An extended review of a 2022 book by Jen Pollock Michel
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Baker Books, December 2022. 256 pages. $20 (e-book $14, audio $19, hardcover $40)
Jen Pollock Michel is, in her own words, “a recovering time manager.” For years she devoured books on time management and productivity. And well she should have. A popular speaker, award-winning author, literary magazine editor, wife and mother of five, she had every reason to seek to maximize her hours and her days.
In middle life, however, she has become increasingly convinced that for the child of God, time is not a commodity to be managed, but rather a gift to be received. In her most recent book, In Good Time, she explores the meaning of “living the Lord’s time.”
Pollock Michel speaks and writes regularly on the subject of habits; indeed, the sub-title of the book posits eight habits. But readers expecting a neat list of concrete strategies for boosting productivity – Rise early! Delegate! Prioritize! Eliminate! – will be sorely disappointed; the author offers no quick fixes. Rather, she serves up slow food – a nourishing meal prepared with thought and care, one that first marinates, then simmers long. The habits she puts forward represent shifts in the way we perceive our temporal lives. She wrestles with modern notions of productivity, our innate desire to “make [our] lives count,” and the demands of love and community.
A long-time resident of Toronto, she also reflects on the struggles and lessons learned over the course of the city’s onerous pandemic lockdowns. She shares candidly about her own time anxiety, as well as the difficult decision to relocate her family back to the United States so she can care for her aging mother. How will the responsibilities of elder care eat into my time? she worries.
Equal parts memoir, meditation and scholarly synthesis, In Good Time mines the significance of biblical texts such as Proverbs 31. Who discerned that this ultra-productive superwoman of old was so invested in the lives of others? Could it be that this ancient portrait of “the wife of noble character” is less about efficiency and accomplishment than it is about relationship? Pollock Michel also considers the well-watered tree depicted in Psalm 1, and wonders if, in our frenetic pursuit of productivity, we have lost sight of God’s design for human flourishing, that is, the lifelong cultivation of wisdom.
An avid reader and host of the Englewood Review of Books podcast, she mixes insights from her study with reflections on her personal journey. Her sources are wide-ranging, from time management classics to the writings of Brother Lawrence and Saint Benedict. The Rule of Saint Benedict is of particular interest to her; she ponders it in her discussion of the sixth habit, Practice. A rule of life, we come to understand, is a thoughtful itemization of our non-negotiable values, and a timetable for their resulting disciplines. While seemingly restrictive, such a rule may serve to shape our days and our years by establishing borders within which human life thrives.
Some of the conclusions Michel reaches run counter to the counsel of the productivity gurus. For them, interruptions are hindrances to attaining output goals. But Pollock Michel, who herself frequently hangs a “Do Not Disturb” sign on the closed door of her home office, is persuaded that there are times when we must embrace interruptions: they may signal God’s assignment for a given day. In Ecclesiastes, the Teacher declares that “To every thing there is a season” (3:1, KJV). As counterintuitive as it may feel, welcoming interruptions is one way Christ-followers can live God’s “fitting time.”
One chapter is dedicated to each of the eight habits Michel proposes. Each chapter concludes with helpful questions for personal reflection, followed by a short prayer.
At a recent small group Bible study, one middle-aged professional confessed how part of her wished for a return to pandemic lockdown, that protracted season when calendars were cleared and time slowed to a crawl. But all indications are that we will not be retreating into that stillness again. In Good Time offers encouragement for readers who have struggled with time anxiety, pressure to achieve and the feeling that there are never enough hours in a day. This book reminds us that in the Lord’s time, indeed there are more than enough.
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