#watch 29

I’ve finally done it.  After years and years of struggle and adversity,  I’ve become a stereotype.  Today happens to be my birthday, and I’ve just taken 20 or so hours worth of steps into a whole new decade in life.  It is somewhat fitting that I would find my way to being a stereotype on my birthday, especially this particular stereotype.  I’m the guy who is 30 and still living in his parents house!

Some might say that I’ve not achieved anything of note, but I would like to remind them that I have been working towards this for 30 years!  When is the last time you achieved anything after 30 years of work?  Exactly.  Let me just have this moment.  Okay…that’s long enough.

Now this isn’t true in every case of a 30 year old living in his parents house, but I happen to be one of those people who does not yet have kids.  While I don’t have kids, I do know a few people who have them, and the other day I heard on the radio a list of questions that kids like to ask that adults find themselves struggling to explain.  The one that really blew my mind was deceptively simple at first, until I tried to explain it to myself.   Just imagine an adorably small, cute, little voice asking you the following question.

“What is time?”

Go ahead…try to answer it.  Explain it to the questioning little face hovering around your knee expecting you to have the answer.   Explain to them this concept that dictates our days, hours, minutes, this infernal ticking menace that tells us when to get up and when to go to bed.  Tell them all about this great master that orders our days and measures our years.  Tell your child what time is!

I had to ask Wikipedia.


Every year on my birthday, I have a bit of a tradition.  I purchase a new watch and retire my old one.  If God doesn’t have other plans, I hope to have a decent collection of watches that I intend to have displayed at my eventual funeral.   I just bought my 4th watch since starting this tradition a few years ago, and I am still getting used to the smaller and less scratched face staring up at me from my wrist.  I don’t continue this tradition because I have any particular affection for purchasing new watches, and at roughly $40 or less, I’m not exactly purchasing heirloom quality stuff here.  I tend to wear the same clothes for decades, keep things well past their usefulness, and generally am not crazy about change.

So each year when I buy a new watch there is a bit of sadness.  A bit of tenderness for the year that has passed.  As I found myself preparing for the change this year, I discovered something new in my heart.

I really didn’t want this year to be over.

Birthdays have always been something I don’t broadcast loudly to the world, I’m just not a fan of the attention and small talk that comes with it.  I’ve never wanted to avoid the practical effect of a birthday though…why this year?

Well, as best as I can self analyse, I suspect it has a lot to do with finally reaching that stereotypical age of 30, while living in my parents home.  You see, I haven’t gotten as far along in life as most of my peers.  I don’t own a home, I don’t have a wife (or realistic expectations of one), I am not blessed with children of my own, and I lack a college degree and all the trappings of success that come along with it.  So as I reflected on where I find myself at 30, as I measured myself against “the standard”, I find myself lacking.

“What is time?” 

The best Wikipedia could do was “time is what keeps everything from happening at once”.  

Initially uncomforting, this seemingly simplistic definition has bounced around in my mind since I read it.  Even as simple as it was, I didn’t really understand it at first.  I knew what the words meant, and what the words meant in relation to each other, but it was still just an abstract concept that didn’t really bring forth the full weight of time.

Today I understood.

Most people have a song or two that speaks to them.  A piece of music that reaches down into their core and rips and tears and massages its way into your heart and life.  Imagine your favorite piece of music, all of the notes, sections, repeats, and choruses.  Now imagine them all playing at exactly the same moment.   It is meaningless noise.  Your favorite parts and their counterpoints are blended together into one giant mess of bleh!  It is meaningless…all of the beauty is stripped away.

Time is what keeps everything from happening at once.  Time brings order, beauty, and structure.  It divides sections, choruses, bridges, and refrains.  Time is in the breaks of the music, and time is in the climax.  Without it, the song is not a song.  All meaning is lost.

My 29th year has meaning because it happened in time.  My trips to Nicaragua and Haiti, my departure from my ministry position of 8 years, my mothers continued battle with cancer, all have meaning because they  happened in time.  I have grown and matured in ways I would not have expected, as a result of time passing.  Others around me have changed, and so have my relationships with them, again, because of the time that has passed in the last year.  If I had the option to play all of these moments at once, I would not be able to enjoy them or learn from them.  I do not know if this year has been a chorus, bridge, or refrain in my life, but I do know that without it, the whole of my time here on earth would not be complete.

Perhaps equally as importantly, I know that if God wills it, I could one day be living independently, I could feel the brush of my wifes lips against my cheek, and I could feel tiny little arms wrap themselves tightly around my knees and hear a tiny little voice ask me “Daddy, what is time?”.

These things could all happen, or they may not.

In the place of the above events, I could find my way overseas, taking photographs that change the world, or hiking the Appalachian trail from Georgia to Maine.  I could find myself dying from a gunshot wound in Syria, or beheaded on film for the world to marvel at, and then slowly forget.

Or it could be some unforeseen combination of all of the above, with things I have never even considered thrown in to change the tone and movement of my song.

I am grateful for the start of another measure, for more notes, for more time.  I’ll do my best to remember that my song may not sound like everyone elses, but that those differences will make my life meaningful to me.  Perhaps others will find inspiration in what they hear in my life, and a small theme from my song will work my way into theirs.

So as I reflect on my life so far, I encourage you to reflect on yours as well.  Are you playing the notes you want to?  Are you too busy focused on everyone elses song that you’ve forgotten to give yours the attentive ear it deserves?  Listen, listen for the ticking of the clock that is ordering events in your life into something beautiful and meaningful.  Wait patiently for the chorus, knowing that without the verse, the chorus means less.  Most importantly focus your attention on the conductor, master of time and space, as he offers direction and guidance, trust him to make your song beautiful and meaningful, and do not doubt him, even though it seems like he asking for the wrong thing.  He has the whole song in view, and we only know what is happening or has already passed.

Listen…the clock is ticking.

Previous watch posts:

The First Watch

Watch 28

Ecclesiastes 3

There is a time for everything,
    and a season for every activity under the heavens:

    a time to be born and a time to die,
    a time to plant and a time to uproot,
    a time to kill and a time to heal,
    a time to tear down and a time to build,
    a time to weep and a time to laugh,
    a time to mourn and a time to dance,
    a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
    a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
    a time to search and a time to give up,
    a time to keep and a time to throw away,
    a time to tear and a time to mend,
    a time to be silent and a time to speak,
    a time to love and a time to hate,
    a time for war and a time for peace.