Before I had children, I thought time belonged to me. I was its keeper, its planner, and its organizer. In high school, I had a detailed schedule of homework each night: math, French, and chemistry in its neat box, awaiting my confident check mark. In college, I had lists in every notebook of what tasks I needed to accomplish, sometimes writing down things I had already done in order to feel the satisfaction of marking it complete. I reveled in luxurious Saturday and Sunday hours, sitting on the “sunny side” of the student center at a table in the corner, setting my face to my future with the precision of the metronome I kept long after I had stopped taking music lessons.
And then Jack was born, and my neat plans, my metronome, gave way to a car full of medical equipment and size one diapers and the many quilts family and friends had made him. There wasn’t room for my old way of doing things. There wasn’t room for my check marks and lists. There was only room for the hospital breast pump and the coolers of frozen milk.
I think all mothers — all parents — experience this: you pull the car into the driveway and bring the baby inside, but when you go back out to the car, looking for your old, familiar way of life, you can’t find it. It’s a bird that took flight out your car window, and all you’re left with are the quiet snuffles of your newborn and the deep ink-stained sky.
I spent Jack’s first months still making lists, still trying to check boxes. I survived my classes under a halo of NICU nightlights, writing papers while he slept. I plowed through the monthly boxes of medical supplies, keeping a running tally, keeping myself busy checking and rechecking what needed changing, what we had too much or not enough of. I made lists that grew exponentially longer in the hours I slept, and I would wake only to remember that there was so much more undone that I hadn’t even thought to write down.
I resented myself for how short I fell by these measurements. But even more, I resented the requirement that I give up the measurements. How else would I make progress? How else would I achieve those dreams from the sunlit college days? How else would I become who I most wanted to be?
Then, on a Tuesday morning in February, so early the sky was still inky black, we drove Jack to the Children’s Hospital to have his cleft lip surgery. He slept in his blue husky puppy pajamas on the drive down and tried to roll over in the hospital bed wearing a tiny gown printed with boys and girls in scuba gear. When they took him back, I felt my heart go with him. We waited in the pre-op room, the door cracked open to listen for the footsteps of the surgeon telling us we could go see him on the PICU floor.
I had brought a list of things to keep me busy. There were papers to write and blog posts to grade for my TA assignment. I was hoping to finish a chapter of my book. But every minute that passed, my backpack stayed unopened. My husband and I watched old episodes of Happy Endings through headphones. We paced. He went to get us coffees and pastries from our favorite café in town. The backpack seemed to beckon me, a promise that if I devoted myself once again to that old way, I would make my way — our way — back towards something controllable, something predictable.
But that old way was gone. In its place was my son. In its place was his wild and beautiful life, the waiting for a surgeon who does the work of cutting and shaping the most delicate skin and muscle. The old way, the metronome, the control, fed me a story where I was secure without God, where I could live by my work, where the boxes I checked off were a guarantee of my safety, maybe even my salvation.
But then I learned to move through rooms, through hallways, through whole weeks and months without anything to keep the time. I learned to let my son lead me around surprise corners and through narrow doors. I learned to trust that when I could not hear Jesus, He was still walking next to us, He was still close by. As I slowly chiseled away those old plans and expectations, I realized that time belongs to God, and He asks us to offer it up with open palms.
This hour is Yours, how should I spend it? This day is Yours, how do I love You in it? This life — so long, and so short — is Yours, how do I follow You through it?
When Jack came out of that surgery, I held him in a reclining chair in his PICU room for almost 18 hours. He slept and slept. He drooled blood on my chest, his lip bruised with a new kind of beauty, his tiny hands tangled in my shirt. I held him, and the day arced away from us. It seemed like we were inside eternity, him and me, each hour wider than the next. Time belonged to God. I believed He stretched it before us, He made it beautiful, He gave us an infinite gift in a finite space — in a chair, in a few hours, with my son’s tiny hand pressed against my skin.
It’s hard to remember how I once understood time. It’s hard to believe that I once imagined I was in control of it, that I could make it obey me, that I could achieve those sunlit dreams by my own power. Now, standing between me and those years and that way of being are my two children. Standing between me and that old story of progress is their beauty and their light. Standing between me and the checklist I once cherished are these minutes of laughter, these minutes of grace, these gifts of the infinite.
