Life is defined and determined by time. Your life begins on a certain day and ends on a certain day. What happens in between those days defines who you are and how you have lived. There is, or at least there should be, an urgency about these "in between" days. The beginning day is known, but the last day cannot be known. Each of us lives with an uncertainty regarding the amount of “in between" time we have been given.
Time Moves at Different Speeds
This "in between" time is strangely elastic. During times of pain and tragedy it slows, crawling by in agonizing delay. In times of great joy and happiness time flies by quickly, making these times feel fleeting.
In the middle times, the times between sorrow and joy, time is even more puzzling as it appears to be both slow and swift. From day to day as we execute our normal routines the days seem to plod by slowly, but collectively it appears to pass quickly.
When you encounter someone that you have not seen for some time you ask them how they are doing or how they have been recently. They usually answer, "Oh, we're hanging in there. Same old, same old." The implication is that life is just creeping by, marked by no particular problem or pleasure. The conversation will soon turn to the last time you met and how long ago it was, and one of you will remark, "I can't believe it was that long, where has the time gone?" Life seems to be flying by, how has it passed so quickly?
We experience this especially keenly in the context of family. When your child is a baby, waking three times at night and crying through the day, life seems frozen. You stagger from day to day, trying to force your fuzzy mind to address the needs and challenges you face. This seems to be never ending, but one day you look up, startled to find a child that is beginning to look less a child and more a young man or woman. Stunned, you ask yourself, "Where did the time go?”
The Key is the Middle Time
Here is the challenge. The two extremes appear to be set. Life will inevitably appear to slow down in tragedy and speed up in joy. If there is any control that we can exercise over the apparent speed of time it is in the middle.
To fully use and experience this blessing of life we must treat the "in between" time with urgency, for we don't know how much is available. Times of tragedy and joy will force this urgency upon us, so our challenge is specifically with the middle time, the majority of days that lie between remarkable tragedy and joy. It is here that we have the opportunity to define our life. It is these days that we must employ to define and shape our accomplishments. It is these days that will be used to measure the worth of our life.
It is important that we learn to wisely use the middle days.
To understand and recognize the necessity of paying attention to the middle days you must first accept that there will be an end day. If you refuse to acknowledge that there will, indeed, be an end day, then it will be impossible for you to understand the urgency and importance of the days leading up to that day.
Imagine the End
There is a simple, yet powerful, exercise that you can use that will give you a perspective that is essential to understanding how to use your middle time. Robert Lewis calls this exercise "sacred ground." The sacred ground exercise is simply creating a small space of quiet time and turning your thoughts and imagination to your final day, and then slightly past that final day.
Face and acknowledge the reality that there will be a final day. Then, allow yourself to drift past your final day and turn and look back. Imagine yourself looking back across the scope of your life. You can trace the contours of the life up until your present time. This is known territory, but it is what comes afterwards that should be your focus. What has happened between your current present and your imagined end? What has your life been used for? What have you accomplished? Whom have you blessed? What wrongs have you righted? What important work have you done? What challenges have you overcome? What evils have you defeated? In short, what has been the worth of your life? What have you used it for? How have you lived?
Now, take it one step further. Imagine yourself just past this life on earth, ready to enter eternity on the other side. What if your experience of eternity was determined by how you used the time that you had? Look back over your life once more. Are you comfortable with your accounting of time so far? Will the eternity factor make a difference on how you will use your remaining time?
This can be an incredibly powerful exercise. Employing your imagination to take you out of your routine and above your life gives you much needed perspective and a different angle for viewing your life that often brings great clarity. Asking yourself what you see and what your life has been forces you to consider what it is that you want your life to be. What do you value? What is important? What seems important, but from this perspective isn't? What seems urgent, but from this perspective is trivial? What has eternal value?
Looking backwards from your imagined end allows you to see what is really important. Knowing what is really important allows you focus on what you really need to spend your time on. Knowing where to focus your time means that you are able to live deliberately, redeeming the time that you have been given and using it to the fullest measure.