This thing all things devours:
Birds, beasts, trees, flowers;
Gnaws iron, bites steel;
Grinds hard stones to meal;
Slays king, ruins town,
And beats high mountain down.
What is it?
For those of you who know Tolkein’s story The Hobbit, you’d recognize this as Gollum’s final riddle for Bilbo Baggins. Bilbo was stumped for some time until finally he stumbled on the answer accidentally like I just did in this sentence…
The answer is time!
The Key to Agency
Time is all powerful! Like the riddle says, time is really the only mortal force with the power to destroy all these great things — kings, towns, mountains. It is an integral part of our lives and is often what makes life so hard. It is the foundational principle that makes agency possible, for deciding what to do with our time is really the key to our life’s purpose.
Book of Mormon prophets talk about how “this life is the time to prepare to meet God” (Alma 34:32) and Bible teachers declare that there is “a time to every purpose under the heaven” (Ecclesiastes 3:1). That biblical chapter goes on to describe all of the different things we encounter in this life, a striking reminder that we can’t do everything at once.
But no matter! We are told that our time is “sufficient,” so why worry about lost time? Well, easier said than done — we are a people who regret easily and wish things could have been better. So how can we work to change that?
Once again, easier said than done! But President Russell M. Nelson is, as always, onto something here. In June 2018, when he spoke to the youth of the Church, he invited the youth to, among other things, make a “weekly sacrifice of their time” for something good for three weeks.
Since then, President Nelson has discussed how we should invest our time, often suggesting things like doing temple work, participating in humanitarian aid, and spending time with family.
The Time and Happiness Principle
Every missionary – and I mean EVERY missionary – will learn at some point during their mission that investing time in others before seeking personal gratification ALWAYS leads to a happier feeling inside. Now, not all missionaries act on that knowledge, but every single one learns that principle. That is one reason I love my mission: because now I know without a shadow of a doubt how to become most happy with the time that I have.
The challenge is finding how to wisely invest our time during different phases of our lives. I know, just as every other RM knows, that it’s hard to invest time in others at the same rate we did as missionaries. We now have school, work, money, and social relationships to worry about, and thus distractions are easy. I’m sure it’s hard for a new parent to balance their time with budding careers and young children. I’m also sure it’s hard for a recently retired couple to deal with their abundance of time and an empty house.
And, of course, it’s hard for us all to use our time effectively now that we seem to have all the time in the world.
This has weighed heavily on me as I’m sure it has on all of you for the past few weeks. With all of this time on our hands, shouldn’t we be doing something amazing, like becoming a master on the piano or writing a best-selling novel? And also, do we feel guilty for having watched six episodes of our favorite TV shows a day or for losing the desire to reach out to friends?
I was recently inspired by my favorite musical artist, Tom Chaplin, lead singer of Keane. He was interviewed on a British YouTube show and asked the question, “What advice do you have to maintain creativity during this lockdown?”
He responded by saying that an abundance of time can create pressure that you have to create something great, but really that’s not what it’s about. Instead of worrying about the end result, focus on the process and let the result simply come from that. Don’t allow the presence of newfound time burden your creativity.
Sacrificing Our Time
In a way, we have all been asked — or rather, forced — to give up many of the things we love most during this time. This is a sacrifice if ever I saw one! Granted, it’s of a relatively small degree compared to some, but it is a sacrifice nonetheless. Thus, we will be blessed for acting well within it. We will be blessed in ways we could not have previously imagined if we act well in this time!
Now, as Tom Chaplin wisely suggested, this is not meant to pressure and burden us into thinking we have to become something great during this season. With this, I am inspired by the scriptural phrase “prospered by degrees.” With that in mind, this time has now become a “small and simple things” experience when we can read new books, try new hobbies, spend family time, and strengthen our relationship with God in ways now unhindered by many distractions of the world. In a way, it is now easier to invest each moment in worthwhile, “simple” things.
The difference between the eagle and the hog — or a thought of true character — has always inspired me.
This bird works as hard and as efficiently as any other animal or bird in doing its daily work. It provides for itself and its young by the sweat of its brow, so to speak, but when its daily work is over and the eagle has time of its own to do just as it pleases, note how it spends its recreational moments. It flies in the highest realms of heaven, spreads its wings, and bathes in the upper air, for it loves the pure, clean atmosphere and the lofty heights.
This animal grunts and grubs and provides for its young just as well as the eagle, but when its working hours are over and it has some recreational moments, observe where it goes and what it does: the hog will seek out the muddiest hole in the pasture and will roll in and soak itself in filth, for this is the thing it loves.
People can be either eagles or hogs in their leisure time.
This is in no way a callout of any kind, for if it were, I would be among the first to be called out. What it is, rather, is an opportunity for us to prayerfully decide how best to use our abundance of time. And as this lockdown period seems for some parts of the world to be drawing to an end, it is an opportunity to decide how we will use our spare time once life gets busier.
I am sure all of us have learned the importance and difficulty of time during this lockdown. Let us all remember those lessons and apply them aptly in the future.
Adam Simpson is a man of many unique talents, from dancing to ultimate frisbee, from drumming to writing. He was born and raised in Layton, Utah, the middle child surrounded by two sisters. He served a mission in Sydney, Australia, and now attends school at BYU. His love for writing comes from a love of philosophy and a love for God.