From the YMI Director: The Tyranny of the Urgent, or the Beckoning of the Important?
Dear youth ministry friends,
Do any of you ever feel like you’re just too darn busy?
I know I do. On any given day, I look at my calendar, my to-do lists, the piles of paperwork on my desks (all three of them, each in a different work setting, in a different town). Then, taking a deep breath, I begin to mentally map out my day. An hour later, the phone rings. Something else takes precedent. In the afternoon, I look at my email and, with a pang, recall a forgotten task. There’s another letter to write, another phone call to make, another logistical preoccupation that muddies my brain. And as the sun gets lower in the sky, it becomes obvious: I’m running out of time.
Tomorrow becomes today, and it’s the same cycle. Wash, rinse, dry, repeat.
It all feels terribly urgent in the moment. Spoiler alert: it usually is not. And therein lies the rub.
Charles Hummel, in his pamphlet Tyranny of the Urgent, writes, “Your greatest danger is letting the urgent things crowd out the important.” He goes on to describe the difference:
“The important task rarely must be done today, or even this week… But the urgent task calls for instant action…The momentary appeal of these tasks seems irresistible and important, and they devour our energy. But in the light of time’s perspective, their deceptive prominence fades; with a sense of loss we recall the vital tasks we pushed aside. We realize we’ve become slaves to the tyranny of the urgent.”
Hummel writes about how we can become bogged down by the ever-present anxiety of what we need to accomplish, rather than taking the time to slow down and actually reflect upon what is most needful in a given moment.
In the New Testament, two words are used for time: chronos, and kairos Chronos is time that we can measure. Checking the clock, the calendar, the schedule. It’s where we get the word “chronological.” Kairos is God’s time—God exists outside our sense of time, and sees the long view. Kairos has the connotation of God working things towards completion and wholeness. It is what we see “in the light of time’s perspective…” as Hummel says.
I love the idea of kairos time. In the past years, I’ve come to know that the fall is always a bit nutty, sometimes rivaling Christmas and Easter in its level of busy for me. But remaining aware that busy-ness is for but a moment… that can be very centering. It helps me remember that, in busy seasons of chronos, I don’t need to become encumbered by it. It’s a season. And then it’s done. I believe we are called to keep our eyes ever on kairos—that’s the life-long goal.
What is most needful in a given moment? How do we discern that? I don’t have easy answers for you today, friends. (Believe me, I wish I did!) But as you lead the young ones in your care—modeling for them the difference between these two concepts of time—I pledge to walk the journey with you. It takes time, kairos-focused time, to tease out knowledge of how God would have us live and lead. May we all try to do this work together as a community, in this busy fall season. In the end, no matter how it is spent, or how little or how much we have of it, may our time be God’s.
On the journey with you,