Redeeming the time

“Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, making the most of the time, because the days are evil” [Ephesians 5:15-16].

To “walk”—in the context of this epistle—is a metaphor for how we conduct our lives.  We can live wisely or unwisely.  To “walk” unwisely means that we can easily resemble a “fool.”  Avoiding such a “false step,” but on the contrary walking with wisdom, will depend on how much effort we put into “making the most of the time.”  This can also be translated as “redeem the time.”  To “redeem” the time is, first, not to “waste time,” especially on what is superfluous.  More positively, it could mean to spend our time in worthwhile pursuits, seeking to do the good in all of life’s various circumstances.  We are children of God at all times, not only when we are in church or before the icons in our domestic prayer corner.  How we live and how we interact with others is basically how we express our Christian faith on a daily basis.

On a deeper level, to “redeem the time” could also mean to sanctify time, both remembering and honoring the fact that the full expanse of our lives—our “lifetime”—is a gift from God, for as humans our lives unfold within the time of this world as created by God.  Our time is limited because our lives are of finite duration.  An awareness of this can go a long way in how we appreciate—and therefore “redeem”—the time.

We are drawing closer to the celebration of the Lord’s Incarnation.  We can “redeem” this time within the rhythm of ecclesial time, the time of the Church.  We need to pick up where we perhaps left off for the long Thanksgiving Day weekend.  We have “feasted” along with our fellow Americans; now let us fast as Orthodox Christians.  To squander a season of preparation before a Feast by neglecting prayer, almsgiving and fasting is to act “unwisely” if we claim to be serious Orthodox Christians.  Any struggle against our lower instincts to eat, drink and be merry as the most meaningful pursuits in life is one sound way of redeeming the time.

The Apostle Paul writes that “the days are evil.” In a fallen world, every single day presents us with the possibility—if not probability—of encountering evil on a grand or limited scale.  To somehow believe the days we are living in are not that evil is to be lost in a wishful thinking divorced from any rational perception of reality. We live in a time wherein people have forgotten God, and through this forgetfulness lose sight of our basic humanity.  To de-sanctify the world (by claiming that the world is an autonomous reality and a result of blind forces) is to debase humanity, for only through faith in God can we have faith in the goodness of human nature.

We can be “in the world,” but not “of the world” if we choose to “make the most of the time, because the days are evil.”  One of the key words here is “choose.”  Do we really have a hard choice to make?  Hardly!  In my humble opinion, within the grace-filled life of the Church the choices before us are very easy to make!

Here is a “simple” prayer (but just try to put it into daily practice) from a holy elder that teaches us how to redeem the time”

O God, be attentive unto helping me.
O Lord, make haste to help me.
Direct, O Lord God everything that I do, read and write, everything that I say and try to understand to the glory of Your holy Name.
From You have I received a good beginning and my every deed ends in You.
Grant me O God, that I might not anger You, my Creator, in word, deed or thought, but may all my deeds, counsels and thoughts be to the glory of Your most holy Name.  Amen.
From the diary of Elder Anthony of Optina, 1820