Redeeming the Time

By MARIANNE WOOD

Ephesians 5:15-16 says “Be very careful, then, how you live–not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity because the days are evil. (NIV) The NKJ versions translates “make the most of every opportunity” as “redeeming the time.” 

Colossians 4:5 says “Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity.” Again, redeeming the time.

Titus 3:8 again stresses the importance of those who trust in God spending time doing “what is good. These things are excellent and profitable for everyone.” 

Marianne Wood

So how can we “redeem the time” when time stands still or slows? What do we do when the world, not just our lives, becomes upended during a pandemic? What do/did we do in COVID Time? And how will we remember this era of our lives? 

Will we recall the empty store shelves lacking toilet paper or disinfecting wipes? Maybe our favorite brand and type of chocolate was temporarily out of stock and it led us to grab at least three bars the next time we visited our store or better yet, ordered online. Most of us went online shopping a lot. According to bigcommerce.com, “Over 75% of people are shopping at least once a month online.”

Will we remember most the people who got sick? The ones we lost, for sure. And the dread, the fear of losing another or getting very sick ourselves. Will we remember how we spent our days?

Many people I know still go to real offices or teach students face to face. Their lives have not changed as much as many of us who have been forced to, and thankfully can, work from home. But on the weekends, they deal with the world much like those who are secluded at home most of the time.

Before Thanksgiving, I taught art face to face and via Zoom to pre-service elementary education majors, twenty of them, in the fall of 2020. I will remember their masked faces, ten at a time showing up to Studio 214 at Hardin-Simmons University and to distanced tours of The Grace and The NCCIL. Three of them broke down in front of me. It was all too much. I tried to reassure them and others because many, if not all these students, struggled to soldier through the weirdest semester of our lives.

I applaud them for finishing this class by completing a final via Zoom from their homes or cars. During this final online class I held up a reproduction of Winslow Homer’s “The Country School” for them to analyze using Feldman’s Model of Art Criticism. Their reactions to the artwork were as varied as their responses to the school year they had just endured. Some thought the teacher in the painting looked kind. Another thought she looked harsh and scolding. We are individuals, after all, even as we share a common foe, this virus. I found this reassuring. We were not reduced to COVID rubble. 

I heard stories from another professor who had a student show up to a class while shopping at Walmart. Yep, it couldn’t have gotten much weirder. So, beyond work, childcare, senior care and attempts at normality by attending church online or distanced and masked until that had to end, what did we do to win back the time that seemed lost to sadness, fear, and disappointment––to make it good and valuable? I decided to ask some friends of varying ages.

I sent out a grid with three questions: What was hard? What did you gain? And what helped you?

Concern for isolated elders, children, and students who were missing learning and social opportunities came from several women. One reported feeling guilty that her life went on normally…until she contracted the virus. Missing family vacations, holidays, and births along with tension to keep spaces disinfected concerned one enough to write it down. I know many would chime in on that. Loss of jobs and the inability to spread the ashes of a mom added misery to one far from her birthplace. But what was gained seemed to balance out the loss or difficulties. These responses included recognition of idols and a desire to remove them. Many gained ground through Bible studies, podcasts, and virtual services. Increased confidence in God’s faithfulness and conversational prayer with the Great Physician through a slowed season produced wins for others.

Daily Mass fit better for one in a normally too-crowded schedule. Many acquired an appreciation of technology for use in having online meetings and visiting virtual art shows. Some got to know neighbors. Time in nature secured tranquility. And another one noted that she’d learned better to live “in God’s time.” Two even noted they’d gained kittens! As for what helped…declaring “Hosanna” sent fear skittering for one saint. Saying a handmade rosary helped another. Exercise, friends checking in, creative and musical pleasures plus lots of leaning into scriptures like “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10) and singing songs like “Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus” renewed and lifted many. Praying the Serenity Prayer proved a plus, too.

The holidays were lonesome for my husband and me, but we found joy in a kitten we call Eddie. We like playing ping pong and he likes chasing a spare ball. Coincidentally, we remembered that we know how to play cat ping pong, a very specialized form of the game. In this version, you must pick a stance and lunge to make your shots without lifting and planting your feet on a furry feline. 

And with classes concluded, I had to find more ways to redeem the gift of free time, something I sometimes fear. The time I valued with students now pivots to friends who offer new prayer groups and Bible studies. I renewed my friendships with a drawing group that has met in person and via Zoom for some time now in the spring and summer. And I finally made bread. Yes, you COVID bread makers, I’ve finally joined your ranks. Craving a fresh loaf of French bread, I googled and found a great recipe that includes a quick dash of ice cubes in the oven to create that crispy crust we bread and butter fans love. So I had a Zoom day with praying women and artists, and a baking day: two loaves of French and an unsatisfactory batch of zucchini bread. Not to worry, Amy at Hickory Street Cafe: yours is still the best. I threw my recipe away. 

And there is always painting and writing and thankfully, some editing and researching for the effervescent Bill Wright. We will get through this. Blessings now on the vaccine scientists, manufacturers, distributors, and healthcare workers who encourage our hope. Thanks be to God for what he is teaching us in the meantime as we work to redeem the time.

Marianne Wood works as an editorial assistant and researcher for Bill Wright

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