From our spring issue of Magnolia Journal, Jo shares how reframing our view of time can lead us to appreciate all that is unfolding in the moments right in front of us.
a new view of time
by joanna gaines
Even if we’re not officially taught it in school, from a young age we learn the value of efficiency. We’re encouraged to manage our time well and offered reminders by those older and wiser that “time is a thief.” The irony is that some of us actually wait for it to be true. Some of us grow up expecting time to one day abandon even our best-laid plans.
For me, those lessons about efficiency—as good-natured as they might have been—started to cultivate a fear of misplacing what little time I thought I had. I started to measure my days based on all the things I didn’t get to instead of all that I was able to. I leaned into efficiency more and more over the years, treating time like something to control, and wearing the way I managed it like a badge of honor. And the truth is, I am good at being efficient. In a lot of ways, it feels like the most natural thing in the world for me. I wasn’t made to sit still, and I love to knock out a punch list—which, by the way, isn’t bad. It’s how I’m wired. Besides, an efficient outlook can be a really healthy thing. It can help guide our decisions so that the ways we spend our time align with our truest intentions, weeding out any lesser things or unwelcome distractions. In those moments, being efficient feels good and right—wise even. Yet when I look back at my life, I can see how, gradually, I began choosing efficiency over everything. Even things that I knew deep in my bones were worthy of my time.
One of those moments happened about a year and a half ago. We were having a big family dinner at my parents’ house. My younger sister and her family were there. All of our kids— 11 in total—were playing out on my parents’ big back lawn. My youngest son, Crew, was about a year old at the time, and by then we’d figured out that when we could get him to bed by 7:30 p.m. he was just an all-around happier kid the next day. So Crew’s bedtime became an important part of our family’s daily routine, and getting him down for the night on time felt like a win, like I’d succeeded in managing our time well. So at my parents’ house, when I noticed that it was already half an hour past Crew’s bedtime, the stress started to creep in. I hollered at the kids that it was time to start loading up just as my dad asked me to stay and watch the sunset with him. It was a summer night, so by 8 p.m. it probably would have meant staying another 15 minutes to catch the last of the daylight.
But I didn’t see it that way. I saw it only for what it would cost me tomorrow. So I told my dad I would do it the next time, and we headed home.
It didn’t take me long to regret that moment. My dad is the most understanding person when it comes to my family’s time. An invitation to stay and watch the sun disappear with him was a special request. I realized I’d held a meaningful moment hostage in the name of efficiency.
Over the years I had become so completely preoccupied with the idea of spending my time efficiently that I was missing opportunities to spend it well. I had believed that the structure I built around my family was keeping everyone prepared for all the stuff that life throws at you—and part of it was, and still does. But structure all the time leaves little space to simply be delighted, to let a moment catch you by surprise.
What I’ve come to learn is that sometimes what structure ends up shielding you from is the fullness of life.
Time went by, and I kept saying to Chip that I needed to get back to my parents’ house to watch the sun go down with my dad. But then COVID-19 hit, and more months passed. Spring turned to summer. Finally, this past fall, I called my dad one day after work and asked him to meet me in his backyard. And this time, as evening dimmed, instead of watching the clock, I watched the sun fall lower and lower until it hovered just above the horizon. Dad and I talked, mostly about the ordinary—the kids, work, the house—but the fact that I’d made it back to this place, that I’d been given a chance to reclaim a moment I’d so freely given away, was extraordinary.
For so long I’d chased efficiency for fear of misplacing my time. Yet as we stood there, eyes fixed on the sherbet-color sky, I wondered how many other moments just like this I had misplaced instead. That evening was a turning point for me. No longer would I measure my life based on what I achieved in a week, a day, or an hour. Now, it is time spent in moments like the one I shared with my dad that I hope define my lifetime. Time spent abandoning plans in order to catch a glimpse of something truly beautiful. Of being surprised by a moment of laughter or joy or heartache and letting it sink in for a breath or two. Time spent taking in the only view that really matters: the one unfolding right in front of me.
This story was adapted for digital from the spring issue of Magnolia Journal.