We hate to wait. Commercials, checkout lines, pages loading, trains coming, vacations approaching. If we tallied up all our waiting between the things we plan, we might find that there’d be just as many minutes given to downtime as there are offered to scheduled events. What is our response to these predictable pauses between plans?
Our first response is to fill up the time as best we can. We can do this with some purpose, or we can try plugging the time with something more arbitrary, anything. Any city subway car shows the spectrum of ways people cope with waiting. But if we just plug up all our waiting with something ad hoc and arbitrary, then we may miss out on what God wants to do with our time.
God takes time, our time, to show us what eternity is like. He uses time to show us what it is like to be timeless.
Time is inescapable—our life is measured by it every day—but we often forget that our time here on earth wouldn’t make much sense without considering eternity. And I don’t mean just that we need to live in light of eternal consequences, though that’s a meaningful thought. What I mean is that time just doesn’t make sense unless you first consider the eternal.
Time is like the shadow of eternity. To have the first, you need the latter. One is permanent, like a tree standing unmoved in the sunlight. The other changes constantly, like the tree’s shadow that not only moves by the sun’s dictation but also needs the tree for it to take shape, or even to exist at all.
God wants to take our life in time and make it like eternity. Now we might think the best way for a human life to image eternity would be for it to be long, happy, and full of years. After all, if God’s eternity is forever, then the life that gets closest to forever would be the best take on eternity.
But eternity is not like living life for a long time. It isn’t like a really, really long time because it isn’t time at all. God’s eternity is one simultaneous moment, an “instant” that transcends all time, encompasses all time, and sustains all time. Our sharing in God’s eternity, enjoyed in heaven, is seeing God face to face all in one simultaneous moment, a single instant of beatific vision that does not cease. We may see and do other things in some kind of succession in heaven, but everything will be seen through that eternal moment of seeing him, which is the way he has always seen us.
So what is the best likeness of eternity in time? What here on earth comes closest to heaven’s eternal moment?
Now. Right now. What is present. What is here. What is real. Our whole life is made up of little moments, and when each moment is present it is called “now.” Any life has big moments—our birth, baptism, marriage, when kids are born, and our last moment before dying—just as there are big moments in history—when the universe began, when the Incarnation occurred upon Mary’s “yes,” when Jesus held up the host at the Last Supper, and when he breathed his last on the cross. But our life doesn’t have to be filled with huge moments to be important. God wants to use every moment, big or small, to show us eternity.
We don’t need to worry about catching every moment that comes and goes as something slipping through our grasp. We only really need to be concerned about this moment, right now. It’s the most present and real time God uses to speak to us. As you’re reading this, or the next time you’re waiting, consider how the eternal God, outside of time, wants to speak to you now. Maybe it would be hard to talk to him for a whole half-hour, or even five minutes. But what about right now?
Image: Vincent van Gogh, Waiting Room