As a child I received a calendar every year for Christmas. The intent of the gift was most likely practical, but maybe it planted the notion in my head that time itself was a gift — the freedom of childhood like a long summer that eventually had to come to an end. “Trivial things light fuses in the memory,” said the writer Patrick Leigh Fermor. I appreciate the calendars even more now. They were trivial then, but lit the fuse for something the illuminates the world for me now.
I open my calendar every morning (now on the computer). It might as well be a part of the rest of the pastoral litany that opens the day, fitting somewhere between prayer and Scripture. And maybe, like the other two daily practices, the calendar is just as much a conversation with God. How does the old cliché go? We make plans and God laughs. Maybe this means that I can amuse God every day with the calendar — because the day never goes the way it is written.
Recently, a friend sent a note wondering if people wanted to guess at the due date for his wife, who was expecting a child. The baby was due in a few weeks and he wanted to make a game out of it. The game was on him, as the next day he sent a text with a picture of his new baby.
That things rarely go according to plan may say something about the nature of God. The Episcopal priest and writer Robert Farrar Capon once told a quick story: “Once upon a time, there was a musician who complained that half the notes he wanted to play were not on the piano. They lay, he claimed, between the keys where he could never get at them.” The man took up the fiddle instead.
Maybe the limits of time are like keys on a keyboard — notes that we play to build harmony in life. I know that there are six things I need to accomplish today, and I can put them in order from most to least important. I can assign time to each one of them. God prefers to play on the notes between the keys.
It has been enough years in ministry that I’ve started to notice this more. Even if you’re not in ministry, you may have noticed this too. (This is to say nothing special about ministers. My operating assumption is that ministers are life’s remedial students. God puts us in places where it’s our job to pay attention.)
Maybe it goes something like this: the day begins with a routine but is interrupted by a sick dog and the vet only has one appointment at the most inconvenient part of the morning where you had already scheduled a meeting. At the vet’s office you listen to the story of the woman next to you who just lost her mother and is now taking care of the dog that was left behind. Maybe that’s where you were supposed to be instead.
You can spend three hours one afternoon getting frustrated trying to fix a lawnmower before getting a call that someone is at the hospital and you need to go. You remember that there are much more important things in life that can be broken.
I used to dread meetings because I thought so little got done. Then I realized that the point of meeting wasn’t to get anything done but to be with people. You go to the meeting so you can have the conversation with the person afterwards. The conversation wasn’t on my calendar, but it was on God’s.
This is hard for people who like to plan. Prayers to God for direction with specific time constraints don’t always work. Making a calendar in light of God’s eternity is like lighting a match in the wind. Calendars, actuarial tables and five-year plans don’t reveal the grace of God because they work. Sometimes they reveal the grace of God because they don’t.
“But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son” (Galatians 4:4).
We don’t often think of time as full. Full of what? Opportunity? Challenge?
I’ll keep making calendars, filling up the time as best I can. God will play all the notes in-between.
Will Scott is the pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Dalton. His column appears the fourth Friday of the month.