I was asked to deliver a brief exhortation to the high school before Summer vacation begins.
In his epistle to the Ephesians, St. Paul writes:
Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, redeeming your time, because the days are evil.
We know from elsewhere in Scripture that Day itself is good. Light is good. Light and Day are so good, in fact, that in Paradise Lost, Milton suggests that prior to the Fall, man dwelt in perpetual light. Before the fall, night was not dark, but merely cool and shaded. In Revelation, John prophesies that in the life to come, “There will be no more night. The saints will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light.”
So what does St. Paul mean when he says “the days are evil”? What days are these?
I am just as glad as you are that summer has come. I am tired, you are tired, and “the end of a thing is better than the beginning,” as Solomon says in Ecclesiastes, which must be true of the school year, as well. I am glad that summer has come, but so far as we all are concerned, the days of summer are certainly the evil days which St. Paul warns about.
While Day and light are good, “the days” Paul writes of are perhaps more like “this epoch” or “this age,” a particular period of time. We can know something about what makes the days evil by the way Paul encourages the Church at Ephesus to fight that evil. The evil which characterizes “the days” can be fought through careful living. “Be very careful how you live…” teaches the Apostle, as though the evil of “the days” might bring the Ephesians to live thoughtlessly, sloppily, disorderedly.
Summer has a way of inducing forgetfulness and thoughtlessness among students and teachers alike. Time is a significant commodity during the school year— what with so many sports, classes, papers and extracurriculars vying for your time— but in the Summer, time becomes cheap. Time is not won by hard labor, but exists in surplus, and so it is far easier to be profligate with time, wasting time. What is true of money is typically true of time: easy come, easy go.
For this reason, Paul exhorts the Ephesians to “redeem their time” from insignificance. Be wise and prudent with your time. The man who has not redeemed his day often stays up late, searching for something which will satisfy him, because he has frittered away the day in meaningless activities. A man who is satisfied with his labor does not grasp for hours after dark. He is content with his work, his hours.
I have often noted the bemused, smirking expressions of those who, on Monday morning, report they have done nothing of value over the weekend. The smirk speaks to irony, and irony is typically humorous. The irony is that a creature so glorious as a human being has not redeemed its time, but has taken the image of God in vain.
Over the Summer, you must rest. You are entitled to rest. You have earned it. And you are entitled to all the joy, pleasure, satisfaction, golden laughter and deliciousness which attends rest. Go to the movies. Go to the pool. Read something written in the last ten years, if you must. Allow me to caution you, however, against confusing rest with laziness.
What’s the difference? For all the precise philosophical distinctions I would like to draw, let me offer a profoundly simple one which was commended to me by a pastor back when I was your age: if you can sing the doxology when you’re finished doing something, go ahead and do it. If you can go to a movie with your friends then grab dinner and chat about work, money, church, girls, parents, college, and it doesn’t seem absurd to sing the doxology in the parking lot before parting ways for the night— and I think you can, easily— then well done. That’s rest. That’s community. Whenever two or three are gathered in the name of Christ, Christ is there, too. If you can spend two hours surfing the internet, chatting with friends, reading Wikipedia articles about books you’re interested in, and the doxology seems a fitting song to accompany closing down all those tabs on Firefox, that’s rest. If you can identify anything you have done as a blessing from the God “from whom all blessings flow,” carry on with it. However, if you’re in the middle of a movie, or a concert, or a trip to the pool, the beach, the library and you look at your friends and realize there’s no way you can honestly thank God for what you’re doing, quit doing it. If it seems ridiculous to sing the doxology after playing video games for three hours, you’re right. It is. One of the two things has to go, and the man who is not very careful how he lives, the man who is not redeeming his time, will cut the doxology.
Now, I am not so naïve as to think many of you will actually begin singing the doxology more often than you do currently. Truth be told, after my friends and I heard the minister suggest this, the doxology test, I think we only sang it once on our own. However, the idea of the test has always stayed with me as a powerful reminder to “be very careful how I live,” as St. Paul says. If you do not live your life as though it is a gift from God, then it will become a curse. There are only these two options.
This summer, live your lives in such a way that you can thank God for your lives. If you do, others will thank God for your lives. The lives of your parents, your brothers and sisters, even your own life will be characterized not by remorse, but joy.
I’ll finish with the words of David:
To have a fool for a child brings grief; there is no joy for the parent of a godless fool.
the father of a righteous child has great joy. What a pleasure to have children who are wise.