Time is a very precious asset. As a priest, in Confession one of the most common sins I hear is the lack of time for prayer. The majority of the people realize that their prayer life lacks the breadth and the depth it should have and yet over and over they repeat the same mistake. I know very well out of personal experience what a busy schedule looks like, so I generally have a lot of compassion in this respect.
The other day however I read an interesting survey from the Bureau of Labor Statistics regarding how the average Americans spend their time, and my sympathetic mindset has been severely shook.
Here is the daily schedule of the average working American over the age of 18. Personal care activities (including sleeping) 9 hours, eating and drinking 1 hour and 10 minutes, , household activities 1 hour and 15 minutes, shopping 42 minutes, caring for others (including children) 1 hour and 44 minutes, working 5.6 hours, educational activities 5 minutes, leisure and sports 3.7 hours (out of this 1.9 hours of watching TV, physical activity only 10 minutes), volunteering 5 minutes, religious and spiritual activities 6 long minutes.
If you are as surprised as me take a deep breath then continue reading. I’m not shocked about how much people spend on taking care of themselves, nor the time wasted in front of the TV, I am shocked how little attention people give to their souls: 6 minutes a day! Everything else is more important. Of course this is an average, but an average means that some like, say, very pious people or monks, may spend considerably more time praying, while others may spend absolutely no time with God.
St. Paul’s advice, “unceasingly pray” (1 Thess 5:17), is not addressed only to some, it is a universal call. The apostle purposely brings the focus on what matters most, our relationship with God. Prayer is the only way to cultivate this relationship; the more time we spend conversing with God the closer we will get to Him, the better we will understand Him and we will conform our lives to His will. All the rest falls in a secondary place.
Life should be about defining good priorities, focusing on the essential rather than the superfluous, on the eternal more than the temporary. The statistics we saw cry the opposite; the trivial takes over the important and we wonder why the society is in a great impasse morally, economically and spiritually.
Making ends meet in a shrinking economy is not easy and a lot of our time is spent on this struggle, after work we need sleep, relaxation is also necessary to release the tension, and we can justify like this every minute we have available. There should be however ample opportunities in a day’s schedule to also concentrate on our spiritual life.
“Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you” (Mt. 6:33). Forgetting about God, putting Him always on the back burner will not make our life easier, on the contrary. God provides for all His children but we have to stay close, we have to be with Him. In God all our tribulations suddenly make sense and all our efforts pay off. “Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.” (James 1:12)
In the summer months ahead of us we have an even greater prospect, as our schedules get less busy, to use some of the extra time for the things that really matter. Vacation should not only be used for entertainment and relaxation, although this is needed too, but we should nevertheless strive to nourish our souls by reallocating some time to our spiritual development.
The opportunities are endless. We can send our children to a Church camp rather than a regular one, we can try to come to some of the weekday services that we cannot usually attend, we can attempt longer prayers like a paraklesis or an akathist hymn, we can choose our vacation destination keeping in mind monasteries or other places of pilgrimage that can provide us with the spiritual food we strive for. Open your hearts to the possibilities and God will guide your steps to Him. Have a blessed summer and may you come back stronger and closer to God.