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Fun need not be enemy of the good
By Orson Scott Card February 25, 2010

A week of snow days had shut down 6 a.m. seminary at our house, and some of the kids had even stated -- publicly, in testimony meeting! -- that they missed it.

During that week, time was heavy on their hands -- ours, too. So as the lesson rolled around to Alma chapter 34, these verses struck the teacher with a particular resonance:

32 For behold, this life is the time for men to prepare to meet God; yea, behold the day of this life is the day for men to perform their labors.

33 ... behold, if we do not improve our time while in this life, then cometh the night of darkness wherein there can be no labor performed.

What does Alma mean by saying we should "improve our time"? It's not like the parable of the talents -- we can't put our hours out to the timelenders and get it back with usury.

It's about what we do with our time.

Now, I always cringe a little when people start talking about time management and not "wasting time."

There's almost nothing in my life that responds well to the ethos of efficiency, and much that happens when I'm "playing" that in fact helps with my work.

I can't churn out a novel by the clock; it has to ripen at its own sweet time, while I do other things, and then it usually gushes (though sometimes it only trickles out. Or seeps. Or oozes).

And a lot of "wasted" time isn't completely misused. Those crossword puzzles help keep your mind sharp in old age. Videogames really do sharpen response time in other activities. Playing is, in fact, an essential part of a healthy human life.

So I was as relieved as the kids were when the seminary teacher took a much friendlier stance.

First, she did a little arithmetic with them.

Anything we do for an hour a day amounts to fifteen days in a year, or about half a month.

Seven hours of sleep a night would be three-and-a-half months of the year.

If eating takes an hour and a half each day, that amounts to more than three weeks.

A 40 hour a week job is about three months.

Because of summer vacation, for these students school took up two months of the year.

Between getting to seminary, school, and church meetings, they were in the car driving (or being driven) at least an hour a day -- another half month.

And they didn't even try to do the math on showering, doing their hair, and household chores like laundry and dishes and cleaning their rooms.

After a discussion about how they will be accountable to God for their stewardship of the time they have in their mortal bodies, the teacher handed three note cards to each student.

"On the green card, write down things you want to accomplish before you're twenty-one -- what you hope to look back on during your years of youth.

"On the yellow card, write down things that just make you happy. Maybe they are not your greatest talent, but they bring you joy."

The teacher explained that sometimes you can use activities on the yellow card to reward yourself for accomplishing steps toward the goals on the green card. But if you reverse the order, the yellow card can use up all the time and leave the green card projects unaccomplished.

The pink card was the tough one. "Write down things that interfere daily with doing the things on the first two cards -- your goals and your joys. What things just suck your life away accidently without thinking about it?"

The teacher didn't ask anybody to share anything on any of the cards -- these were personal. But some of them volunteered a few things, and a list began to emerge.

Texting. Videogames. TV.

Everyone agreed that they surf the net too much. "You get on for just a couple of minutes, and all of a sudden you realize several hours have gone by."

The thing that we have to remember is that none of these activities is necessarily bad. The internet is useful -- it allows you to "tag up" with friends (i.e., "poke" them), keeps you in touch with the surrounding culture.

But because social and cultural websites like U-Tube, Facebook, and others instantly and constantly "reward" you for staying online just a little longer, they can become a roadblock that keeps you from your goals -- and even from your joys!

When I heard the recap of the lesson afterward (you don't think I actually get up in time for six a.m. seminary, do you?), I immediately applied it to myself -- as Jacob told us we should do with scriptural teaching -- and realized that I too often give the excuse that I'm "unconsciously" working on a story while I play computer games and deal with email and otherwise fiddle.

I surf the cable channels and my DVR recordings so late at night that I'm groggy and sleepy all the next day. So that even the hours I do spend working are far less effective.

In fact, even as I write this column, several computer games are constantly occurring to me as really good "breaks" between paragraphs. But -- for this one column, at least -- I am resisting their call. I have not played a single one of them between the start of writing and this moment, when I'm ending.

(And yes. I expect you to give me a medal. Growing up is hard, and I'm definitely not there yet.)

The key to everything is not to ban the things you actually do with your time because they're "bad" (unless, of course, they really are bad!).

That's like deciding never to eat again because you have been eating too much. You're going to break that resolution. (Or at least I hope you are.)

It's about keeping in mind all three cards, and not letting the least important -- the activities you don't even enjoy that much and that you don't even remember when you're finished with them -- keep you from doing the ones that will bring you joy as you do them, or joy for having accomplished them.

Copyright © 2010 by Orson Scott Card

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