“A man sees an odd-shaped piece of animal skin on the ground in front of him. He lashes out at it with his foot, and sends it skimming across the open, grassy field on which he’s standing. As a direct consequence of this, several million people around the world experience intense feelings of joy or despair.”
So the study guide on the Beatitudes which our small group is studying this term, starts, describes the final of the World Cup.
I read it, and prayed, “Lord, never let me squander my emotions and passion on what does not matter.”
* * *
As a graduate student in America, I watched the entire dorm transfixed by the Superbowl, Big Ten games, basketball or baseball. And here, in the UK, there’s Wimbledon, and the World Cup.
But, of course, unless you own one of the teams, or love a player, none of these things really matter.
One may root for Murray, especially if you’re British because he has an appealing underdog image. However, he’s won far more money and plaudits than 99.99 % of humanity ever will, and does not need us to invest our emotions in his success.
Allowing yourself to closely follow or really care about sporting events, or who wins an Oscar, or a Booker, or a television show is allowing yourself to care about what does not matter.
* * *
One of my daughters barely watches TV. One watches a few shows, despite my opposition: The Voice, The Apprentice and The Great British Bake-off among them.
“Child,” I say, “Don’t watch other people do stuff. Invest in your own life. Become amazing yourself.”
She: “But I don’t want to be amazing.”
Me: “Okay then, be amazingly happy. Excellence makes you happy. Doing interesting stuff makes you happy. Proceeding in the direction of your dreams makes you happy, and achieving your dreams makes you happy.”
“Invest your emotional energy in your own life; invest your time in things that matter.”
* * *
I am sorting out my books, giving away seven a week. When I come to novels, I ask myself it is worth investing hours of my life to read 300 pages of it. If it’s not well-written, no. If the plot and setting interest me, and the style is a delight, it’s a keeper.
But though I love the dream of fiction, I am increasingly choosing to read things that matter, that help me know God more, or live my life better, or that satisfy my intellectual curiosity.
Your time on earth is limited, so don’t waste it, Steve Jobs says in this brilliant video. Or to quote his fellow Reed College drop-out, Donald Miller “I believe the greatest trick of the devil is not to get us into some sort of evil but rather have us wasting time.”
* * *
As I grow older I am trying to live intentionally, not squandering time, energy or emotion on what does not matter.
Here are some of my practices:
1 I do not watch TV (except for my one addiction, blush, Downton Abbey No news. I scan the headlines online and read a few articles daily.
Like the Harvard-trained holistic physician Andrew Weil, I am convinced this is better for my mental and emotional health. He writes, “images and reports of violence, death and disaster can promote undesirable changes in mood and aggravate anxiety, sadness and depression, which in turn can have deleterious effects on physical health.”
Some of my friends get distressed and dragged down by the traumatic things they see on TV, while doing nothing about them, and of course, there’s not loads they can do. I am sure this daily exposure to traumatic, distressing or negative news, and the consequent learned helplessness seriously affects one’s shalom (and subjects of conversation).
Though I don’t have TV, I do watch documentaries on DVD, and love them. I love movies too, and probably watch at least 25 a year, carefully chosen!! Would like to watch 100 though!
2 I don’t play computer games, and rarely play board games. The only computer game I have played is chess, and I found it addictive. I play board games with my family to relax, though I think conversation is better, but hey, they love board games. With people I rarely see, I refuse to play board games, preferring to relax with conversation. (Yeah, an old curmudgeon!)
3 I have been horrified by what a black hole Facebook and Twitter can be. I am dealing with them by locking myself out of them with AntiSocial and RescueTime when I write or pray or read.
I am also decluttering my Facebook newsfeed. I only defriend if I find people’s comments embarrassing or objectionable or consistently negative, or if they overwhelm me. However, I am hiding those people whose posts annoy me because they are whiny or show-offy or present a false picture of their lives. Or if their posts are mainly negative or trivial.
Happiness is precious and time is short, and it’s insane allowing myself to get annoyed by what people post on Facebook if I can avoid seeing those posts!
I tell my daughter that she should hide posts from people she barely knows, or does not care about, or does not find interesting, so as to safeguard her time and ‘brain space”—and perhaps I will take my own advice, setting my timer, and editing my newsfeed five minutes at a time, every now and again. And, hopefully, I will end up with a Facebook which only consists of posts from people I really care about, or find interesting, as well as life-enhancing blogs.
My Twitter feed sadly has got unbelievably cluttered. It will take hours and hours to declutter, and I don’t know when I am going to do it. Eventually perhaps, I will create a single, or second, stream of life-enhancing tweeters!
I am growing acutely aware that my time and energy is limited, and time spent on Facebook or fooling around on Twitter is time stolen from reading and writing. So I am getting more serious about not wasting my time and emotional energy on what does not matter. Does not matter to me, or to the world, or to the Kingdom of God!
What are your black-holes of time? What are your practices for using time meaningfully?