In Greek, there is both chronos – sequential, process, time with length – and kairos – consequential, event, time with depth. In Greek mythology, Chronos was the Titan, father of the Olympian gods, who devoured his own children until betrayed by his wife and defeated by his son Zeus. A tyrant.
The other evening Jo and I were with Mark Carey and a number of other friends who meet together once a month as part of our commitment to one another within The Order of Mission. At some point in the evening, Mark mentioned the tyranny of time – that is, what happens when we misunderstand time with the result that it shifts from being a light yoke to being a heavy burden.
As part of professional or community development, we have become familiar with being asked to make plans – 6-month plans, 12-month plans, 2-year plans, 5-year plans – setting goals we will be measured against in order to be held accountable. And it is often said that most people over-estimate what they can do in one year, and under-estimate what they can do in five.
There is nothing wrong with making plans, or indeed with setting goals. The problem comes when chronos, rather than kairos, becomes the driver, becomes the yardstick against which accountability is measured. We become so focused on delivering our agenda – or meeting someone else’s – that we become deaf and blind to God’s timing. We set our course, and fail to notice when God says, turn here.
It is much easier to measure what we do within chronos time than it is to measure how often we have responded rightly to kairos times, because this is what we are used to measuring, have grown competent at measuring. We need to unlearn how we measure time, in order that we might grow in competency at recognising and responding to kairos events.
There comes a kairos when Jesus sets his course towards Jerusalem and sets out on a journey through chronos towards his goal. But that chronological passage is punctuated by kairos moments Jesus responds to. In so doing, rather than trying to force circumstances, he makes himself available – whether by exercising agency, as when he opens the eyes of blind beggars on the road outside Jericho; or by surrendering agency, as when he allows the Father to hand him over in the Garden of Gethsemane – for heaven to break into earth through him, at the Father’s prompting.
How, then, might we hold chronos more lightly, while attending more closely to kairos? One way might be to ask ourselves, each evening:
“Where did I work with Jesus today?” and,
“Where did I resist Jesus today?”
Another way might be to set measureable goals as part of our plan in response to a kairos (to repent involves observation, reflection, and discussion; to believe involves forming a plan, being accountable, and acting in a new way), rather than as a To Have Done By This Date List; taking them seriously but holding them lightly, open to the disruption of other kairos moments (every kairos changes our world, and some more dramatically so than others).