"Thanks and thanks again to Him who offers to the man whom the sorrows of life have assaulted and left naked–offers to him the fig leaf of the Word with which he can cover his wretchedness." -Søren Kierkegaard

Passing Time

Posted in Day-To-Day, Philosophical, Theological by matt on Monday, May 31, 2010

There’s a story I love about a conversation between Alexander the Great and a man he called a “gymnosophist” (meaning wise, naked man). The conquerer arrives at the Indus river (now in Pakistan) with his army and finds the gymnosophist sitting buck-naked and staring up at the sky.

Alexander: “What are you doing?”

Gymnosophist: “I’m experiencing nothingness. What are you doing?”

Alexander: “I’m conquering the world.”

And they both laughed, thinking the other person foolish.

Gymnosophist: “Why is he conquering the world? It’s pointless.”

Alexander: “Why is he just sitting around doing nothing? It’s a waste of a life.”

These are the kinds of East-meets-West collision stories that have made me rethink the phrase, “time well-spent.” The two men had very different perspectives on life that were a direct result of the stories they told themselves, and that dictated how they spent their time.

So which is the right story? Which one was wasting his time?

In our transitions and travels between Thailand and America, I’ve found there’s a lot more to adapting in a new culture than just jet-lag (kind of a no-brainer, right?).

In Thailand it felt like we had all the time in the world. We were busy, for sure, but it didn’t feel that way. Everything was mai-pen-rai (the Thai equivalent of “hakuna matata”) and no worries.

It was frustrating because, to us, it looked like laziness, but we came around to it over time.

But now that we’re back in America it’s a totally different feel. You’d be lucky to score eye-contact with someone, much less spend unscheduled quality time with them. It makes me think of the Kenyan proverb, “All westerners have watches, no westerners have time.” We’re addicted to the busy feel. We are, in a sense, conquerers.

It’s been frustrating because it looks too hectic, but we’ll come around in time.

So, for me, this begs a lot of questions: how are the differing viewpoints on life and time reconciled? Are they? Is there a right or wrong here? Should we be “conquering the world” or “experiencing nothing?”

At what point am I staying too busy, pursuing efficiency and accomplishment at all costs? When am I slacking, wasting my own time and the time of others?

Or maybe it depends on the person. Maybe God just made some conquerers and others…naked ponderers? I’m not sure, but I do know that God made work and rest to be a part of our lives and that there’s a mandate on us to work and rest well (though the gymnosophist wasn’t exactly resting, you get my point).

The Bible has been helpful here – particularly passages in Proverbs and Ecclesiastes about work and the meaning of life, as well as the story about Martha in Luke 10. I’ll keep reading and processing all this! I thought I should post some profound resolution, but I’m just not there yet. It may be too much of a balancing act to ever ‘arrive’…

How about you? What are some things that have helped you with what you consider time well-spent? Any advice for me?

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