In Good Time: Jen Pollock Michel
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Jen Pollock MichelJen Pollock Michel is the author of Teach Us to Want (winner of Christianity Today’s 2015 Book of the Year), Keeping Place, Surprised by Paradox (winner of Christianity Today’s 2020 Award of Merit for Beautiful Orthodoxy), and A Habit Called Faith. She holds a BA in French from Wheaton College and an MA in Literature from Northwestern University, and she is also a student in Seattle Pacific's MFA program. Jen is a wife and mother of five and hosts the Englewood Review of Books podcast.
Ever imagined a life without hurry, relentless work, scarcity? Jen Pollock Michel, author of In Good Time, believes our time management can look different.
In Good Time: Jen Pollock Michel
In Good Time: Jen Pollock Michel
Dave: So, back during the NFL football season, I had this great weekend with my oldest son. C.J. and I went down to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Tampa Bay is losing the whole game, and they’re down by five or six. There’s like a minute-forty to go, and I say, “C.J., let’s go, man. This traffic’s going to be terrible!” [Laughter] “We’ve got to get out of here. I know what it’s like in these NFL games. They’re not going to come back.”
So, we run out of the stadium; listen to the game as we’re driving out. We hear Tampa Bay’s coming back. I’m coming up to a red light, and it’s about to turn red. I say, “If I get stuck at this light,” or whatever. So, I run through it, and there’s this flash. “C.J., do you think they just took a picture?” [Laughter]He says, “Yep! I think you got a ticket!” And I got a $150 ticket mailed to me. And I missed the end of the game that Tom Brady won in the final second! I’m Mr. Laidback, but I’ll tell you, there are times when I miss moments.
Shelby: Welcome to FamilyLife Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I’m Shelby Abbott, and your hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson. You can find us at FamilyLifeToday.com or on the FamilyLife® app.
Ann: This is FamilyLife Today!
Dave: Today, we’re going to talk about time and not missing moments. You can hear Jen. She’s over there, “Mmmm.”
Jen: “Mmmm.” [Laughter]
Dave: Jen Pollock Michel is back with us. You know, you’re—I said yesterday, you’re—the guru of time. But you wrote a book called In Good Time. By the way, what does that title mean? I mean, did I miss a good time?
Ann: And it will happen. . . in good time!
Jen: Yes, you know, I think one of the things that I’m trying to say in the book is that time is a gift. It actually can, perhaps, be the perspective that you need when you say, “Wait! Hold on! This moment—this time-full moment—has been given to us. It’s been given to us by God; so, I’m not going to rush past it. I’m actually going to settle into it. I’m going to look around, recognize, and receive this gift of time.” So, I think that is what we were trying to do with the title.
Dave: Yes. I know you talk about this a little bit in your book: the difference between chronos—
Dave: a—and kairos. I don’t know if I’m saying them exactly right. When I’ve taught about kairos, I call it “ky-ross.” You know, you go back to my story, and I was all about chronological time.
Dave: Tick, tick, tick. Minute, minute, minute. “Gotta get outta here on time.” And kairos—this is the way I define it, and you did it the same, but differently; I’ve always defined kairos time as a moment in time where time sort of stops.
Dave: You sort of seize it, and you do what you’re able to do right there. You look around and say, “Oh, my goodness! I’m with my son! I’m sitting in a stadium. Why am I rushing out of here?!” I missed a kairos moment, where God sort of steps into time. Is that true?
Dave: Is that how you sort of see it?
Jen: Yes. It’s interesting; I had a little email conversation back-and-forth with somebody who was writing about kairos and chronos, however you say those words. I have a feeling you probably know way more than I do about this, but I did kind of dig into how the Bible uses these words, and you really see that God is about both kinds of time.
