Redeeming the Time

In Ephesians 5, St. Paul speaks about “redeeming the time” warning those whom he writes that the “days are evil.” It is a phrase that has always reminded me of Christ’s admonition: “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble” (Matt. 6:34). Both statements are among the most “down to earth” statements in Scripture. They speak to me where I am on any given day.

Every day has its tasks to be accomplished. Every moment has a chore to be or something to which we must attend. In the midst of the very normalcy of our lives, we easily become overwhelmed with distraction and lose all thought of God. It is then that our days begin to unravel.

Christians of every sort have the easy habit of lapsing into a mindless secularism – simple forgetfulness. We do the things at hand as though such mundane activities have no need of God. We wait for the greater challenge of the overtly spiritual, only to discover that when such joyful or demanding moments come – there is “no oil in our lamps.” Whatever joy or longing we may have had for Christ and His kingdom has been swallowed up by distractions of the day.

It is little wonder that we find prayer difficult.

The “constant remembrance of the name of God” is a phrase that is often used for the practice of the Jesus Prayer. It can also refer to any form of remembrance practiced by a Christian in the midst of all things. The repetition of a Psalm verse or other such device has a tradition behind it at least as ancient as the constant invocation of the Name.

Learning to practice such remembrance throughout the course of the day is, without a doubt, the primary means of “redeeming the time” and avoiding “worry for tomorrow.” It is the means given us by God and kept in the Tradition by which we are slowly transformed. On the Holy Mountain and other such places, the lives of monks are generally not spent sitting in silent meditation or in services of super-human length. For the vast majority of the monks, days are spent in carrying out obediences: washing dishes, chopping wood, working in a library, laboring in a garden, taking care of correspondence. If such mundane tasks made prayer impossible, then it is likely no monk would be saved.

Learning to do the tasks of the day while redeeming the time is an essential piece of our warfare – particularly because “the days are evil.” We live in days in which we are told that mundane tasks have no connection to God. This, of course, is simply a lie. We are taught, in fact, “And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him” (Col. 3:17). And so we redeem the time.

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13 Responses to “Redeeming the Time”

  1. (another) Elizabeth Says:

    Thank you, Father, for this today. This overwhelmed at-home mother needed the gentle reminder that caring for her home and her family’s mundane, repetitive needs is currently her assigned corner of the battlefield (which gives new import to the idea that I’m off to “attack” the laundry or dishes…)

  2. Katrina Says:

    Dear (another) Elizabeth,

    I’m in the same boat as you, life can definitely get a little mundane with the dishes and laundry but I learned to employ a little trick! I use the sight of certain things as a trigger to prayer. For instance, I’m constantly driving my kids to school, music lessons, sports so I’m on the road a lot. Whenever I see a Jeep Wrangler, I remember a friend who used to drive a red Jeep Wrangler but unfortunately perished on Sept. 11th. I use that “sighting” as a trigger to pray for him and all those I can remember by name who perished that day. God help me when I drive by a Jeep dealership! I live in a warm climate, so Jeep Wrangler’s are everywhere too.

    I do this for other things too…just an idea..

  3. Ioannis Freeman Says:

    Redeeming the time, as you say, prevents boredom and feelings of ennui from becoming harbored inside the mind. I used to dig graves as an obedience, and this task gave me lots of time to redeem with the holy Name of Jesus. I notice that when I do not repeat the Name or call to mind the presence of God, I am easily distracted. After very little time passes of distracted attention, I am tired and even listless. Then, I make excuses from being tired to “kill some time.” At that point, I am in trouble and need assistance. Maybe others have discovered something similar.

  4. easton Says:

    father stephen, thanks for this! i am amazed at the people who think there is something wrong with you if you don’t work outside the home! if you choose to make home and family your first priority today, you are seen as “entitled” or “insane”. i have had many opportunities for a career–and have my degree–but have no regrets!! in my family we were taught, “you work to live”, not what most americans live by, “you live to work.” tasks are important. thanks for the reminder.

