December is a time of the year when families attempt to get together, sometimes family members flying from different parts of the world to be with loved ones and close friends. It is often a time of reflection – do I have any relationships that are ailing and if so, do I need to apply extra energy to the relationships to restore them? It is also perhaps a time of evaluation – what do I need to continue doing in the new year (activity that is working well for me), what do I need to stop doing (breaking bad habits or cutting out activity that is not producing any results) and what do I need to start doing (new projects that will grow and develop me). Sometimes it is a time of sadness – I reflect on those closest to me that have left or died during the past year or so. Whatever your context, one of the questions that will probably pop up is: “How am I going to make time to fit these new goals and activities into my busy schedule?”
As I thought about the illusive concept of time, my recollections of Greek classes as part of my degree programme came to the fore. English often uses just one word to explain a multitude of meanings (like the word “cool” – it’s a cool breeze/weather, she’s cool/personality, I’m cool with it/attitude, that’s so cool/interesting, exciting, etc.) – the context thus giving direction as to what is being implied by the use of a particular word. Koine Greek (Greek used two thousand years ago), on the other hand, created different words for meanings in different contexts. Of particular note are the variables in Greek for the word “time”, each having significance for the planning of our respective futures, viz.:
- Chronos (χρονος) – this word is used to describe what we most commonly understand as “time” and we derive the word “chronology” from it. It refers to sequential time – hours, minutes, and seconds. This quantitative concept of time bites or haunts us – we say: “There are not enough hours in the day!” Here we are referring to chronos. It somehow manages to fly past us at an alarming rate and we always run out of time. It frustrates and irritates us and certainly doesn’t add significance to our experience of life. “Being busy” does not mean that you are being effective, nor does it necessarily contribute to future value.
- Kairos (καιρος) – this word speaks of the “right” or “opportune” moment, a supreme happening in time or an impactful experience. It can refer to either positive or negative circumstances and never addresses the mundane, but only qualitative events. If I was to write a biography on Nelson Mandela, I would not put in the account that Nelson Mandela got up at six o’clock to brush his teeth – that’s the mundane and refers to chronos. I would certainly include, however, the Rivonia Trial, his time in prison, the starting of a children’s fund, his relationships, and his impact on the world – all kairos-related concepts. Chronos happens to you – you never have to ask your inbox, “Please get full” – it will get full anyway and frustrate you. Kairos or “impact” you have to make happen for you – you have to plan that meal out with your spouse, watch your son’s game, sort out your relationship with your boss, or have a meaningful discussion with a staff member. To achieve a kairos moment requires our attention and energy applied appropriately. We have to plan it into our life.
- Aeon (αιων) – this word refers to an era/age, an extended period of time or an eternity, usually referred to in the past. The old music band, Mike and the Mechanics, wrote a song, entitled: “Looking Back Over my Shoulder”. When you look back over your life, what do you see – a blur of busy moments or do you recognise significance in some of your relationships? To be able to look back with pride and fond memories means that one has made the effort to build kairos moments into our experience of life.
During this period of reflection and evaluation, this December, perhaps we should be planning for profound impact for the year to come. The inbox will always get full, there will be interruptions and we will get busy. We can alleviate some of this pain, however, by planning significance (kairos) into our relationships – special moments that make for memories, that solidify the connection and that bring us joy. Plan kairos into your life.