How often do you say the following: “It seems like just yesterday” or “This is the longest week ever”? A minute will always last 60 seconds and an hour will always last 60 minutes but it doesn’t always feel like it. Time should be a concrete concept but it seems so fluid.
I have a friend who recently told me about an out-of-body experience she had while holding a new mom’s infant daughter. A precious 4-month old sat in her lap and my friend was instantly transported more than 17 years in the past to the nursery of her own now-teenaged daughter. The years disappeared in a mist. Suddenly she was the new mom with the tiny daughter. The sweet, baby smell, the touch of soft baby skin—it felt like it was just yesterday. Tearful, my friend felt that time had passed too quickly.
When you’re anxiously waiting for something to happen, time seems to slow to a crawl. It was true when you were a kid, waiting for summer vacation or Christmas morning, and it can still be true for adults. Time stretches out in front of you like an endless horizon. It’s January, bleak and cloudy, and you look at your covered swimming pool, thinking, “We’ll never get through with winter. Summer seems so far away.”
Then there are periods of time and phases of life that seem to go quickly and last forever simultaneously. The anniversary of something tragic like the death of a loved one or a long illness or the day a spouse moves out and moves on, can create a desire for introspection. Upon examination, you might realize that while you’re living through it, your heightened feelings make time tick slowly. Your anger and frustration burn so brightly that little else enters your mind. This concentration slows everything down. But when the phase is over, you look back at the towering mountains you climbed and the raging rivers you crossed, and you wonder how you got through it in the amount of time that has passed.
Intellectually, we know that time is a fixed thing. We check clocks and watches and cell phones often throughout the day to gauge what we should be doing and where we should be going, and we rarely question what we see. But emotionally, time is not fixed. And our perception, however unreliable, can become our reality.
It’s okay if time feels fluid. In the Book of James, we read that “To the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years is like a day.” He measures time differently, too. So maybe, in the end, it’s not the quantity of time we’re given—the number of seconds and minutes and hours that pass in a lifetime, but how we spend those minutes that really matters.