In the film Ida, an 18-year-old and her aunt live in mid-twentieth-century Communist Poland. Left at a convent as an orphan during the war, the niece is about to take monastic vows. She knows nothing of life outside the monastery. Her only clothes are her habit. Her world-weary aunt, part of the legal bureaucracy, is a chain-smoking, heavy drinking, serial “manizer” (think womanizer). The two have conflicting worldviews. When one says to the other, “I won’t let you waste your life,” the only surprise is that it’s the aunt who pronounces judgment.
Religious people are supposed to be the judgmental ones (and too often fulfill that tragic and ironic expectation), but we have no monopoly on condemnations. Even spiritual people, religious people, church people find monastic life odd, irrelevant, perhaps ridiculous. But the irony of that bite of movie dialogue is that the depressed, self-medicating, acting out woman considers herself a socially acceptable, even a socially prescribed, norm.
We know we can waste our lives. That’s why the synoptic Gospels call people to repent: you are wasting your life; try again! That’s why the Gospel of John invites us to a life of abundance. There is so much more!
Ida’s clash of lifestyles highlights the choice of our direction in life: live selfishly or for the common good. But there is equal potential for waste in how we use our time. I am often aware of the ways Blase Pascal’s divertissement (distractions) dominate and distort our lives – we fill our lives with junk – junk food, junk entertainment, junk consumerism. That isn’t to say that we are to be constantly compulsively productive. Observing the ways people planned frenetic vacations, G. K. Chesterton said: “I can never find enough Nothing to do.” We need play time, down time, Sabbath time, recreation that re-creates. We need balanced lives.
I don’t want to waste my life. So I choose life’s direction carefully. And I hope I use my time well. I have only one precious life. I want to use God’s gift to the fullest.