I’m not much of a planner, but living in South America has certainly made me realize how much of my life has been dependent on the aggressive planning and thorough organization we are so accustomed to in the United States. Here, the world operates on a different system of time altogether, what sociologists call polychronic time. In Chile, time is not seen as strict and single track. This is a world where class registration happens the night before classes begin, with all the students in one crazy room at the same time, and the administrators don’t even bat an eye.
As I’ve gotten used to living in this world, I’ve realized that polychronic time is probably closer to the kind of time in which God functions. While we in the United States plan out every moment of our lives in a single track and get anxious if anything goes wrong, the Lord has plans that weave together in mysterious and beautiful ways. As Romans 8:28 says, “we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him.”
God is the master of polychronic time. He doesn’t do things one at a time, because He has the power do all things at once. In every moment, He is working all things for the good of us, His children.
There's one chapter of Mere Christianity where C.S. Lewis talks about time, and hypothesizes how—since God is answering prayers outside of time and is not bound by time—He is simultaneously answering prayers and interacting with humans in the past, present, and future. It is a confusing idea, and Lewis recognizes it as such. But what is important is that God is literally working through all things at all times, because He doesn’t experience a “now,” nor a “present.” Since God invented time, what we refer to as His “timing” or His “will” is so complex and beautiful and perfect, we humans could never hope to understand it. Instead, we must trust in the words of Romans, that God has good in store for us.
Likewise, in Chile, I often find myself doubting that their system of polychronic time will work. I think that because it’s chaotic and seems disorganized, nothing will ever get done. But the reality is that life goes on for the 5 million people in Santiago whether or not I buy into their time system. I’ve learned to just trust that things will work out, and they always do.
Similarly, I often find myself doubting whether or not God’s plan for my life will work out. It’s easy for me to say I trust God, but it’s often more of a “head” trust than a “heart” trust. When I actually ask myself the hard questions—what if God told me to move to another country? Or what if He closed the door on a relationship or commitment I really care about? —I realize that I am often unwilling to trust in any plan He has. I only want to trust in the plans that I make.
And yet, just as I have to trust that the bus in Santiago will get me where I need to go even when it’s 20 minutes late and the driver takes us on a roller-coaster ride, I’ve learned that if you pay attention, it’s easy to encounter the beauty of God’s timing. You realize that He really is working all things for the good of His children.
God’s timing is so perfect, that this weekend I found myself on a kayak in a sunny bay at the end of the Pan-American Highway, because my camping plans the night before had failed.
God’s timing is so perfect that—when no buses were running in a small town in southern Chile—we ended up catching a ride in the back of a pickup and laughing as we cruised down the road, ahead of schedule.
God's timing is so perfect that in the exact moment I was watching the sun set over Easter Island and thinking to myself, “this is so beautiful I could sing,” a group of students from another Christian university started quietly singing songs of worship and—as more voices joined—we became a chorus of adoration, gazing at the beauty of creation.
It is easy, in these small and beautiful moments, to recognize that when our own timing fails, it’s because God’s timing is better. But we must take hold of these little moments and—keeping our eyes fixed on the beauty of the Lord—learn to trust Him in the really big moments as well. We must know that though His timing can seem crazy and inexplicable and chaotic, He really is working all things for the good of those who love Him.