  5. Jeremiah Says:

    Thank you Father Stephen for that reminder. Your first podcast on the One-story Universe is where I first came face to face with the fact that I as a Protestant was practicing a “practical Atheism” as you put it. I knew that there was no distinction between secular and sacred (actually I treated nothing as truly sacred), but I was always trying to please the God that I believed (at times it was more of “I’m pretty sure…”) was “Out there with the things I did “down here”. Now I am starting to grasp the concept (at least in the way a child “grasps” the concept of God) that God is everywhere present and filling all things. But even with a new “group of friends” to pray with (the saints) and a new understanding of the world around me, I still find myself distracted so easily.
    This is most evident in my line of work. I am a Fireman/Paramedic. I currently work in Southern California in a low-middle income area where homes are more mobile than the cars (as the joke goes). My distraction is the temptation to judge the people I come in direct contact with every day. This temptation is even greater when it’s coupled with the petty annoyance of having a meal interrupted, getting a call while in the shower at the station, getting woken up for the third time at night, just to go back to a house where the patient refused to go to the hospital, but now wants my help. When I catch myself with a bad attitude, I try to say the Jesus Prayer, or simply “Lord have mercy.” Even though you might be saying to yourself, “Isn’t this what you signed up for?” I have to admit yes, but would hasten to add that each of us with kids know the frustrations and joys of parenthood. So too, with my job. Another thing I did to combat this is to take a folding photo frame and turn it into a Triptic, which I use as a prayer corner. Every time I walk by it, or get up from bed, I cross myself. Doing this before a call is a big help.
    If any of you saw on the news a report about a sex offender who was charged with kidnapping, rape and murder of an Escondido, CA girl, that guy lived right around the corner from my fire station. And not only that, he graduated from my high school just 5 years after myself. This is the second person from my high school to be taken down for a high profile crime. The other was a person who was my friend from 2nd grade through high school. He became a ring leader of a skinhead gang. I was shocked to hear he had gotten into that. That tragedy was made worse when I found out he hung himself in his prison cell. He, and the guy just arrested this week were recognized as troubled from an early age.
    Thinking of them and the people of the community I serve reminds me of the story I just heard of a monk who saw another monk in the act of a sin. He cried and said, “My brother today, me tomorrow.”
    What a great reminder to “Pray without ceasing” in the midst of everyday tasks and situations. Which reminds me… I have house chores to do.😉

  6. Valentina Lootens Says:

    Thank you Fr. Stephen.

    All Creation praises God at all times. So why not us?
    Fr. Ted at our parish was just talking about this last Sunday. We must keep our focus on God, otherwise we have so many temptations and distructions that salvation becomes an even harder task.

    At work, I like to keep the Rudder going (http://www.myocn.com/rudder/). This helps a lot. Setting reminders throughout the day is a good things too. After a while, you will not need reminders. Prayer will come on its own.

    This is a hard task to keep your focus on God. If we can make an effort to be “unfocused” on Him, we can certainly make an effort “to be focused.” All a matter of effort.

  7. Micah Says:

    Fr. Stephen,

    Thank you once again for this post. This is a delicate subject and very easily misunderstood (a sign of the times we live in) so I approach with great care.

    Receiving the Lord’s flesh and blood and responding to the effusing love of God by whispering, in utter reverence, the Most Holy Name of Jesus, are matters pertaining to the deeper heart of man. By their very nature such manifestations are ontologically perceived. They can by no means, be understood as legalisms.

    I agree wholeheartedly with Valentina’s comment that knowing God requires man’s undivided attention. But without the working of grace, our best efforts are rendered futile.

    Ego gives way to holy humility. The ‘secret’ weapon of the deeper heart is the practice of hesychasm.

  8. Jon Mark Says:

    “Practicing the Presence of God” by Brother Lawrence first brought this way of living to my attention, from which I wrote this prayer inspired by the words of Brother Lawrence.

    Grant me the peace of your presence Lord
    Prosper me with your aid
    Receive all my work, fill every thought
    Dwell with me this day.

    Thank you for the reminder.

    Pax Vobis

  9. Reid Says:

    Is the “constant rememberance of the Name of God” also intended as a way of driving out the logismoi, saving us from the idle wanderings of our thoughts?

  10. Lizzy L Says:

    Thank you, Father, for this teaching. My parish priest wrote in our weekly bulletin this past Sunday to ask us all (in boldface): What is the one thing you are giving up out of love for Christ this Lent? This Lent I resolved to give up judging people, and oh my, it’s hard to do. But keeping the Name always present is even harder, because, as you say, we live in a time that believes that God is only present “in the gaps,” and tries to keep Him confined there! I am very grateful for this blog, which directs my easily distracted mind to the things of God.

  11. fatherstephen Says:

    Reid,
    Yes, virtually the only defense we have.

  12. Collator Says:

    This post connects with a book by Elder Aimilianos of Simonopetra that I am reading, a commentary on the work “On Nepsis” by St. Hesychius (from the first volume of the Philokalia). The Greek word means sobriety, extending into the idea of watchfulness as well (since it embraces spiritual and not just physical sobriety). Elder Aimilianos says that this is the only way we can be saved, sobriety, which involves the constant practice of prayer. I hope that the book will be translated into English soon. But in the meantime, you can read the text by St. Hesychius in the Philokalia translation by Sherrard, Palmer, and Ware. It is simultaneously very practical and very lofty, and repays careful, prayerful, repeated reading. It’s one of Met. Kallistos’ favorites too — he wrote the intro to the book by Elder Aimilianos.

  13. Gordon McNutt Says:

    This problem of forgetting God in the day to day always reminds me of the parable of the sower:

    “but the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful” [Mark 4:19]

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