One day, I was in the car with my oldest son when he asked, “Dad, what is 365 times 8 times 24?”
He spoke nonchalantly, as if he were asking for the time of day or what was on the menu for dinner.
“I don’t know buddy, let me see,” I replied as I reached for my phone/calculator. “Looks like 70,080. Why do you ask?”
“Oh, just curious how many hours I have been alive. Dad, how many hours have you been alive?”
“Ugh, a lot more, buddy … (punching numbers in the calculator) … looks like 324,120 hours.”
“Dad! That is a lot of hours. What are you going to do with the rest of them?”
Boom. Mic drop.
To be fair, I don’t think my son intended the question to send me spiraling into an existential crisis. But there I was, panic-stricken. His question was an expertly-timed one of stewardship that tapped into all my fears of not living a meaningful life.
His question hit more squarely than usual because I had felt its particular weight more acutely in the past 60 days or so. Ever since Austin issued shelter-in-place orders in response to the coronavirus pandemic, we have all been seemingly gifted with a treasure trove of time. All that remained was to figure out where and how to spend it all.
Now was the time to learn a new language, write a novel, or learn a new instrument. Every time I dialed into the news or social media, it seemed like the rest of the world was flourishing. Me? Less so.
While everyone else was experimenting with variations of homemade sourdough bread recipes and keeping perfectly in-step with the rhythms of working from home, I felt like I was floundering. When my worlds of work, home, and play were more cleanly divided, I at least had the ability to convince myself I was winning in some places—even if I felt like I might be losing in others. But when all those worlds collapsed into one homogenous, monolithic block of time, many of the ways I used to measure progress or achievement were taken away or radically rearranged.
Though that thought is a real, felt expression of my experience, it is misleading. It suggests that stewardship is solved by a fixed set of routines and standards. All I need to fix my condition is to instill new habits to help me spend my days well.
But that’s not how things work in God’s kingdom. I was reminded of that as the weeks passed. My panic wasn’t purely driven by my achievement-oriented bent or lack of ways to check accomplishments off my scorecard. It was largely driven by a temporary loss of spiritual vision. I lost sight of who I am in Christ and what I am supposed to do. Loss of routine often has a way of accelerating forgetfulness, and I forgot I was to be a steward of all God has given me.
By His varied grace, God grants to each of us a portion of time to walk across the stage of history. Sobering though that thought may be, we are wise to account for those days and use them for the best possible means. Each of us has been gifted a unique allotment of knowledge, skills, aptitudes, passions, and relational networks. How we use these varied gifts across a limited span of time is a matter of stewardship.
But stewardship isn’t simply an act of scrupulously accounting for and meaningfully utilizing resources. Stewardship isn’t just a verb; it’s not just about doing things. It’s also a noun. It’s about being something, a representative who acts on behalf of someone else.
My spiritual vision was blurred, though. From the outside looking in, it wasn’t clear who, exactly, I was representing—the God of Jesus Christ or the things of this world.
Recovering and sustaining this kind of vision of stewardship is a tricky business. We might know that storing up treasures in heaven is the surest and best banking system out there. Yet, we routinely revert to cashing out our checks for payday loans from the places where we find power, approval, control, and comfort.
Why? Because in an age of spectacle and distraction, it is difficult to focus on what matters most. Everyone is vying for our attention. Everything is contending for our devotion. And easy though it may be to shame the binge-watchers, Facebook-stalkers, and news-junkies among us, there are many good things that fill up our thoughts and lives as well: family, friends, work, church, etc. Too often we commit to all these good things. In so doing, we neglect the best thing—God—and are left feeling spread thin, scattered, and directionless. In many ways, I have found this feeling to have increased during quarantine, not lessened.
We experience these feelings because our focus is shared between two economies—the world’s economy and God’s. Each of these economies have drastically different values and visions for flourishing, which means that they want to use the same set of resources in very different ways. Unfortunately, our understanding of success, acceptance, approval, comfort, and significance are subtly (and sometimes not so subtly) shaped by the images and pictures of the world we inhabit, rather than God’s vision as found in His Word.
In God’s economy the last are first, and the first are last. Those poor in spirit are actually rich. Small acts of faith translate to seismic impacts in the kingdom. What we perceive with our eyes to be insignificant or wasteful is actually advantageous and prosperous. In God’s economy, losing a life is gain; weakness is powerful.
The world says to advance through cutthroat achievement, one-upmanship, suspicion, political power struggles, and manipulation. The kingdom of God, however, advances through grace and compassion. God’s kingdom takes all the good things we want to value—our work, family, friends, etc.—and helps put them in perspective.
If we’re going to know how to steward our lives well, we’re going to need a new set of eyes that sees this economy. That isn’t going to happen through reading an article, not even this one—though I pray it might set you on a course to a new vision. Developing God-centered eyesight takes some upfront and ongoing investment in getting to know God and His economics.
We have to spend time in the Word of God, allowing the Holy Spirit to rehabilitate our vision. We have to spend time soaking in the surf of Scripture, allowing God’s Word to wash over us. We must commit to times of prayer, sitting in the silence and waiting for God to speak, letting patience have its effect as it stretches our hearts into the shape of our Savior. And we must do this work in community, encouraging one another with the growth we see at work and the gifts that build up God’s kingdom.
If we do this long enough, we will learn how to correspond our lives to God’s economy—how to see the world as God sees it. We will not only steward our gifts and earthly resources of money and time well, but we will also begin to skillfully employ new sets of supernatural resources as ministers of reconciliation, purveyors of grace, makers of peace.
Stewardship is not just a responsibility, but an identity (hence my existential crisis). When viewed through the wrong lens, this responsibility is impossible and the identity is shaming. But when viewed through the eyes of faith, the responsibility is joyful and the identity is empowering. The truth is, I am no less a steward of God’s kingdom today than I was two months ago. Some variables might have changed, but the constant assurance of my call and identity remains unchanged.
I’m still not sure how I will use the rest of my hours. But I do know where I need to look to know how to care for the people and things God has entrusted to me. For today, that is enough. I can rest in God’s grace and enjoy being a dad, and continue answering the weird questions my oldest son throws my way.