In Layman's Terms: Measuring the passage of time

Todd Seifert


I want to pause from the communications content this week to talk a little about time — particularly how it passes.

As I write this, it’s only Aug. 13, and yet my Facebook feed is filled with parents posting photos of their kids as the youngsters head off to their first day of school.

I recall that as a child I was jealous of the kids in school districts that returned to school after Labor Day. In Leavenworth, Kansas, we always started back in August, but it seems like it was always at some point after the 20th of the month. As much as I enjoy seeing those first-day-of-school pics, I can’t help but think children these days get ripped off a bit of their summer vacation.

I think we all got ripped off this year. I honestly couldn’t tell you what happened to the month of July, but it seems like we skipped it entirely.

It’s kind of interesting how we perceive the passing of seasons. Sure, we have calendars that tell us the official first days of fall, winter, spring and summer. But that’s not how we tend to live our lives. We tend to see the return of kids to school as the end of summer and start of fall — regardless of how much the air conditioner is used in those first few weeks. Winter tends to start either right after Thanksgiving or the first snowfall. Flowers blooming equals the start of spring. And Memorial Day weekend tends to kick off our summer activities.

Your list may be slightly different, especially if there are community festivals or traditions where you live, but I suspect more than a few of you were nodding your head as you read those words.

My wife and I are empty-nesters. Our daughter graduated college in May and was married the next week. Our son is starting his junior year in college and lived in the community where he serves a church as an intern and played baseball over the summer. That means we didn’t even have dorm move-in day to mark the changing of a season.

So, the return to school didn’t exactly turn the page on my internal calendar this year.

Back-to-school time can be hard on parents. That first day of kindergarten or first grade can be a traumatic reminder that the little ones are growing up. But the first time you don’t have to worry about the first day of school is even more difficult. It’s like your rhythm is all off kilter.

So it’s appropriate to embrace the cliché and call upon Ecclesiastes 3:1-8. The New Revised Standard Version shares this scripture in this way:

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to throw away;
a time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace.
For those of you just a bit older than me, go ahead and queue The Byrds and “Turn! Turn! Turn!”

The notes in my Harper Collins Study Bible say this book likely was written in the post-exile period for Judah, at some point in the fifth to third centuries BCE. Think about the turmoil of that time for the people of what we call Israel, and it’s easy to see why some wisdom would have been sought after by the people of that time. I’m reading “Jerusalem: The Biography,” by Simon Sebag Montefiore, and as much as I thought I understood about the ups and downs of the Holy City, I was woefully uninformed about all the chaos.

So, when the writer of Ecclesiastes talks about times for celebration and times of dread, I get it. We don’t face those same challenges as the people of Israel more than 2,300 years ago. But we certainly do have times to weep. I thank God we also have times to laugh.

This whole going back to school event — an annual time-keeper for me — shows that this passage of scripture can speak to people differently at the same time and in the same place.

I know many a kid sees this as a time for mourning; the summer is over. But I also know more than a few parents for whom this is a time for dancing.

Regardless of whether you use the school year to mark time, or what your feelings are about the school year, we all can take solace in rereading Ecclesiastes 3:1 — “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.”
Todd Seifert is communications director for the Great Plains Conference of the United Methodist Church. He can be reached via phone at 785-414-4224, or via email at Opinions expressed are the author's alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Great Plains Annual Conference or The United Methodist Church. Follow him on Twitter, @ToddSeifert.