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Different Perspectives on Time By Alec Hill

Each Generation Views Time Differently

Most young adults see the future and time as having a long trajectory. Looking ahead to a seemingly endless time horizon, they prize having novel experiences, meeting new people, and learning new things. Priorities include exploration and achievement.

By contrast, those of us who are older tend to live more in the now, to covet existing relationships, and to repeat emotionally satisfying experiences. Unlike twenty-somethings, we would rather dine with a close friend than a well-known author.

Psychologists have coined a phrase – life span theoryto contrast these different perspectives.

When Moses crafted Psalm 90 – the only poem (of 150) attributed to him – he was probably an old man. Of all the themes this great leader could have chosen, he reflected on life span.

The best-remembered words of Moses’ psalm come in the form of a prayer: “Teach us to number our days so that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” Centuries later, the apostle Paul echoed the same theme by encouraging his readers to “redeem the time.”

How exactly are we to “number our days” and “redeem the time”? Here are three applications that younger leaders might take to heart.  

Live Freely

Redeeming time means taking tangible steps to disencumber our lives. This includes cleaning up relational messes, unshackling ourselves from bad habits, and detaching from possessions that weigh us down. In other words, we make it a priority to take care of unfinished matters that hold us back and hurt others. This is important to do at every stage of life.

Broken relationships bruise our souls. Author Malachy McCourt wisely warns:

“Holding a grudge is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.”

Re-engaging positively with those who have provoked us to bitterness in the past can be liberating. Forgiveness is an amazing antidote.

Several years ago, I took Jesus’ command to love our enemies seriously by praying every Friday for a brief list of people for whom I harbored ill-feelings. One person remained on the list for eight years before the last vestige of bile left my soul. My prayer wasn’t that they would improve but that the Lord would bless them. Over time, this spiritual discipline changed my heart.

Don’t Defer Friendships

As we move along the age continuum, most of us experience a fascinating trade-off between achievement and relationships. Success becomes less important while loving others ascends as a priority.

A Harvard University study, conducted over eight decades, concludes that close relationships are more determinative of good health and psychological contentment than accomplishments. Indeed, being connected to others is a better predictor of long life than one’s job, genes, or social class. This is a cautionary reminder to rising leaders: don’t put friendships on ice while ascending professionally.   

In the movie The Bucket List, Jack Nicholson belated learned that while projects and adventures are all well and good, loving deeply is more satisfying than adding another trophy on the wall. Kate Bowler, a thirty-something Duke professor with Stage IV cancer, got it exactly right when she hung a huge sign for her husband: “YOU ARE MY BUCKET LIST.”

Slow Down to Savor Moments

Like many leaders, my life has been mostly pell-mell. So much in a hurry to charge the next hill, I sadly missed thousands (millions?) of special moments.

Cherishing the here and now is a grace from God. Being too focused on the future blinds us to what is priceless today. Strolling is sometimes better than sprinting. Reflection can be more helpful than planning.

Finding the appropriate balance between living in the present and dreaming about the future is both challenging and rewarding. Realizing such an equilibrium between the two takes a lifetime of intentionality.

Final Thoughts

When asked what surprised him most in life, Billy Graham’s reply was illuminating: “Its brevity.”

My encouragement to younger leaders is to pursue a time perspective beyond their chronological age. To better “number your days” and “redeem the time,” pursue wisdom, live unburdened, prioritize people, and celebrate the now. I wish I had started earlier.

I leave you with this final word,

“Somebody should tell us, right at the start of our lives, that we are dying. Then we might live life to the limit, every minute of every day. There are only so many tomorrows.”

Pope Paul VI


Alec Hill is president emeritus of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. This essay is exerted from his book, Living in Bonus Time: Surviving Cancer, Finding New Purpose.

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