The first six verses of Ecclesiastes chapter three state:
To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:
A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, a time to reap that which is planted;
A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;
A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.
Most people know these words, not from reading the Bible, but from their appearance in a song by the Byrds that hit number one on the charts in late 1965. Peter Seeger adapted the words nearly verbatim from the King James Version of Ecclesiastes 3:1-6, rearranging them only slightly to make them work better in the song.
His purpose in writing the song was as a plea for world peace, a not unworthy goal. However, the biblical passage from which he adapted the words is not about world peace. Instead, Solomon, the traditional author of Eccelsiastes was making a philosophical argument about the futility of existence: stuff simply happens to people, without discernible pattern or purpose. As the writer of Ecclesiastes elsewhere states, “time and chance happen to all.” (Ecclesiastes 9:11).
It is easy to become discouraged by the words of Ecclesiastes. However, despair is not really the point of the biblical author. The familiar words suggest a more positive and useful thought: that there is an opportune moment for accmplishment. That while today might not work out for you, there may come a tomorrow that will. And choices must be made now in how the hours of our lives get spent.
For instance, while you’re driving down the interstate is not the time to take a nap. But when you’re home after a long day, perhaps a nap might be just the thing you need. Maybe putting off the preparation of dinner by a half hour would be best choice. Just find out what time it is for you and act accordingly.
As an author, my time is largely my own. As with anyone who works from home, one of the biggest difficulties I face is apportioning my day. Too easy it is to get to supper time and discover that all I accomplished was reading the newspaper and organizing the drawers in my desk. While there may be a time and place for doing both, when I have a novel that is waiting to be finished, or an article I should be researching, achieving another high score on Angry Birds is not a good use of my work day.
Each day I am granted twenty-four hours. I have seven days in a week. Five of those are necessarily, and thankfully, given over for work. Since I work from home, I do not have to devote any of those hours to commuting since it takes me mere seconds to stumble from my bedroom to my office—even if I take the long way through my kitchen to snag a cup of coffee. Likewise, there’s no travel time involved in getting my lunch, and there are no co-workers to interrupt me with requests. The phone rarely rings, except for the occasional telemarketer convinced that I am in desperate need of handing over money for something I don’t need or want. Thankfully, caller ID means I can ignore him or her altogether.
A bigger danger for those who are self-employed, however, is not underwork or wasting time with Angry Birds. Quite the opposite. The biggest danger is never being off the clock, since there is no clock to punch. When does work begin and end when you live in your place of business? During some periods when I was under deadline, I would work sixteen hours a day, seven days a week.
So I have to remind myself of Solomon’s words. There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven. Work is a good thing, but it’s not always time for that.
In my own life, and in the lives of those around me, I find a lack of balance, a lack of finding seasons for everything one of the greatest dangers. Time for reflection, for entertainment, for family and friends, is no less necessary than time for work. Being productive is not just about being able to point to things I’ve done that made me money.
On occasion, it really is a time to rack up another high score on Angry Birds.