On Wasted Time
[Acts 6:1-7; 1Pet.2:4-9; Jn.14:1-12]
If time is life, why do we waste so much of it?
Many of us worry about wasting what little time we have. We worry about being too idle or too disorganised, or spending too much time doing meaningless things. What can we do about it?
Years ago, my father told me that if you want to avoid wasting time, then find yourself a good purpose. A good purpose, he said, is like a compass – it gives direction to your life. It gives you reason to get up each day, and it helps you set your priorities.
I’ve since learnt that for our purpose to be meaningful, it should not focus on material things (such joys are always short-lived). And importantly, our purpose shouldn’t be selfish; it’s not about our own pleasure. Good purpose is about pursuing something beyond ourselves, giving joy to others (Prov.19:21).
The BBC journalist, Malcolm Muggeridge (1903-90), lived a full and famous life, yet he called his autobiography ‘Chronicles of Wasted Time’. Why? It’s because he was slow to discover the true meaning and purpose of his life. [i]
He had long been an atheist, but his life changed when he met Mother Teresa in India in 1968. He made a TV program about her, called Something Beautiful for God. It was this program that introduced Mother Teresa to the world and made her famous. Each morning he went to Mass with her and saw how she drew extraordinary strength and love from the Holy Eucharist.
Muggeridge and his wife Kitty joined the Church in 1982. It was the most profound moment in his life, he said. He felt ‘… a sense of homecoming, of picking up the threads of a lost life, of responding to a bell that has long been ringing, of finding a place at a table that has long been left vacant’. [ii]
Someone else who wasted too much of his life was Matthew Talbot (1856-1925). Born into a family struggling with poverty and alcoholism, he soon became an alcoholic himself. One night in 1884, he found himself totally penniless and unable to buy a drink. He went home and promised his mother he’d ‘take the pledge’. He never drank again.
‘I was terribly fond of drink,’ he said, ‘but God gave me the grace to give it up; it was a great struggle for me’. He returned to the Church and became very devout in the practice of his faith, spending long hours in prayer and study.
He also devoted his life to helping others, despite his own poverty.
In his later years, he used whatever he had (even selling his own coat) to pay for church flowers, to help an elderly lady and to support the missions in Nigeria and China. He supported several convents, an orphanage and the preservation of holy shrines in Palestine. His donations were typically anonymous. [iii]
Matt Talbot was ashamed of the years he had wasted, but his newfound purpose gave meaning and structure to his life, and great joy to others.
In John’s Gospel today, Jesus is at the Last Supper talking to his disciples. It’s the night before he dies and his disciples are worried. They know he’s leaving. But Jesus says, ‘Don’t let your hearts be troubled … trust in me … I’m going on ahead to prepare a place for you in heaven’.
Here, Jesus is saying two things to us: Firstly, we must stop wasting time on our selfish desires. It’s time to trust Jesus and his plans for us.
Secondly, we must recognise that our earthly life is only temporary, for our real home is in heaven. Deep down, we know that’s true, don’t we? We know our time is limited, and that’s why we worry about wasting it.
And Jesus says something else we need to hear: that he’s the way, the truth and the life.
He’s the way, because it’s through Jesus that God helps us discover meaning and purpose in our lives.
He’s the truth, because it’s through Jesus that God reveals himself to us.
And he’s the life, because Jesus shows us how we should live.
If we’re serious about making the best use of our time, then we must find meaningful purpose for ourselves – good purpose that gives joy to others. The challenge may seem daunting, but remember that Jesus will help us find it, and the Holy Spirit will help us achieve it.
So, what’s your good purpose in life?
Let me close with a short poem by GK Chesterton. It’s called Evening:
‘Here ends another day,
during which I have had eyes, ears, hands
and a great world around me.
Tomorrow begins another day.
Why am I allowed two?’ [iv]
[ii] Muggeridge, M. Confessions of a 20th-Century Pilgrim, San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1988:13.