The tyranny of time

exactly enough time

Everything changed the day she realized there was exactly enough time for the important things in her life. -Brian Andreas

Nearly 15 years ago, I was at my friend Colleen’s apartment in Linden Hills. We had decided to spend the afternoon creating life maps together. The activity was all the rage in Oprah’s circles at the time, and I had secured a rare “hall pass” from my then 2-year old son and other obligations to make it happen. Reading magazines, cutting and pasting are all favorite things to do, but carving out time to do it was a big challenge at the time.

As the afternoon passed, we easily created piles of appealing magazine cuttings. My pile was deep and wide. We started to arrange our selections on our poster boards without planning, trying to simply follow our instincts as the process suggested.

vision board

Vision board created by Martha Beck,

As I tried to fit my many clippings–representations of things I was curious about, loved to do, wanted to explore or just genuinely wanted to picture as part of my life in some way–onto the poster board, I began to feel anxious. And frustrated. And panicked. I couldn’t make room for everything. Not even close.

And the space was being dominated by the things that formed a part of of my daily routine, obligations and responsibilities. Not that these things were not valuable. Or real. Or good in many ways. But there appeared to be no room for anything else. 

And I began to have thoughts–thoughts tumbling through my mind and out of my mouth. Defeating thoughts that created very bad feelings. Thoughts and feelings I had had many times before:

    • Why can’t I do all of this? I feel like a failure.
    • Why can’t I have all of this? I feel like I’m cursed.
    • Why does my life have so little space in it? I feel helpless.
    • Why do I always bite off more than I can chew? I feel flawed.
    • Why do I have to want so many experiences when my life is obviously going to be limited? I feel humiliated.
    • Why do I crave space to relax and read and garden when it is so laughably impossible in my busy and crowded life? I feel foolish. I feel tricked.
    • There is never going to be enough time (or space or money) for me to have or do any of these things. I feel despondent.
    • Why would I think that any of this was possible? What a futile exercise! I feel hopeless.

As I started to express these feelings to Colleen, she spoke God’s words to me:

“Rachel, look. There’s another side. You just have to turn it over. There’s another whole side.”



She was right of course. And I absolutely wasn’t seeing it. I was feeling so trapped and cramped and limited that I couldn’t see the available space awaiting me on the other side of the poster board.

I grew up with a constant awareness of the shortage of time: From the age of 7, I had heard about the imminent end of the world and of the urgent need to live in a way that ensured a final destination of heaven instead of hell. There was no time to waste in these issues of eternal consequence.

A series of childhood illnesses added to my sense of foreboding that I wouldn’t have long to live. My emotional fragility in the face of transition and trauma contributed to my belief that I was fundamentally flawed and that I couldn’t possibly navigate all of this for very long. Certainly not long enough to live out a full, happy life. Near-constant vigilance was my default mode of being. I was a slave to what I perceived to be the tyranny of time.

And on that afternoon in my early 30s, I was being invited to see and experience time differently. Time as spacious and forgiving, expansive and unlimited. I moved forward creating my vision board, using both sides of the page, suspending my tendency to judge the scope and depth of my longings. And after I had put everything into place, there was enough room. One side represented aspects of my life at that time, and the other side was more aspirational, representing the time and space that I could look forward to in the years to come. There was enough.

And so it continues. 15 years later, my life is still packed in many ways, but there exists much more opportunity for me to make choices about my use of time. And I have come to recognize that the universe’s perception of time is much grander than I can even remotely conceive.

So when I begin to view time once again as a tyrant–which I sometimes do, especially when summer roars into fall and I know that winter is not far behind–that afternoon with my friend is a great reminder of how little time and how few of God’s words it actually takes for everything to change.

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6 Responses to The tyranny of time

  1. persis elkins September 14, 2013 at 5:11 pm #

    thank you rachel!!

  2. Debbie Goode September 15, 2013 at 5:48 am #

    What an eye opener…..I too have felt the pressure of “never enough” time….especially as I get older. I seem to have set all these “deadlines” for myself in my head and find myself rushing to do this or that….to finish, to start, to move on…..I’m trying to let go of some of that and enjoy the moment I’m in. When I find myself rushing to finish or start a new project, I now consciously “stop” and slow myself down. It’s making a big difference in my life! Lovely post…well written!

  3. Liz September 15, 2013 at 6:40 am #

    You are a gift.

  4. Colleen September 15, 2013 at 9:59 am #

    I loved that moment and think of it often too. I also really like these words, “Time as spacious and forgiving, expansive and unlimited”.

  5. Amy Haley September 15, 2013 at 7:16 pm #

    Such a beautifully written piece (again). I love the imagery of creating on both sides of the page and it came to me over and over since reading this yesterday. For me, life has always been a series of seasons. As I get older, I think I am able to accept that no one day is perfectly balanced, but when I put all the days together, I’ve lived a very rich and balanced life. I can see my values reflected in the things that are all about pleasing me, but also in the things that force me to deny myself.

    Did I say that I love you and you are amazingly talented? If I were making a poster, I would include a picture of me having coffee with you on my aspirational side. 🙂

  6. Laurie Stewart October 2, 2013 at 4:13 am #

    I needed to to read this….you put words on exactly what I have been feeling lately…a beautifully inspirational piece-thank you

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