Jen: Chronological time is something that God gave us in the garden. He made “evening and morning, the first day,” and six days, then the seventh to take your rest. So, this way that we can account for time as successive moments is a good; now, it’s not a good necessarily in our modern mentality, where every single moment has to count. Kairos time is the time that’s kind of disappeared for us; this idea that there’s another kind of time. It is that time behind the veil, and it’s happening right now.
I think it’s so cool that the Bible actually says that eternal life is now. It’s not just later. So, we’re living. We can live kairotic moments now; but a lot of times, we just don’t even have eyes to sort of even see or, you know, we don’t have a body that even responds; has a receptivity to that kind of time.
Ann: Have you had to pray, “Lord, open my eyes and show me what You’re even doing in this moment, so that I can see the way You see.”
Ann: You have?
Jen: I mean, all the time.
Ann: And does it change things?
Jen: Yes, I mean, I think it’s one of those things that you pray, and then you pray again, and then you pray again. You know, I think—I don’t know how you guys feel in your own Christian life, but I think—when we think about our spiritual senses, it’s almost like when Jesus healed the blind man, who could see a little bit, and then a little bit more. You know, the “people were like trees,” and then he could see a little bit more. I think that that is happening to us in our spiritual lives, where we grow ever more sensitive to hear the voice of God. We’re seeing ever more clearly, but I think I might think I’m seeing clearly today, and then tomorrow, you know, continuing to pray that prayer: “Lord, help me to see.” I think I might even be able to see more!
I really think it’s hard to see eternal time.
Ann: What do you mean by “seeing eternal time?”
Jen: You know, I mean, even just to think about people who don’t know Jesus, truthfully, is where I often have to recognize that I must not grasp the reality of eternal time. Otherwise, wouldn’t I be more urgent to talk to people about their eternal souls and the offer of life—abundant, eternal life through Jesus? So, that’s something that I think, right there, is sort of an application of how I realize I don’t live eternal time.
Eternal time also says, you know, “God’s time is very long.” So often, I’m very impatient with a season of life that I’m living in in this moment.
Jen: Like, “Lord, right now! If you don’t answer that prayer right now, I’m despairing.” [Laughter] And I want to grow. I think eternal time would give me a lot more patience for, even, just earthly time.
Dave: I mean, are you experiencing some of that now, as you watch your mom?
Jen: Absolutely, yes.
Dave: What are you learning right now?
Ann: You’ve said that your mom is struggling with cognitive—
Jen: Yes, yes. My mom was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in August, and you know, one of the things that you experience with someone who has cognitive decline is that time—there is no frame of time.
Jen: You actually sort of lose an orientation to time. So, I can’t really talk to my mom about the past.
Jen: And I certainly don’t really talk to her about the future. It’s like the time, really, that is most present for my mom is the present. It is the present moment. So, there’s something really beautiful about being invited into living with someone in just the moment that is now. And you know, on the one hand, there’s a great grief to not be able to revisit the past and share our story together; you know, kind of revisit things.
And there’s not really a sense of talking about the future either. You know, in some clearer moments, my mom will say things like, “I worry about the future. I don’t know what progression this disease will take.” I think she said that to me about a week ago, in a pretty clear moment. And I said, “You know what? We don’t know; but I’m here with you.”
I think you start to recognize that, so often, we don’t solve problems of time.
Ann: But we want to, Jen! [Laughter] I want to! But we can’t.
Jen: No! I read a commentary on Ecclesiastes about that verse, “the crooked things that can’t be made straight”—
Jen: And that’s kind of the season that I’m living through now with my mom: wanting to fix some things, and wanting to make things easier for her, and recognizing, “Some crooked things can’t be made straight.” So, what do you do in a season like that? Well, what I can offer is just my own company, which is what God offers to us.
Jen: Think about it: He’s God with us, you know?
Ann: I love that! Just being in the present.
Ann: That’s a big application that’s hard for us.
Jen: Yes; I think it’s actually a real gift when we’re with people—older people.
Jen: And people who are losing their cognitive function. We’re invited, actually—I think they’re experiencing a different kind of time than us.
