Chronos vs. Kairos: Making Time Count

3387189144_98849a62ac_oFor many of us the phrase, “I’m sorry, I just don’t have time for that” is something we seem to say all too often. And for others of us we should say it, but we don’t. The reality for all of us is that there are only 24 hours in a day, regardless of how we try to mess with the clock or regulate our own use of those hours. Like when we use any limited resource, we want to be faithful stewards of what has been given to us. So the question becomes: What is the best use of our time?

I myself struggle with time management. I have read books and articles, I use various systems, I beat myself up when I have not used my time productively or when I was supposed to have finished far more in an afternoon than I honestly had time for. I often ask myself, “What is the best use of my time right now?” But what if when it comes to God, what if when it comes to my spiritual life, that’s not the only question I should be asking?

Sure, scheduling all my tasks hourly throughout the day is helpful. Sure, I have to look closely at an ever more busy calendar and make tough choices. Sure, if I want to ever sleep I need to be honest about what I do and do not have time for. But what if my ever more regulated time schedule is actually not God’s priority for me or for you? What if God has another agenda? What if every time I look at my watch and do a calendar check wondering “What time is it?” I fail to listen to God’s quiet whisper saying, “This is the time.”

Author Joan Chittster tells the following story of a conversation between a wise one and their disciple:
“Where shall I look for enlightenment?” the disciple asked.
“Here,” the wise one said.
“When will it happen?” the disciple asked.
“It is happening right now,” the wise one answered.
“Then why don’t I experience it?”
“Because you don’t look.”
“What should I look for?”
“Nothing. Just look.”
“Look at what?”
“At anything your eyes light on.”
“But must I look in a special way?”
“No, the ordinary way will do.”
“But don’t I always look the ordinary way?”
“No, you don’t.”
“But why ever not?”
“Because to look, you must be here. And you are mostly somewhere else.”

“You are mostly somewhere else.” What is it about the passing of the time that so preoccupies us, that so terrifies us that we often seek to be anywhere other than the present moment? Time exists and it ticks away, every second moving us in seemingly one direction. From our birth to our death. From our time as young and free to our time as old and limited. We see our children growing up like weeds before our eyes. So we try to control time. We want to accomplish so much in our lives, to know we mattered, to imagine our lives mean something that the ticking of the clock cannot destroy. But that very meaning making isn’t about how long we have in terms of minutes or seconds of our lives, it is about whether we have chosen to be aware of the moments that wait for us in the passing of our days. The moments where we encounter God and find purpose. The moments we remember long after they have passed because they define our lives. Moments with our loved ones. The holding of a hand. The conversation that warms your heart. The beauty of light streaming into your window. The moment when you finally understand something. The moment when you stand up and do the right thing even when no else agrees with you.

Maybe the problem exists in the very way that we understand the concept of time itself. You see most of us live our lives in chronos time. Chronos is a Greek word meaning time. But it has a very specific meaning. It denotes a quantitative meaning of time, a passing of seconds, hours, minutes, days. It is time on a timeline. It is grains of sand slipping through the hourglass. It is pick up the kids at 3, make dinner at 5, go to meeting at 7. When we say time, we usually mean chronos time. What time is it? Time to take a shower, time to eat lunch, time to watch our favorite show. But there is another way of describing time. The Greeks called it kairos. And in the New Testament kairos time is actually referred to more often than chronos time.

Kairos time is the appointed time in the purpose of God. Kairos time is the time when God acts. Kairos time is pregnant possibility. A moment, a season. A time to create meaning. Kairos time is not linear nor dependent upon a specific day or hour. Kairos is qualitative. For every time there is a season. A time to love. A time to plant. Kairos is not a specific number in time. In many ways it is time all rolled up into one. The future, the past, the present. All exist at once in that one moment. For my sci fi fans Dr. Who often lives in Kairos time.

One commentator I read put it like this: “With chronos, we count our years while with kairos, we make our years count.” Which would you rather do?

When I spend time moving things around on my calendar to make sure it all fits in, I am focused on chronos. When I am aware that at any time God may break into that carefully regulated calendar in order to connect with me or allow me to connect with someone else, to allow me to experience a timeless moment, or to allow me space to transform myself or the world around me, I am aware of kairos. We spend so much energy trying to conquer chronos time, to control it, that we often lose our sense of living in the present moment. In Star Wars The Empire Strikes Back Yoda says of Luke, “All his life has he looked away… to the future, to the horizon. Never his mind on where he was.” When we focus on chronos time we forget the gifts of this present moment, we forget what season we are in, we forget that which is, already has been and that which is to be, already is. We forget to look for God working in this moment. If we focus on Chronos time to the exclusion of kairos time we risk falling asleep on the job when Jesus has clearly told us to keep awake. Awake to kairos. Awake to God’s time.

