A FEMININE FOCUS
Redeeming the Time - At Home Sally Davey
What do you (especially those of you who, like me, work mostly at home) say when someone asks the dreaded question - what have you been up to lately? What have you been busy at?… Why is it so hard to answer specifically, when one is responsible for managing one's own time at home? It would be so much easier - and seemingly so much more acceptable - to be able to say, “Oh, I've been flat out at work.” It's as if the simple difference of driving out the door and spending the day in someone else's organised employ means you've been worthily occupied. Many is the time I have struggled to recall what I've been doing to the satisfaction of a kindly interested asker! Some would say it's simply that homemaking is demeaned in modern eyes as unworthwhile activity - and certainly, the subtle temptation is to amplify one's description of one's home-work to something that at least sounds professionally acceptable, especially when the asker is a professional friend. Then, there are those hard-working types who regard activities like housework as something to be achieved in a half-hour each morning - surely you could be doing something more worthwhile the rest of the day? Again, others imply that unless you are doing something which makes some money (however little, as a tangible sign of activity) you are an idler. Usually this sort of person is not too enthusiastic when you tell them you have been spending time reading - whether it be background for bible study, reading to know the Lord better, or simply getting to know great works of literature somewhere between lunch for the shearers and the ironing! This is a problem. It is a problem because it has to do with the difficulty of deciding what is useful activity and what is not. And in deciding, we need to be clear in our own minds before the Lord, not just scurrying for the approval of man.
Much of the answer, I believe, is found in Paul's urgent plea to the Ephesian church that they redeem the time, since the days are evil (Eph. 5:16; KJV). I'm sure you've often heard the expression “redeeming the time ” - but have you reflected on its meaning and implications? Usually, people use it to suggest we should pack more quick, efficient little tasks into our daily routine - like memorising a verse while we do the dishes, or cleaning an extra window or two while we wait for someone who's five minutes late coming in for lunch. But it means a lot more than that. Paul's command actually helps us sort out the big question of what is important, and what is less important use of time as well. Coming in the context of a series of warnings to be on their spiritual guard, Paul's exhortation to “redeem the time” is a plea that the Ephesians focus on what is spiritually important. He has just finished urging them to avoid any involvement in immorality, coveting and idolatry; to shun (even expose) the “deeds of darkness” of others around them. They are to make efforts to “learn what is pleasing to the Lord”, and to “walk not as unwise men, but as wise.” This is the context of the command to “redeem (some translations have `make the most of') your time, because the days are evil.” It is clearly a plea to seize one's opportunities to do what is important in God's eyes, and to do it with all possible urgency. Matthew Henry, so helpful for practical application, explains that this verse teaches us to seek out, as an eager buyer or merchant, time and opportunity to do God's work. There is force and urgency in the command - we should be “after it”, with drive, so to speak. And why? The verse gives us the reason - because the “days are evil.” Most commentators observe that the Ephesians faced, or were about to face, persecution for their Christian faith. Who knew how long they would live? Would they shortly be prevented from speaking openly about Christ? Then they should seize every possible opportunity for speaking about Him now, lest their time were limited. But as well as that, they needed to take every opportunity to learn how to please God. The need to do this in evil days is obvious. There is so much around the Christian that tempts him or her to do otherwise than pleasing God. Wasting time and opportunity in this respect is not only sin in the first place; its is going to lead to further sin of all different kinds. This principle was true for the early Christians; and it is just as true for us today. We live in a world which desperately needs to know Him; but it is also a world which tempts us to do everything other than know Him and serve Him.
So how does this principle translate into daily choices about time-allocation? Clearly, it means deciding what is most important and then pursuing it with vigour. If we are working on the basis that our lives are short (Scripture reminds us of that in so many places) and that our opportunities to serve Christ are met with every kind of opposition in this world, then it behoves us to strive with all our energy to choose carefully those kinds of activity which will most nearly meet that goal. Of course, we have to do this in the general context of our calling in life. For most in paid employment, the choices have to be fitted around the high priority of serving their employer. But for those of us who are homemakers, the possibilities are truly endless. We, after all, have the advantage of managing much of our own time!
A first point could be that we have responsibility to manage our time well. Sometimes the sceptics are right about those of us at home - we can become absent-minded and unnecessarily slow. How many times have you been like me, and marched purposefully into a room, only to find yourself unable to remember what it was you went in there for? What about the 15-minute afternoon tea which became an hour when the romantic novel got really interesting? Or the friendly phone call about prayer needs which slid unnecessarily into a 2-hour gossip? A good friend of ours, a time-management “nutto” at his job in computing, admitted once, when he had to be at home for a week-long stretch, that he'd gained a huge new respect for women at home. He found himself spending whole days without achieving anything useful, due to frittering the time away. He reckoned that homemakers who got a lot done had to be really disciplined! The challenge is big, I must admit. I've just read a book on the Proverbs 31 woman* that stressed the importance of time management, even advocating going to seminars to learn techniques. It was very motivating, and I've certainly gotten a lot more done since - for instance, the author's point about getting up at 4 a.m. and launching into the housework in the cool of the day has set me thinking that it isn't such a disaster to wake at 4 and not be able to get back to sleep. Gardening is cooler then!
However, one can become over-obsessed, and I can't help thinking that if one's sole focus is on time-use efficiency the overall spiritual goal of getting to know God and serving Him better can be lost. This is particularly true when it comes to getting-the-work-done versus time for people. Too much emphasis on the former means temptation to resent the casual popper-in as the person who “stole” the half-hour you'd set aside to clean the pantry! (But maybe you are more sanctified than me, and are only too delighted to forget the ironing for a while when someone drives in the driveway!) Women at home are able to do important work for people. To put this in perspective, evangelical churches all over the world are noticing how much less they are able to do in the way of helping ministries and outreach, now that women are so often busy at work and other things during the day. After all, we at home are the ones who have the time and opportunity to do all those important things - the encouraging phone call, the thoughtful little email, the carefully-written card that says “thank you”, the meal for the mother too sick to cook for her family. When it comes to eternally beneficial help for others, our ever-busy professional friends could well envy us, if their own thinking is straight!
But the last thing that occurs to me overshadows all the rest. That is the principle of using our time well to know Christ. Remember the story of Mary and Martha? You could say they were both homemakers, and had discretion over the use of their time. Jesus commended Mary for choosing the better way to spend it. Martha believed she was serving others - and she was - but Mary was redeeming her time (her Master was with her for such a short time!) by learning from Him. We can follow Mary's example in the choices we make in our own time management. Do we have a high priority on bible study and prayer? Do we put aside time to reflect on Christ and His love for us? Do we stop to consider how the important truths about salvation should be reflected in everything that we do? Are we really living lives that glorify God and enjoy Him? Are we, for instance, serving others and burning to tell them about the way to be saved because we love God? It's only as we put time and effort into knowing God and learning how to please Him (Eph. 5:10) that we will be getting the practical, everyday things in our life right. And this, in reality, is what redeeming the time is all about.
* The book on the Proverbs 31 woman is Elizabeth George's Beautiful in God's Eyes (Harvest
House, 1998). It is excellent.