Embracing the spiritual work of spending time wisely

June 16, 2024 at 9:00 a.m.

By Mary Morrell

 This month I will be 72 years young, though my knees might argue the point. I walk with a cane for the most part and am happy to have it. It’s great for getting boxes and cans off the top shelf in the supermarket, and it’s a reminder to me that I have finally learned to accept who I am, with all my imperfections. That’s growth, hard earned and long in coming.

There have been many lessons to learn over that many years, and one I am still trying very hard to fully embrace is my respect for time, our most valuable gift from God. I began to consider the meaning of time in earnest the year my father died. I had driven to Albany with my six children to visit him and my mom, and, as might be expected, things get crazy when you are trying to pack up the car and round up the kids to start the journey home.

As I drove away, I looked in the rearview mirror and saw my dad standing in the street waving us good-bye with a forlorn look on his face. I realized I had not given him a hug or told him I loved him before I left. I consoled myself with the thought that I would make up for it the next time I saw him. But there was no next time. I let unnecessary obligations keep me from making my next planned weekend trip, and on that weekend, he had a massive heart attack and fell into a coma from which he would never wake up.

It is still painful to recall the image of my dad waving us good-bye, but the loss was a transforming experience for me. Following his death, as I was cleaning out his den, I came across a book of poetry. Tucked between the pages of Carl Sandburg’s poems was an old newspaper clipping with a quote attributed to Sandburg: “Time is the coin of your life. It is the only coin you have, and only you can determine how it will be spent. Be careful lest you let other people spend it for you.”

When I read this quote, it was like a cold cup of water in the face. Truly, I was letting other people spend my time, but I had never thought of it in that way. I could hear the theme of one of my mom’s favorite soap operas: “Like sands through the hourglass, so are the days of our lives.” In his own unique way of sneaking up on me with some gem of wisdom, my dad was helping me move forward with my desire to use my time wisely, something which he had learned well in living through the Great Depression.

But honestly, it has been a real challenge to be intentional about how to spend time, and to have insight enough to know when other people are using my time without my consent. Part of the process has been learning that I should be the one making the decisions since time is the coin of my life. I wouldn’t give anyone access to my bank account and tell them to “have at it!” Why was I basically saying the same thing to others about something more important – the days of my life.

Since then, In my world of introspection, time moved to the top of the priority list, as I tried to build a spiritual frame around it, in part because it is a spiritual endeavor, and partly because I was trying to find a reason to justify my saying, “No” more often to people and circumstances – a word that is incredibly hard for me but essential for anyone trying to be intentional with time. To help me stay on track, I include Psalm 90:12 in my prayers, adapting it slightly to make it personal: “So, teach me to count my days that I may gain a wise heart.”

Today I find that God, like my dad, likes to sneak up on me as well, with bits of wisdom, often in nature and often in others who have already learned their lessons. The “nos” have become easier and patches of peaceful unencumbered moments rise up when least expected.

This morning, as I pulled around the building to park my car for work, a young deer ran, leaping and seemingly bouncing, through the tall grass that borders the offices. Then she would stop, look around and return to her obvious enjoyment of her life. I stopped my car just to watch and spent five minutes inspired by one of God’s beautiful creatures doing what I have been trying to do more of for a lot of years. It was a good start to the day.

Mary Morrell is editor-in-chief of The Catholic Spirit, the Metuchen Diocesan newspaper.

The Church needs quality Catholic journalism now more than ever. Please consider supporting this work by signing up for a SUBSCRIPTION (click HERE) or making a DONATION to The Monitor (click HERE). Thank you for your support.


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 This month I will be 72 years young, though my knees might argue the point. I walk with a cane for the most part and am happy to have it. It’s great for getting boxes and cans off the top shelf in the supermarket, and it’s a reminder to me that I have finally learned to accept who I am, with all my imperfections. That’s growth, hard earned and long in coming.

There have been many lessons to learn over that many years, and one I am still trying very hard to fully embrace is my respect for time, our most valuable gift from God. I began to consider the meaning of time in earnest the year my father died. I had driven to Albany with my six children to visit him and my mom, and, as might be expected, things get crazy when you are trying to pack up the car and round up the kids to start the journey home.

As I drove away, I looked in the rearview mirror and saw my dad standing in the street waving us good-bye with a forlorn look on his face. I realized I had not given him a hug or told him I loved him before I left. I consoled myself with the thought that I would make up for it the next time I saw him. But there was no next time. I let unnecessary obligations keep me from making my next planned weekend trip, and on that weekend, he had a massive heart attack and fell into a coma from which he would never wake up.

It is still painful to recall the image of my dad waving us good-bye, but the loss was a transforming experience for me. Following his death, as I was cleaning out his den, I came across a book of poetry. Tucked between the pages of Carl Sandburg’s poems was an old newspaper clipping with a quote attributed to Sandburg: “Time is the coin of your life. It is the only coin you have, and only you can determine how it will be spent. Be careful lest you let other people spend it for you.”

When I read this quote, it was like a cold cup of water in the face. Truly, I was letting other people spend my time, but I had never thought of it in that way. I could hear the theme of one of my mom’s favorite soap operas: “Like sands through the hourglass, so are the days of our lives.” In his own unique way of sneaking up on me with some gem of wisdom, my dad was helping me move forward with my desire to use my time wisely, something which he had learned well in living through the Great Depression.

But honestly, it has been a real challenge to be intentional about how to spend time, and to have insight enough to know when other people are using my time without my consent. Part of the process has been learning that I should be the one making the decisions since time is the coin of my life. I wouldn’t give anyone access to my bank account and tell them to “have at it!” Why was I basically saying the same thing to others about something more important – the days of my life.

Since then, In my world of introspection, time moved to the top of the priority list, as I tried to build a spiritual frame around it, in part because it is a spiritual endeavor, and partly because I was trying to find a reason to justify my saying, “No” more often to people and circumstances – a word that is incredibly hard for me but essential for anyone trying to be intentional with time. To help me stay on track, I include Psalm 90:12 in my prayers, adapting it slightly to make it personal: “So, teach me to count my days that I may gain a wise heart.”

Today I find that God, like my dad, likes to sneak up on me as well, with bits of wisdom, often in nature and often in others who have already learned their lessons. The “nos” have become easier and patches of peaceful unencumbered moments rise up when least expected.

This morning, as I pulled around the building to park my car for work, a young deer ran, leaping and seemingly bouncing, through the tall grass that borders the offices. Then she would stop, look around and return to her obvious enjoyment of her life. I stopped my car just to watch and spent five minutes inspired by one of God’s beautiful creatures doing what I have been trying to do more of for a lot of years. It was a good start to the day.

Mary Morrell is editor-in-chief of The Catholic Spirit, the Metuchen Diocesan newspaper.

The Church needs quality Catholic journalism now more than ever. Please consider supporting this work by signing up for a SUBSCRIPTION (click HERE) or making a DONATION to The Monitor (click HERE). Thank you for your support.

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