Ann: Me, too.
Jen: And there’s something really beautiful to be able to be invited into that. I think that, you know, caring for an aging parent is not all that dissimilar sometimes to caring for a young person.
Jen: I can remember telling my kids all the time, “Hurry up!” [Laughter] “Get your coats on! Tie your shoes! Hurry up!” And all of those little tasks [were] taking so much time. Now, the same thing is happening. It takes my mom time to get out of the car. She’s always got a little water bottle with her and all these different things. I’m like, “Oh, boy! Can we—Let’s move!” [Laughter] But what is the hurry? Where am I rushing off to?!
Dave: I mean, you wrote the book!
Jen: I know! [Laughter]
Dave: I’m looking at one of your habits, you know, to sort of live life in good time: it’s “receive,” which sounds like what you’re saying.
Dave: Here’s what you said: “As we learn our limits, we abandon the impulse to manage time, and embrace it as a gift to be received rather than something to be controlled.”
Dave: And I thought that was so beautiful, because you know, as you guys are talking about aging parents, I sat with Ann’s dad, and we’d be sitting in his assisted living, and the whole time, I’m tapping my foot like, “Let’s go! Let’s go!”
Dave: It was hard to receive.
Dave: It was hard to just say, “I don’t really have anywhere that I have to be. Just be in this moment!”
Ann: Did you guys ever hear the story of Jean Lush? She has passed now, but she was an author and a speaker. She was telling this story about she and her husband, who were room parents for like a dormitory for young kids. She said she heard there were some girls who were going to break out that night. She said her ten-year-old daughter was really struggling with going to bed. Jean, the mom, said to her daughter, “What is wrong? Settle down! You need to get to sleep!”
Dave: We never said that at bedtime, right? [Laughter]
Ann: Because she needs to go check on the safety of all the girls and the things going on. When she said again, “What is wrong?” her daughter—her ten-year-old daughter—said, “I can’t speak to you when you’re like this. You need to settle down in your soul.”
Jen: Oh, wow!
Ann: I remember reading this, and Jean said, “I was so convicted!”
Ann: And so, she said, “I am so sorry, hon. Let me just settle myself down. Now, tell me: it seems like something’s bothering you.” And she said, “Today at school”—after her mom had settled down; “Today in school”—“the teacher told me I’m stupid.”
Jen: Oh, my goodness.
Ann: And Jean recalls: “My daughter would have never said that to me had I not been settled down in my soul.” So often, we’re so rushed. Just as we’re saying, we don’t see and hear the things God wants us to pay attention to.
Jen: I have this inclination to believe that the whole world is inhabited with people who wish that we could settle down in our souls. If Christians were the kinds of people who settled down in their soul—
I mean, when I interact with people, I just notice how people really want to talk. They want to talk; they want to be listened to. Listening is a very patient habit. [Laughter] You know?
Dave: Yes, you’ve got to settle down.
Jen: You have to slow down.
Dave: We’re doing it right now, Jen.
Jen: We are!
Dave: We’re listening to you. [Laughter]
Jen: I’m doing the talking, so it’s less patient for me! [Laughter]
I can remember, actually, having my neighbor over, you know, maybe like six months into the pandemic; two-and-a-half hours, she talked. And when she left, she sent me a text and she said, “I’m just so embarrassed. I can’t believe I talked that long!” People need that!
Imagine if every Christian were kind of settled down in their soul, done with all the kind of false urgency, which is manufactured. I don’t have to be urgent about anything. I can walk as Jesus walked, where I receive the interruptions of my day. If someone tugs at my robe, I actually stop and say, “Who touched me?” Jesus was the most unruffled person in time; which isn’t to say He wasn’t kicking—like, He’s up all night sometimes, praying to choose the apostles.