Michele Morin says
I also have a complicated relationship with time, and feel very accountable for every minute as if time were a scarce commodity or an endangered species that needs protecting. By me. Continually, I come back to the Truth that “my time is in His hands,” and every minute is a gift from Him. Thanks for this glimpse of your life with Jack–I look forward to reading more.
Bev @ Walking Well With God says
I remember the days of long lists to check off. I admit, I still like to check things off, but I don’t have such high expectations of how many things I’ll accomplish and if some things have to move to the next day, then so be it. I believe our lives are a continuous journey in surrender. Giving birth or adopting suddenly removes us from the self-absorbed centers or our worlds….big time. We surrender our own agendas. I often wondered how something so little could order my days and nights? Trials, unmet expectations, crucibles in life make us let go of self-sufficiency and ask for help. Fear, anxiety, worry, and doubt eventually make us surrender our hearts and trust to God…..or we don’t, and we remain adrift in turbulent seas. Learning to let go and surrender – be it time, our kids, our doubts, or ourselves – I believe that is what this life is all about. Jesus died so that I could let all the things that weigh me down go and I could live…..truly live. Thank you for a spot on dose of Truth.
Robbin Miles says
Bev, there is so very much truth in your words. Thank you for allowing God to speak through you regarding this. God Blees.
Thankyou Hilary and Bev. Such beautiful and wise words. Bev ‘I believe our lives are a continual journey in surrender.’ Yes!!!! Thankyou. This tells me so much.
Oh, how I struggle with good use of time and guilt. And the struggle is in what is considered “good.” My boys are now 19 & 21 and I still make lists and write things down just to cross them off. If I don’t write it down, I’ll forget until the moment it’s important. The struggle causes anxiety, especially when I’m off work in the summer and there is no “schedule.” Then I have to decide each day what is a good use of time. I try to give my time to God daily and I don’t think He is disappointed. It’s my own silly, worldly expectations that disappoint me. I’m not sure how to change that permanently. I have to lean on Him more every day! Praise God for His faithfulness!
Beth Williams says
We are a people who want control of our lives. Trusting God with every aspect of it is hard for many. We all want to know what the future holds & how we will accomplish all our life’s goals. I enjoy making lists & telling people how much I’ve accomplished. I have heard talks about time & surrender. God graciously gives us 86,400 seconds in a day. We need to think how best to spend that time. Each day starts a new. You can’t hold over time from yesterday. We need to use it judiciously. Young people think they have their whole lives to achieve their goals. Nothing could be further from the truth. God can take you home any day. As I’ve gotten older I realize God will order our lives. He will show us how best to spend the time He has given us. He may ask us to quit a job & help an aging parent or only work part-time. It can be a delay in your dreams to fulfill what He wants in your life. Like you said “Time and everything we have belongs to God. He asks us to offer it up with open palms. Our prayer should be God how can I best use the time you’ve given me today?
Today I’m reminded of how great God is. This post couldn’t have been timed any better. As my to do list gets longer instead of shorter and my stress level increases your story reminds me to listen to what God wants me to accomplish and what is really important. Not what I think needs to be done. Thank you all for sharing.
Sarah Walker says
This describes me and my approach to time perfectly! What a beautiful reflection, thank you. I thought I had a great handle on time management all throughout college and grad school, but now I find myself still struggling at times to leave the definition of productivity to God. My oldest is 4-1/2 and we are expecting baby #3. God is so patient with us as he teaches us to entrust our time to him!
What a beautiful reminder and conviction of my heart and entitlement that slowly creeps in. It’s ironic (not really) that your story and devotion come to my inbox on the heels of making a decision to clear my calendar and commitments for this fall with the exception of one or two things. It was an impression that God had given me and He was requesting this time. It humbles and excites me and scares me all at the same time. So here I am, strangely, with open palms, fear and tears running down my face handing my life and my time to Him – scared of what events may or may not take place but also a bit of hopeful anticipation to see what the Lord will do in this time/with this time. Pray for me to be immediately obedient, strong and courageous.
Thank you for sharing your beautiful experience. Praying for you and your family now.
Oh, this is so, so, good. What a beautiful reminder that He who equips us to do His work is the Keeper of time to do such work. I am not a keeper of the time. This is a powerful and sometimes painful reminder I seem to keep needing. Thank you for sharing your heart and story with us!!
Lynn Koukal says
Everything becomes beautiful in His time, as they are meant too, as I learn and practice nestling instead of wrestling. Trusting God’s ultimate goodness for the life He planned for me. Truly letting go and letting God have His way, made perfect for me in Jesus.
