Our Superstition of Time


This thing all things devours:
Birds, beasts, trees, flowers;
Gnaws iron, bites steel;
Grinds hard stones to meal;
Slays king, ruins town,
And beats high mountain down.

— Gollum’s riddle to Bilbo Baggins in The Hobbit

Time. It terrifies and preoccupies, captivates and desolates. We obsess over how to spend it, how to save it, how to use it, and how to gain it. To the busy man, time is his prison and his poverty, for he has no time.  To the leisurely man, it is his liberty and his wealth, since he has all the time in the world.

But all this is vanity (cf. Eccl 3:1-19). Why? Because time is not man’s to have. It is not a piece of property like a chair or a desk; nor can we possess it like money or clothing. We cannot have more or less time. We cannot have all or no time; we cannot “have” time at all.

In one of her books on prayer, Servant of God Catherine Doherty insists that “we must lose our superstition of time.” Her point is both provocative and profound: time is not ours to give or to receive; it’s not ours to have or to hold—and to think otherwise is to attribute to man a power he does not possess. It’s as superstitious as imagining that the health of my mother’s back depends upon my attentive avoidance of cracks in the sidewalk.

If we give up our superstitious belief in “time management,” we will come to see that, as Doherty delightfully notes, “God laughs at time.” Divine Providence encompasses all, sees all, knows all, orders all. In one eternal now, all things lie open before the all-knowing God. Nothing surprises him. Nothing inconveniences him. Nothing frustrates him.

God possesses time, and human beings are possessed by time. Let God be God, and let yourself be human. You don’t have to order the world—or even your own life—according to a detailed plan of your own making. Trust in the goodness of God’s plan for your life. Giving up the superstition of “our” time makes us available: available for prayer, available for charity, available for God, available for our neighbor. This is, at least in part, what it means to “render unto God what is God’s.” Let God laugh at time in your life. It may be the most liberating thing you ever do.

Image: Mikhail Nesterov, Solovki

You May Also Enjoy:

Putting Last Things First I remember hearing the story of a priest who, when asked for advice on how to avoid future sin, encouraged his listeners to dig a ditch and lie in it for a few hours while contemplating eternity. Whenever I tell this little tale, the response it provokes is more often a fit of laughter than a trip to the tool shed in search of a shovel. And rightfully so, the story is meant as a joke. (Although, I understand that at least one man was given the di...
Ere the Final Falls Editor’s note: This is the fifth and final post in a series highlighting the corporal and spiritual works of mercy during this Jubilee Year of Mercy. The souls of the just are in the hands of God and no torment may touch them. It seemed in the eyes of the foolish that they were dead … but they are at peace. (Wis 3:1–3) Boromir, shot with many arrows, fails to defend the hobbits from being taken by the wicked orcs. Aragorn finds him as he lie...
Prayer, Wisdom, and Exams When I was in college I often took delight in the Letters to the Editor of the student newspaper. It was like a circus of the absurd: in the left circle, the freshman, full of sound and fury, who has just realized that the dining hall will not be serving meat on the Fridays of Lent; in the right circle, the alumnus who is inexplicably still concerned about the daily affairs of an institution he has long since left; and, center stage, well worth t...
Cartesian Discernment Discerning a vocation is a daunting yet necessary component of being human. And yet, the rhetoric which governs many conversations pertaining to vocational discernment betrays a certain fear of choice and anxiety about the results. Perhaps you’ve participated in conversations containing such standards as these: “I think I’m called to marriage, but I’m not sure.” “Maybe I’m supposed to be a priest, but I don’t know whether to go diocesan or re...