The mastery of time Evelyn Underhill

Have you ever noticed that Jesus is never recorded as taking a holiday? He retired for the purposes of his mission, not from it. He was never destroyed by his work; he was always on top of it. He was busier than anyone; the multitudes were always at him, yet he had time for everything and everyone. He was never hurried, or harassed, or too busy.

He knew exactly when the moment had come for doing something and when it had not. And so it has been in lesser degree with those who have caught his spirit; they have time. What is this secret of unhurried souls? It is quite simply that, like Jesus, they have learned what it means to live with him who is the Lord of time, with the one who himself is never hurried or hustled or perturbed. How does it happen, why is it that a person whose life is thus rooted in God and eternity acquires this mastery over time? For two reasons.

A new simplicity

First, because life takes on a new simplicity. We get harassed when life gets too complicated. We become distracted and distraught as one thing after another comes crowding in upon us. We never have time for anything because we have lost the power to do one thing. One always gets the impression from Jesus that he knew at any moment what was the single thing that mattered. Next time you catch yourself saying, ‘Oh, I haven’t got time for that!’ remember you are giving away your priorities. What has happened when we say we have time for nothing is that there is no one thing that has an absolute priority in our lives. We are constantly rushing around frantically busy with this, that, and the other – very often precisely so that we won’t have to stop and face the choice which is: what are the few really important things in life? A life lived in God is a life that masters time.


Secondly, those who live in God have not only got their priorities straight, they have learned that to live with God is to live always in the present, with him who is the eternal Now. We all know people who live in the past – and we usually laugh at them – for they are pretty harmless. But it is much easier, and much more dangerous, to live in the future. Remember how Jesus coupled mistrust of God with anxiety – always worrying about the morrow. And that applies not only to the morrow but to the next job. The reason why we get harassed, again, is that we are always thinking of what we have still got to do rather than of what we are doing. The secret of the busiest people who are also the calmest is that they are able to concentrate everything on the thing of the moment.

Living in the present means squarely accepting and responding to it as God’s moment for you now, while it is called ‘today’ rather than wishing it were yesterday or tomorrow. A wise man has said: ‘Only a Christian can live wholly in the present, for to him the past is pardoned and the future is safe in God.’

From an unpublished manuscript, edited by Arthur Middleton ND