Missy Robinson says
This beautifully describes the way our life becomes so much better and larger than our lists. I remember those days of rocking away the hours, with nothing but time before me. How I wish to return for just a moment…
Hilary you have expressed time management so meaningfully with your story of love and kindness thank-you. i hope that all is well with your son.
We can try to fulfill what we consider as important on our to do lists, but that doesn’t mean that they should have priority. After months of travelling back and forth to Children’s with our youngest son he got the clear. But as time wore on he began to fade, and we had to rush him down to Peds. to start a new life. Nothing on my to do lists could of prepared me or us for what was to come, a lifetime commitment of jabs, needles, and a team of wonderful caring people. Throughout this whole new learning experience, we too have been reminded that time does not belong to us, but rather to God who will be there to comfort, strengthen, and guide us.
Have a blessed day all,
Houston McGuirk says
I needed to read this today. I am struggling to grasp and gather all the time “I have left” with my son as he enters his final year of high school and with my daughter as she enters the final year of being at home before school starts… I cry and worry and fret, instead I should surrender, enjoy and love. Thank you for that reminder.
So beautifully written, Hilary. My husband was born with a cleft lip/palate…back in the ’60s when it was unusual for babies to survive it. Oh how times have changed. Praise God for medical advancements that make this a hopeful process for cleft babies/families of this generation. — Time sure isn’t the same after motherhood, is it? It’s more complicated in an exhausting and beautiful way. And, you’re right…an offering. 🙂
Connie Rowland says
Thank you for sharing your beautiful story with us! What a blessing it is to know that God is the keeper of our time, not us. May we relinquish control of it over to Him and allow Him to give us peace. Blessings to you!
Rachel Kang says
Poignant, powerful, and jam-packed with gospel truth. The sister/caregiver (to my older brother with brain damage) in me is saying yes & amen to this.
Michelle Stiffler says
Hilary, fantastic piece! We journey hard to reconnect with former versions of ourselves, only to find we want control more than connection, time more than today. Thanks for pointing me back to Jesus.
Hilary, thank you for sharing. He wants to be in each moment and I understand the desire to plan and direct our own paths. I have found that, too, when I let go and let God, He is faithful to take us in our best direction and He is ever with us along the way. But I do sometimes forget…
This year all 3 of my kiddos will be in school full time. I started making a list of what I could do with the “extra” time. I needed this story as a reminder to first consider how He wants to use the time. Praise to the Lord for His timing!
Stephanie Rolen says
This is beautiful truth and you have a lovely way of expressing it. It is moving. I had to come back and read it again today.
Thank you Hilary and everyone for your story and comments. I love that- looking for your old familiar life and you can’t find it. My family has teased me for years about my lists! I thought I was alone in this.
I read somewhere that Time is a gift not a threat!! Those words have helped me relax so often when I remember them!!
Lori J Anderson says
Thank you so much for sharing your touching story. After being myself in a tragic accident at Christmas-time in 2015 the concept of time is so much about letting go of it, for me, too. Trusting God w/ every morsel and season of time. I agree: “It’s hard to remember how I once understood time (before my accident). It’s hard to believe that I once imagined I was in control of it, that I could make it obey me, that I could achieve those sunlit dreams by my own power.” I so relate. Misty eyed reading your story; your loving perspective touched my heart this morning. May God bless you my sister in Jesus Christ. In His love, Lori
Rebecca Jones says
I used to think I had wasted it, waiting on Him when I should have doing something, because I was left out of things, health issues, but I read that He never wastes time, He exists in eternity and redeems it, so now I know He holds it in the palm of His hand.
Theresa Boedeker says
Do I believe I control time? You bet I did, and still believe that lie sometimes. Like you, I had my first child. And suddenly I realized how little I could control. Actually nothing but myself. Which is a pretty hard task. I would rather control my to-do list, or the course of my day, or what’s for dinner, or planning the Ladies Brunch for 500 women, because all these seem easier than controlling myself. But since I am only called to control myself, that’s what I am working on. Controlling my actions and reactions. Do I still have a to-do list? You bet I do. But I am learning to hold it gingerly and make room for different outcomes and cross off dates than I imagine. This way when my husband asks me to sit with him on the porch swing for half an hour, I stress a lot less and can let go of what I had planned to be doing. And when a friend texts me that her baby was born dead, I can drop my plans and grieve with her. Because I am learning that people are way more important than my to-do list and my plans of controlling my day.