Jen: He’s feeding the 5,000 when the disciples are all [saying], “Just send them away, because this is too much of a hassle to think about all of this.” That’s the vision that I have for my own life, and I would love to call people into that, because I actually think that real ministry in the world happens when that’s the kind of inner orientation that we have.
Dave: Yes; you know, as a pastor, I don’t know how many funerals I officiated—hundreds, at least. You know, every funeral, obviously, is different based on how the person lived. I’ll never forget this one: often, there’s an open mic where people can say something about the person that is deceased. I remember this one, when I couldn’t get them to stop. It’s like everybody wanted to stand up. I was like, “Hey, keep it brief,” and they did that. And it just kept going and kept going.
Do you know what the theme was? Almost every person said about this guy: “He always had time for me.”
Dave: “I never felt like he was bothered by me or had something more important to do. He always stopped, looked at me, and just took—” That funeral marked me.
Ann: Oh, it’s so convicting!
Dave: I remember those words [and thinking], “Would anybody say that about me?”
Dave: Even my own kids?
Dave: My spouse? You know, it’s like you’re always seeming—and again, you know, what is it we have to rush to?
I’ve got to tell you this quick story, which maybe you’ve heard. One of my favorite authors back in the day was John Ortberg. He wrote a book about the spiritual disciplines, and there’s a chapter about Sabbath and rest. He tells a story about when his kids were just toddlers, and he was giving them a bath. He was trying to dry them off, and his daughter Mallory just started running around the bedroom or the bathroom and singing, “De da day! De da day!” He said, “Mallory! Get over here! I’ve got to dry you off!” “De da day!” She just wouldn’t stop doing it. He finally said, “I was screaming at her, “Get over here! I’ve got to dry you off!”
He said, “My little five-year-old girl looked at me and said, ‘Why, Daddy?’” He said, “As soon as she said that, it was like, ‘She’s right.’”
Dave: “I’ve got nowhere to go. I’ve got no sermon to write. I’ve got no one to see. She’s like, ‘Come on, Daddy! Let’s do the de-da dance!” He said, “I just got up and I did the de-da dance.” And I remember reading that story and just thinking, “We don’t stop and receive the moment.”
Dave: It’s like, yes, she needs to be dried off. That will come; but we miss these moments. I think that’s what you were saying in this book.
Dave: That’s why I love it so much.
Ann: Me, too.
Dave: That “receive” habit? I’m not good at it.
Ann: Well, you broke the book into two parts. Part One is On Time Anxiety, which we’ve talked about a little bit. We all feel that. Part Two is On Time Faith, and then you get into these eight habits. We just talked about receiving. What are the other habits that you think, “Oh, I hope people get this?”
Jen: We’ve talked a little bit about waiting, but I think that’s a really important one.
Ann: [Chuckling] It’s so hard!
Jen: When you’re in that mindset of productivity, which is also about efficiency, you know? You just want things done quickly. You want to sort of eliminate all waste, and I think we can think of waiting as seasons of waste in our lives. It was cool to actually dig in a little bit to just how minds grow. I got really interested in John 15 and this whole idea of, you know, remaining and abiding in Jesus; but also, this idea of enduring in Jesus. That’s another way that we would translate that word. And that Jesus would be enduring in us.
So, I was like, “Oh, okay, let me learn more about the vine.” You see that vines don’t produce fruit all year-round. They need to be forced into seasons of dormancy, because in dormancy is when the roots grow deep, and the root systems get strengthened. You don’t want a top-heavy plant. So, I just think waiting [is] often those seasons of dormancy, where we’re maybe waiting on God to answer a prayer or waiting on God to just change a circumstance in our lives; or just waiting on a promise to be fulfilled.
We often just want to shorten those seasons.
Ann: Oh, yes!
Jen: Like, “I don’t want to wait!”
Jen: But that’s where faith is built—and steadfastness and endurance, as we’ve already talked about. So, I think that’s a really good one. I think we’re being formed, really, to be impatient people. That’s what it means to live in a technological society, right? [Laughter] Like, “If Amazon can’t get the package to my door by—”
Ann: In two days! Or tonight.
