second thought they leave the profits behind and follow Jesus, changing their lives forever.
By contrast, while Jesus is traveling he meets another man. To him Jesus says, “‘Follow me.’ But he said, ‘Lord, let me first go and bury my father.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Leave the dead to bury their own dead. But as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God’” (Luke 9:59-60). The same goes with another anonymous man on the road: “Yet another said, ‘I will follow you, Lord, but let me first say farewell to those at my home.’ Jesus said to him, ‘No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God’” (Luke 9:61-62).
As far as excuses go, saying goodbye to your whole family or having to bury your dead father seem like a pretty good reasons to tell God that you’ll do what he wants you to do, but in a little while. They seem like a much better reason than having to study for a midterm or finish a problem set, for example. But to Jesus they are terrible reasons.
So what am I, a college student, to take away from this? First: I need to have enough room in my schedule to talk to God (pray) and listen to God (meditate). I need to ask God to plan my day and direct my thinking, and be willing to cast my Google calendar to the side when I feel a strong nudge to do something out of the ordinary.
I recently had to make a decision about how to spend a portion of my summer. Both options were good options. Both would present opportunities to serve God’s people. During my process of discerning which route to take, I had a conversation with a couple friends that went something like this:
Friend 1: “I think everyone should have a spiritual advisor that helps them to discern what God has called them to do.”
Friend 2: “I think everyone should discern in every moment what God is calling them to do in that moment and then do it.”
Obviously, these are not mutually exclusive types of discernment; the first simply has a longer-term perspective on the second. As a matter of fact, less than a week later, while praying a typical prayer (“God what do you want me to do right now?”), the thought that crystalized was to call St. Anthony’s Shrine and get a spiritual advisor, which I did immediately. His name is Barry.
Nonetheless, the second perspective strikes me more potently, namely because I exist in the present, by definition. I’m not totally sure what God’s relationship to time is, though there’s an interesting body of thought on the subject. But I do know what my relationship to time is: from my perspective, not everything happens all at once. I exist in time. I perceive moments in a roughly linear fashion, and the most relevant one is the one happening right now. How should I spend these moments? How do I know what God is calling me to do right this second? How about this second? This one?
There are a couple general guidelines that have proven to be helpful. I’ll name some in case they might be helpful to you too. (1) If I’m not sure what to do, I typically do what I said I’d do. (2) If I’m not sure what to do, I aim to honor my parents. (3) If I’m not sure what to do, I look around and see how I can be of service right where I am. (4) If I’m not sure where to eat lunch or do my homework or whether to pray first or work on that essay first or check my email first, I pause and take a couple deep breaths and quietly ask God to guide my intuition and lead my heart and feet where he wants. In short, if I’m not sure what to do, I pray. I’m surprised at how often, something I wasn’t even thinking about occurs to me (like calling St. Anthony Shrine).
I don’t mean to say that every thought that occurs to me comes straight from God, but if the thought seems to not be too absurd, I’m willing to risk it, especially if it’s something that could help me grow closer to God or serve His people. I’m nowhere near perfect at letting God inform all of my decisions, even the most mundane, but it’s an ideal I am working toward, and the more I do it, the more God puts me to work.
Since moments are happening all the time, a life lead in this way really does turn into an ongoing conversation. The lulls in conversation are filled with activity—sitting in lecture, writing that essay, praying a Rosary. I still need to plan my day in advance, figure out when I’ll do each of my school assignments, schedule in time to meet up with my friends and exercise and sleep. If I don’t use these simple time management tricks, life can feel like an unmanageable series of small crises—an unwritten paper due at midnight, a midterm in five hours, etc.—and that doesn’t help me to have the wherewithal to pause and let God direct my day either. But when I wake up and have to face a day that looks impossible, it’s helpful to remember that I can ask God to plan my day for me and have complete faith that He will do so. Each time I feel myself panicking, “How am I going to get everything done???” I remind myself, “God will plan your day.” And He does, time and time again.
For God to work in my life, I need to shut up long enough to let him talk. That is to say: my schedule cannot be so jam-packed that I don’t even notice when God is prodding me to stop what I’m doing, show up late to my next meeting, and pursue a conversation with a passing acquaintance who, at this very moment, happens to have a softened heart to hear the truth of the Gospel and just how much God loves her for the very first time. The more I’m willing to be bold about sharing my faith, to follow that intuition to call a friend I haven’t spoken to in a long time or invite the random girl I just met on the sidewalk to join my Bible study (true story), the more God gives me little confirmations that I’m making good decisions. It appears that obedience has more to do with timeliness than I originally realized. After all, Boston is a fairly big city, and I might not ever see that girl on the sidewalk again.