We spend so much time worrying about chronos time, that we don’t waste it, that we manage it correctly, that we make it productive and worthwhile. This is important. We do have things we need to do. We do only have so many hours in a day. We do need to make good choices with our time. But another reality is also true. As surely as we can waste chronos time, we can also waste kairos time. I described kairos time as that pregnant pause, that moment where meaning can be made, where time stands still. But if you simply ignore those moments, if you move through them without pausing, without making meaning, without listening for the still small voice of God, you can waste them, you can miss them as surely as you can while away the chronos hours watching TV or scrolling on facebook.

One commentary I read described it like this: “A ‘kairos moment’ is the appointed time when the Holy Spirit is moving and ready to act. It is a ‘pregnant moment’ during which the Spirit is prepared to ‘deliver’ the power of God to bring dynamic transformation to a person or situation. Often when a kairos moment is occurring, or is about to occur, people who are tuned-in spiritually sense a ‘shift’ occurring.  They sense that something is about to happen.  The Spirit is brooding; She is hovering near. She is waiting for the word of command that will release Her to act.”

But what if we, so focused on our chronos, are not tuned in to that possibility? What if we are so focused on our next task that the Spirit is ignored? The moment passes. Nothing happens. Time has passed, but kairos has been lost.

There are seasons of our lives. There is a time to be born, a time to embrace, a time to let go. What if we lived our lives atune to these kairos times even as we are aware of the ticking of the clock? What if instead of holding on to something for dear life for fear of losing it or of change, we let go that which no longer fed and nourished us? What if instead of staying stagnant, we embraced that which pushed us beyond our comfort zones and gave life to something new? What if we acknowledged the realities of our seasons and welcomed their lessons? And yes, all of that will take and break into our chronos time. It will even sometimes require us to rearrange our over scheduled calendars. But what are you more interested in – counting your days, or making your days count?

Let’s think about this in terms of our worship service. Every Sunday we gather here at 10:30. Most Sundays the hope and plan is that we are finished with worship in about an hour. We are good Congregationalists, not Baptists, and so if we go much longer than an hour many of us start to get restless. As your worship leader I often worry when we start going over time. I worry you in the congregation will get frustrated and angry. Maybe you have a lunch date. Maybe like me most Sundays your child has activities that begin at noon or 1pm. I want to respect your time. But there have been worship services here where kairos time has taken over chronos time, where what was happening in this room was a moment of community, an inbreaking of God the Spirit, a moment of transformation and meaning that mattered, that had to happen. And so sometimes church went “late” because it needed to or maybe it even ended on “time” but it didn’t really matter because we had in many ways “lost track of time” as we experienced the Spirit at work. If we as your worship leaders were to always value chronos time over kairos time, those moments would not be allowed to happen. If you as a congregation valued always leaving here sixty minutes after sitting down, instead of listening for the Still Speaking God, kairos moments would be lost.

But what about trying to find the balance between chronos time and kairos time in our everyday lives? Because let’s be honest , in the everyday some days are just a slog. It’s all you can do just to get through it and say you survived. Work, relationships, laundry, cooking, cleaning, childcare, homework, working out, get up the next day and do it all over again. And I am up here saying make the moment count, and you are just like “Listen, I am just trying to make it through this day.” It’s okay. It is perfectly fine if the vast majority of the day is a not the most meaningful thing ever. But even in the midst of difficult times, we would do well to remember there can still be kairos moments that we find and hold on to. A perfect moment can make a not so great 24 hours much more livable.

I am betting that if you truly think about it, you can recall a kairos moment in your life. And the thought of that moment warms your heart, puts a smile on your face, and makes you grateful. The moment you were supposed to be cooking, but instead took the time to dance in the kitchen. The moment you were supposed to be working but you looked out the window and admired an incredible sky of blue where the trees seem to touch the horizon and you decided to go outside for a walk. The moment you were working and for a moment it all came together – you felt like you did something worthwhile, you touched a life, or finished a project that truly mattered. That moment when you tuck your children into bed at night and you are thinking about what you still have to do tonight before you go to sleep but you stop for just a second to admire your child’s beautiful face, you become aware this will not last forever, but in this moment it is everything.

I challenge you as you move through these next weeks, even as your busy schedule threatens to overwhelm you, to look for kairos moments. To note them. Maybe simply say, ‘kairos’ in your head as you or after you experience them. Be aware of them. Such awareness over time may make more room for kairos in your life. At the end of the day try to write down in a sentence or two a kairos moment you had that day. Begin to see a pattern in what those moments look like for you and maybe how you can make room in your chronos time, for kairos time.

We live in a world of clocks and calendars, timestamps and deadlines. We cannot get away from chronos time. But chronos and kairos can exist side by side if we look for holy moments even in the midst of every day happenings. Look for the kairos times, the times when God says, “This is the time.” Be present in your own life. Keep awake. Watch for your seasons. Count your hours, sure, but more importantly, make them count.


View all posts by

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *