The Tension of Time

“How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” —Annie Dillard

Time is our most precious non-renewable resource.

Many of us feel that on a daily basis. The day flies by. The week flies by. We want to know how to perfectly manage our days. We organize our lives with schedules. We covet a few more hours of peace or another day of vacation.

We know we should live every day like it’s our last—with urgency.

But we also know we’re likely playing a long game. 

This is the tension of time.

How do we live with urgency, plus endurance? How do we live fully today while laying the groundwork for a future in which we—and those around us—flourish?

I’ve realized: As we attempt to live well within the tension of time, people are our most valuable asset. 

There is no better way to spend a life than to spend it in connection, community, and belonging. Human relationships provide the most powerful context for learning the art of living with both urgency and endurance. When we engage with one another—through the triumphs, the tensions, the  highlights, the hard times—we develop the mindset and motivation to make the most of every day AND to be patient in the pursuit of our longer-term goals.

In my own life, three relationship experiences have helped me to understand how to live fully, for now and for the future. I share these three short stories in hopes of fleshing out that mindset. And to share, as others have shared with me here on the blog, a piece of my story.

My Dad

I was a junior in college when I got the call from my parents: My dad had cancer. As the news set in, I remember feeling like I’d wasted time. I’d always assumed there would be more. It was my first real brush with mortality—and the first time I’d considered serious regret: I’d taken a relationship for granted. 

A sense of urgency changed my plans. I put off graduate school to move back home. I picked up a paintbrush and started painting houses to make a little money. But my main objective was just to be present with my dad and my family. My number one priority became making the most of all the time we had left.

When my dad died, I had people in my life—mentors and friends who had helped keep me from getting stuck in grief and regret. Through that hard time, I came away energized to value people and relationships. I learned: Any day we can get that call. And on that day, I don’t think I’ll ever regret the delays in my timeline of tasks and achievements that opened up space to be present, to treasure people.

My Brother

Shortly after my wife and I were married, I  got another call—this time in the middle of the night. My brother, Kevin, had been in a car accident. I remember the feeling of being half-asleep and half-awake, thinking I’d wake up any second from that bad dream. Time slowed down. At the hospital, we waited. The doctor came in and delivered the news—Kevin didn’t make it.

My brother (left) and my dad (right) at my college graduation.

My brother (left) and my dad (right) at my college graduation.

I’m grateful that my brother and I were at a good moment in our relationship. We had both recently moved back to Winston-Salem. Me, newly married. And Kevin, after finishing his time in the Air Force. There were times when we hadn’t been as close. But we had reconnected. We were in the fulness of our connection as brothers. 

When that was taken away, I was in shock. I remember the anger of it not being right or fair. I remember feeling vulnerable—driving around and feeling anxious, thinking how the same thing could happen to me at any second. How little control we have.

I learned: Relationships aren’t perfect; they go through tensions and seasons. They require work—urgency, in the valuing of daily interactions, and patience, in a process that doesn’t always work out like we’d planned. We are not in control of the outcomes, but we do have power: to move through our days with love, not fear.

My Wife

Recently my wife was diagnosed with cancer. She’s pursuing treatment, and we’re praying for healing. We’re hoping for a long-term survivor story. 

So many people are having this same experience right now. We go over to the hospital on chemo days and join a whole community of people who are walking this path. 

I think, I don’t want to be here. I feel fear rising. I think, I got to wake up today. I feel gratitude. I’m still breathing. I’m not alone. I have opportunities to connect —to share encouragement and hope. I have work to do. 

In this moment, we are learning again: Every day is a gift. Every life is meaningful.

A Different Kind of Time Management

“I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” —Maya Angelou

I’ve read a lot of books about time management. They can be helpful, but I think what I’ve found most essential is doing regular heart-level audits on how I’m spending my life

  • Are you stuck in fear, resentment, or regret? Have grace toward yourself (and others) for the setbacks and hard times. Stay engaged in the fight for flourishing and ask for help when you need it (which may be sooner than you want to admit). Don’t walk through things alone.

  • Are you leaning into the tension of time? You can’t undo the past. You might have the future. The only sure thing is the present. Regret about the past and anxiety about the future are thieves that will rob you of today. Do your best to fight them off.

  • Are you working toward the impact you want to have on others? Value people. Build community. Lift up love over hate. Be patient. We often overestimate our short-term impact and under-estimate what’s possible when we commit to the long-game of endurance in the things that matter most. 

Just like you, I don’t have time to do everything. It’s easy to impose pressure on myself and others in an effort to do it all. But I prioritize the primary things. I take a look at my values and reset. I release myself from worrying what other people might think. I do the things that are building toward what’s most important to me. 

What’s most important?

Today, it’s picking up groceries from the store for dinner with my family tonight, preparing the table where we’ve shared so many good and bad days. And, well, posting this. Continuing the ‘fighting’ work I believe in. Executing on what I know, in my heart, is worthwhile.  

Counterstories is a blog collaboration between conflict resolution specialist Steve Beck and writer/editor Rachael Schmid. If you have a powerful story of forgiveness or peacemaking (or just want to share your thoughts on this post), we’d love to hear from you. Reach out at