The Elasticity of Time

Listen to this week’s Devotional here.


Author: Nancy Wade

The author John Green writes, “One day, you’re 17 and you’re planning for someday. And then quietly, without you ever really noticing, someday is today. And then someday is yesterday. And this is your life.”

I once heard the story of an elderly man who had recently moved into an assisted living facility. A visitor asked him how he liked his new place. He responded, “It’s fine except that they bring me meals every ten minutes.”

Was this true? Did the staff really deliver meals to this man that often? Well, of course not. But the man’s perception of time was that it seemed as if he was eating every ten minutes. Time does accelerate as we get older and more settled into our routines.

I can remember when my son was a newborn baby and he would awaken in the middle of the night to be fed. Naturally, his cries were both insistent and shrill and they would wake me from a sound sleep. Although I loved cuddling with my baby, the time that it took to feed him a bottle, to burp him, and to put him back in his crib seemed to go on forever. I often felt as if it took hours when in fact it probably took only about 30 minutes. And yet that same baby is now a grown man who will soon celebrate his 42nd birthday. It is incomprehensible to me that so much time has passed.

Temporal distortion can cause us to wish that time would both speed up and slow down. When we are recovering from surgery, the time cannot pass quickly enough and yet when we look back on the years of our life and how swiftly they have passed, there is a yearning to take a deliberate breath, to slow things down, to savor each moment.

Now that my husband and I are retired and have few time constraints, I feel as if the weeks pass in a blur. Sunday morning church services morph together and the weeks between them seem to fly by. Perhaps there is some scientific explanation for this phenomenon that I am not aware of.

It has been said that learning new things or experiencing new activities are ways in which we can slow down the clock. I find that escaping into a good book both slows down and speeds up my sense of time. An afternoon spent reading passes quickly and paradoxically, slowly, as I sink into the story’s plot and rhythm. The deep sense of satisfaction I feel when I read and actually, when I write, help me to feel as if I have used my time well.

The one true thing for me is that time accelerates as I grow older. This can be both unnerving and a blessing. It reminds me, as the years between now and the end of my life grow shorter, that I need never take time for granted. I need to spend it wisely as the precious commodity that it is.

In her poem The Summer Day, poet Mary Oliver writes:

I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.

I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down

into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,

how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,

which is what I have been doing all day.

Tell me, what else should I have done?

Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?

Tell me, what is it you plan to do

with your one wild and precious life?

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