Dave: Or how about tomorrow morning?
Jen: Oh, yes! “Two days,” and I feel a little bit affronted! “Two days!?”
Dave: I mean, it’s same-day delivery now! [Laughter]
Jen: I know!
Ann: Jen, what does that look like for you? What have you had to wait for?
Jen: Waiting on seasons of grief, for example. I talk about my own seasons of grief, which is always something you want to hurry past.
Jen: I don’t want to feel bad. My dad died when I was in college, my first year at Wheaton. Then my brother died my first year out of Wheaton. I remember kind of thinking, especially when my dad died, “I’ll spend a week at home. You know, I’ll go home; I’ll be with my mom; I’ll be with my brother, and then I’ll just kind of resume my normal life.” I gave it a week, right? I gave grief a week!
Jen: And then, thank God, six months after my dad died, I became friends with one of the professor’s wives on campus. They had actually lost a daughter to meningitis when she was 12, very suddenly. And she became a mentor in grief to me. One of the first things she said is, “You know, time doesn’t heal.” In the sense that “it’s not going to erase your hurt. You’re never going to forget that you don’t have a dad, you know? You’re going to grieve. Grief will kind of be with you the rest of your life. Which isn’t to say you’re always going to feel it as acutely as you do now.”
So, I took that into the season of losing my brother, but still, I remember, I was a new teacher. I remember the demands of having a new job, like, “I don’t have tenure.” So, when your principal comes and asks you to do something, you’re like, “Of course!” Because I want to have this job next year!
Not having, maybe, the courage, or even the willingness, to say, “You know what? It’s just not a good time. I just need this year—” Trusting—I wish I had trusted God to maybe say “no” to some of the responsibilities that were sort of given to me as a new teacher, because it was October of my first year of teaching when my brother died.
Jen: So, waiting is hard, because you just—we all want to feel like we’re our best selves all the time. I have never gone through a season of ill health, but I can imagine the waiting that’s sort of involved in whatever kind of diagnosis you may have; even just waiting from scan to scan. I tell the story about my friend, Heather, in the book, who has metastatic breast cancer. You know time is a gift when you have a diagnosis like that.
Jen: And you know, just even seeing the waiting that’s involved. But we’re not left alone in it. God is with us! So, even in our seasons of waiting—
Ann: It’s shaping us, as you said earlier.
Jen: It’s shaping us; yes.
Ann: That’s beautiful. Would you pray for us, because I feel like this hits all of us?
Ann: We identify; we all identify with this topic.
Ann: So, I’m wondering if you would just—I love that you have so many prayers in your book. Will you pray for us?
Jen: Absolutely, yes!
God, Thank You that You enjoy time plenty; that You are not panicked by time. I pray that You would invite each of us listening into Your peace, to feel urgent about nothing except for the things that You give us to do and to receive, whether it’s an interruption, a surprise, a disappointment, or even a season of grief to wait through. Lord, help us to know the company that You keep with Your people, and that You are with us. I pray that even knowing that You’re sticking closer than a brother or a sister would, would invite us into Your peace. In Jesus’s Name, Amen.
Shelby: Hi, I’m Shelby Abbott, and you’ve been listening to Dave and Ann Wilson with Jen Pollock Michel on FamilyLife Today. You know, I love her book, In Good Time. It gives eight practical habits to help you resist hurry, transform any time anxiety that you may have, and practice the presence of God in the here and now. You can pick up a copy of her book at FamilyLifeToday.com.
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Now, coming up next week, Dave and Ann Wilson are joined in the studio with Tim and Aileen Challies. Tim has written a book called The Pain of Loss and the Comfort of God. They lost their son a few years ago, and he’s going to talk through how to help us understand why it’s possible to love God more after loss than you loved Him before.
On behalf of Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Shelby Abbott. We’ll see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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