By Anthony Casperson
The person was trying to make a point. Don’t let excuses get in the way of accomplishing the things you know you should do. It’s a fine message to remind us all. But it was the way he said it that irked me. “We all have the same 24 hours in a day.”
I’m not denying the fact that the length of time for which each individual exists in any given day is equal to the time everyone else on the planet exists. No one has any sort of secret 25th hour in a day or 8th day in the week. Those irksome words about 24 hours are true, but the message behind them betrays a faulty thought.
The direction of the person’s argument was that since we each have the same amount of time in a day, then we should all have the ability to do the same things that everyone else can in those same hours. Essentially, if anybody else can accomplish a set number of tasks in a day, then we should have no excuse. “It works for me, so it should work for you too.”
But if we take a second to think about it, we should be able to come up with a few arguments against this equity of ability just because our time existing on the planet in any given day is the same for everyone.
First, not everyone requires the same number of hours to sleep. There are people who are capable of regularly sleeping 5-6 hours in a day and having no real detriment to their output. But then there are others who are incapable of extended periods of time without 8-9 hours of sleep. And that latter group is not full of lazy people who just lay around doing nothing, or full of depressed people who use sleep as a coping mechanism. Literally, there are people who can’t function properly without a regular 8-9 hours of sleep.
So, let’s do some quick and easy math. If you take a person who can sleep for 5 hours a day and one who needs 9 hours, there’s a 4-hour difference where one person can be productive while the other is sleeping. That’s a whole sixth of a day where one person is able to do various tasks that the other is incapable of doing. That essentially does give the one person a whole extra day per week that the other is sleeping through.
It’s not an excuse used by people to be lazy. Rather, it’s a physiological difference that should not be overlooked, downplayed, or denigrated. We might all have 24 hours in a day, but the number of waking hours in a day will be drastically different depending on the person.
Second, it’s not just the number of waking hours that are different, but also the number of productive hours we each have that can differ. If a person is physiologically most filled with energy and ready to be productive between the hours of 10 p.m. and 3 a.m., but their work schedule requires them to be up at 5 in the morning, and they have social responsibilities that require attention immediately after work, then they have to sleep during the period of the day when their productivity would be the greatest. Thus, “wasting” that most productive period of their day. And functioning during non-optimal times of the day for them.
Not all of us are fortunate enough to be able to be paid to do what we’re most passionate about. And many aren’t able to arrange their hours of greatest productivity with the timeframe that they’re required to work. That alignment of mental and physical productivity with the requirements of a person’s life can make a huge difference as to what they’re capable of doing. Just ask a night owl to take a math test at 5:30 in the morning and see what I mean.
And we have yet to even speak about a third argument: one’s psychological aptitudes and abilities. A person’s ability to handle various levels of stress differs from person to person. Some people thrive under high stress, while others feel that death would be preferable to that level of stress.
That’s not even mentioning what stresses a person out. Some occurrence might be nothing more than a speed bump to some people, while to others it feels like an earth-shattering event. And it’s incredibly difficult to focus on a task at hand or be super creative when that one life tragedy is all you can think about.
While thinking about differences in ability even though we have an equal number of hours and equal worth as a human being, my mind also went to Matt. 25:14-30, often called the parable of the talents. And though the passage is found in the middle of a discussion where Jesus’ teaching leans a bit more towards the end times, we can still find a tangential relationship with our topic.
In the story, a man gives some financial responsibility to three of his workers. To one, he gave 5 talents of gold. To another, 2 talents. And to the final, 1 talent. While the man was away, the first doubled the money given to them: 10 talents. The second, likewise, doubled their money to 4 talents. But the final worker took their 1 talent and did nothing with it other than return the money to their boss.
When the man returned, he was happy with the first two’s productivity. Even though the first worker made a profit equal to two and a half times what the second worker did, the praise from the boss to both of them was equal because they took what they were given and were faithful with it. However, the third worker wasted their time doing nothing other than come up with an excuse as to why they did nothing. And because of that excuse, they were punished rather than praised.
There’s a lot that can be unpacked there, but let’s look at this from a single perspective. When the boss doled out the money, it wasn’t equal. Why did he pass out differing amounts? We don’t know. It was just a matter of fact. And they didn’t complain that there was an unequal portioning. But they were each given a responsibility to handle that allotment well, regardless of the amount.
And when the boss returned, the praise came equally to the one who made a profit of 5 talents and the one who made 2 talents. The second one wasn’t chastised for not being able to make the same amount as the first. It wasn’t like the boss looked at the second person and asked, “Why couldn’t you make a 5-talent profit like this other person? You had the same amount of time, didn’t you? You’re just a slacker who should’ve done more with your time.”
No, that person was praised right along with the first. They were both equally faithful with their differing allotments. And thus the boss praised them based off of what each had individually been capable of doing. Not judging one with the measure of the other’s portion.
The only reason why the person who had been entrusted with 1 talent was judged and punished was because they were not faithful in their responsibility. The boss essentially says to the person if they had just put the money into a savings account and made interest off of it, that would’ve been enough.
They didn’t even need to double their money to be found faithful. It wasn’t equal results that he wanted, just equal faithfulness. Just because the first and second people could double their original amounts, it doesn’t automatically mean that the third person had every opportunity to do the same thing.
Maybe investing wasn’t their giftedness. Possibly they didn’t have the connections of the first two to be able to pull that off. But if they took a small amount of the money and used it for something they were gifted at, they might’ve been able to find a different way to increase that allotment.
But we’ll never know what they could’ve done. Not because it was unfair that they got 20% of the money the first worker got, but because they let fear and excuses get in the way of doing anything at all. Faithlessness, not the end result, led the boss to punish the third worker.
Physiologically, psychologically, and spiritually, each human being is a precise blend of differences. Yes, we all have the same number of hours in a day. And absolutely, we are all worth the same as every other human being. But that doesn’t mean that we all have the same ability to produce the profit.
To some, much is given. To others, little. That’s not a statement about their worth, or value, or need for loving acceptance. It’s just a statement of fact. But what that means isn’t that we have to maintain equal results. Rather, all we need is to live with equal faithfulness to the God we serve.
So, let’s not compare ourselves with the measure of another. Or allow other people to wrongfully use another’s measure for our faithfulness. The end of that perspective will lead to fear, inaction, and faithlessness.
The number of hours that we exist in a day are the same for every one of us. But our ability to use those hours differs from person to person. And the key question is if we are using our time wisely, rather than only making excuses as to why we did nothing.
We are called to equal faithfulness, not equal results.