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Living life as either a segment or a ray.

lake sunset photo

I’m just over halfway through Oliver Burkeman’s book Four Thousand Weeks: Time management for mortals.


The premise is good, delivering a reality check to the monstrous industry of time management and productivity self-help. If you’re like me, those books mostly remind me of how I’ve leveled up with failure. Very few have remained on my bookshelves after a first read, though I’ve kept an old copy of Richard Preston’s The Hot Zone for decades because that seems timeless.1


But I want to tell Mr. Burkeman that he wouldn’t have even needed to write chapter three if he just believed in God. The premise behind much of his book is, sadly, that we are allotted about 4000 weeks of life on average and that we are finite beings and when our life is over that’s it but there’s no point trying to fret and be anxious about perfectly using our time since the best we can do is just accept that finite reality and chill.


That’s a crude summation, mind you.


Burkeman makes some eloquent and lovely points, tying in all kinds of philosophy including brain-numbing Heidegger, but there’s an underlying assumption to the books foundation, one of a person without belief in God (much less a faith in Jesus Christ), and one that I can’t grasp. As I read the book, I nod in some parts, but mostly cannot relate.


I know I am not finite.


I know what kind of works matter in the scope of eternity.


I don’t feel frantic about FOMO or YOLO or NASCAR or whatever simply because I have the promise of eternity, and it’s not one of harps and clouds. It’s going to be mind-blowingly awesome. So my unchecked bucket list and metastasizing to-do lists frustrate and annoy at times, but I can mostly make that go away with a walk or a nap. It’s not life-choking.


Of course, if Christians perfectly held onto that we wouldn’t need God reminding us to not be anxious about anything.


But the book has made me realize how different life would seem without Jesus. I’ve never known anything else since that’s been my life since I was a child.


Yes, there are the moments in college where you doubt and question. In the midst of getting an art degree and drawing nude models and growing weary of the ever-present smell of pot smoke in the art classrooms at night and deciding that the only way to be different in the slacker Gen-X era was to not get any piercings or tattoos, sure. I banged around some questions on faith.


But I never grabbed onto thinking I was finite, that this life was all there was.


Which brings me to geometry and lines, segments, and rays.


Lines go on forever in both directions. I can’t say that’s a metaphor for God because he’s eternal, not linear. But it’s a loose metaphor. The key comparison is segments and rays.

Segments start at a point and end at a point. Rays start, but then continue on forever.


We are rays.


But if you don’t realize you go on forever, into eternity, and instead think you are a segment, you look to a book like Burkeman’s and hope to find hope. You put “Life, Laugh, Love” on your tastefully neutral walls2, you hope to find peace in minimalism or adventure or activism or asceticism.


My weariness with the press for productivity and time management and making a difference is that it’s a segment lie being forced on rays.


“Your time is limited! Make the most of it! Control it somehow!”


And even when we Christianize it, tying it up with such lovely Biblical principles—usually from Proverbs—about being good stewards and the good works produced by faith…it gets out of hand and tends to make many of us forget God made us as rays.


We don’t end. And if you live life as if you do, it’s either anxiety, pleasure-chasing, or fear. Burkeman seems to offer a compromise in there, one of acceptance. But I can’t help but think that acceptance is the final stage of grief.3 And I prefer to live a life as one of joy born out of hope, not one of subdued joy at the back end of grief.


My memory is not as sharp as it used to be and now and then I find a to-do list I randomly picked up and put in a safe place.4


Seeing an unfinished to-do list weeks or months later has a sobering effect. So much energy and fretting over the things I had to do, forgotten somewhere between downstairs and upstairs and maybe getting a glass of water.


I’m excited for eternity.


 

1 It’s about Ebola. So much better than reading about time management.


2 I know Live, Laugh, Love is a popular wall sticker, but if you must have a three-pack for life advice, go for Father, Son, and Holy Spirit instead. No joke.


3 Denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance—in that order.


4 Jimmy Hoffa only knows.

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