J.R.R. Tolkien left us with many thought-provoking words in his literature. Many of them are quotes that we recall long after we have read the book or watched his series The Lord of the Rings in movie form.
One of those that come back to my mind often is from The Fellowship of the Ring. It is a conversation between Frodo and Gandalf. Some of you may recall it as well. Frodo is wishing the thing that had fallen to him to do had not happened during his lifetime. Listen to the words Tolkien uses to provoke each of us:
“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo. “So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”
The time that’s given us…none of us know how much that may be, but it is one that we consider more often when we step into the season of retirement. Whether we enter this season eagerly or reluctantly, one thing is certain: we know we have less time ahead than what we see in the rearview mirror.
The consequences of that truth influence us to be clearer on what we choose to occupy the time in this new season. Most of us are more doggedly determined to spend it on what we value most. We can also be highly resistant to anyone else to direct how to use it or invade it with his or her own priorities for us.
A favorite book that my husband and I have appreciated is The Gift of Years by Joan Chittister. If you are in this season (no matter what age) and have not read this book, I would encourage you to read it. But don’t read it too quickly, each chapter brings you things that cause you to smile, reflect, and evaluate.
Listen to how she writes about this time:
“The beauty of the later years, in other words, is that if we have learned through life to trust our own insights at least as much as we trust the insights we have been taught, we find ourselves at the end of a very long life with a very young soul.
Time has done for us what needs to be done. We have deepened as people. We have broadened as personalities. We have softened as thinkers. We have abandoned arrogance and authoritarianism for reflection on new ideas and respect for others. We now see newly, clearly, what in some ways we have never seen before.”
And so we often arrive at this season somewhat surprised we have gotten here so quickly. Others around us may see us as older or even limited while we may still feel very young and alive inside, filled with a sense of freedom to do and be what we have finally understood we desire if only time, health, and finances will allow.
We have handled the responsibilities of education, parenting, caring for our own parents perhaps, left our occupation or profession, and now we understand that beyond our relationship with the Lord, time is the most precious gift. It becomes clearer than ever that we do not want to waste it for it is the stuff life is made of.
It is a paradox that time stays at a steady rhythm throughout our lifetime from birth to our death, but when we are children it seems to be moving slowly because we are rushing about eager for the next thing. We look forward to getting older and what we believe the privileges that age will bring us. But each decade beyond childhood unexpectedly feels as if it is picking up speed.
One thing that often reminds us of that is when we have a son or daughter who turns 30, 40, or even 50. We scratch our heads and think, “Didn’t I just turn…” (Fill in whatever age that child turned).
We do not race ahead now saying things like, “I can’t wait to turn 70, 75, or 80.” Now time is precious and we discover there are often many things we very much want to do or be. Unencumbered by the demands of the clock and the calendar, we delight in the gift of freedom to explore, discover, reflect, and linger with things or people that matter most to us.
It is not about reluctance to “go home to be with the Lord”, but more about understanding the gift of living life that He first gave us and more about noticing how amazing His creation that He set us in has always been now that we are not rushing through it.
However the times may be in this time, we are given the decision of what to do with it as Gandalf explains to young Frodo in The Fellowship of the Ring.
What will you do with the time that’s been given to you?