Insights with Emily: The meaning of our time

Emily Salerno-Oswald
Scriptural Columnist

Do you ever find yourself in the middle of a crowded room filled with the incessant buzz of people and activity, endless stimuli vying for the affections of your attention? If you haven’t yet found yourself in a space like this, take a brief trip to the J.C. Williams Center at the height of lunch hour, and you will see what I mean.

What would happen if you were to just stand still, in the midst of the chaos? If you were to contradict the flow of movement and instead, be motionless, silent and still?

No Spotify ads ringing in your earbuds, no video lectures on your laptop, no answering texts or attending to the ping of notifications.

I’m sure you’ve heard this argument before: the radical existentialist, waving his banner for cell phones and all other modern technology to be outlawed once and for all so that we can actually find ourselves and our God once again.

That’s not what I’m saying. We don’t have to do away with all the noise completely.

Sometimes, noise can be good. A healthy type of noise, such as the full sound of collective worship, can drown out the unhealthy thoughts that often plague us and hold us back from fulfilling the purposes we were made for.

However, there is something to be said for silence.

If you stood alone in the middle of that buzz of people and didn’t say a word, didn’t start talking to anyone, didn’t participate but just observed, you might start to wonder. What of it all actually matters? How many of the things that we allow ourselves to get caught up in throughout the day actually have meaning?

Do we spend the hours fritting away our time here on Earth with meaningless worry, living solely from one assignment to the next? Do we worry about pinning down as many social relationships as humanly possible so that we can finally feel some semblance of self-acceptance and peace? And if so, to what end?

If we are always running, seeking, searching, never stopping, staring, being, then when, I ask you, will it ever stop? Where do we land?

The answer is simple. We never do. As St. Augustine wrote, “My heart is restless until I rest in you.”

When I think of these things, I think of the Biblical passage from the first chapter of Ecclesiastes: “‘Meaningless! Meaningless!’ says the Teacher. ‘Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless.’ What does man gain from all his labor at which he toils under the sun? Generations come and generations go, but the earth remains forever. The sun rises, and the sun sets and hurries back to where it rises.

“What is twisted cannot be straightened; what is lacking cannot be counted. I thought to myself, ‘Look, I have grown and increased in wisdom more than anyone who has ruled over Jerusalem before me; I have experienced much of wisdom and knowledge.’ Then I applied myself to the understanding of wisdom and also of madness and folly, but I learned that this too is a chasing after the wind. For with much wisdom comes much sorrow; the more knowledge, the more grief.”

The truth is that, without God, nothing has meaning. But with God, everything has meaning. God is meaning. He is the meaning behind everything. He is the first, the last and everything in between. He is the ultimate maker and source of meaning.

So, the next time you feel the quiet desperation of discontentment knocking at the door of your heart, ask yourself when the last time was that you stopped moving and encountered the one who set everything in motion to begin with.

In doing so, you will realize that, since everything is for him and from him, even our failings work to the benefit of the supreme good of his infinite plan. You’ll learn that, in the moments you scolded yourself for stopping to help a friend instead of “being productive” and catching up on schoolwork, you were being far more productive than you could ever dream.

You’ll realize that deadlines, schedules, timelines and really all modes of time-keeping are temporal necessities that only serve to bridge the gap between now and eternity. And, in a short while, there will be no need for them at all. You’ll realize that your time is a precious gift from God and that you’re only here until the mission of your time here has been finished.

So, instead of siphoning out your time and watching the metaphorical sands of the hourglass fall, muttering to yourself that there are so many things to do and so little time, try rephrasing the sentiment entirely.

Try telling yourself that every moment is a suspension in which you are being held up by the Father’s tender hand and that no moment is a waste. Even the times when you think you are “wasting time” are not, in fact, a waste of time in the father’s eyes, or else you wouldn’t be here.

Since you are here, time is not something you are a victim of. Rather, time is a transient record-keeper of the transmission of the Father’s love throughout the world, and it is something we will ultimately transcend when time’s time has run out.