While each of us is afforded the same 24 hours in every day, we have very different ideas about what those hours may mean. For some of us, the hours are long and we look for ways to fill our time. For others, the hours rush by in a blur, leaving many things undone. For each, the ticking of the clock measures time’s passage, whatever the speed.
While our hours are measured in quantity and sequence by chronos time, the meaning of our hours may be measured in a very different way. In addition to chronos, the ancient Greeks had another word for time: kairos. Kairos time is defined by something special that happens in that time.
Various philosophers and theologians have attempted to describe the concept of kairos over the years. Paul Tillich wrote that kairoi are those crises in history which create an opportunity for a critical decision by a human being. Jurgen Moltmann wrote that “Kairos time is determined by what happens in it.” Metaphysicists have described kairos as a passing instant when some opening appears which must be addressed if success is to be achieved.
Those scholars who have studied and attempted to define this concept have agreed that kairos time is a time of decision. It may occur in a moment of crisis, when opportunity and risk offer themselves as parallel opportunities.
Each day as we count the hours passing by in chronos time, there is also the opportunity for a kairos moment to occur. And I would venture to say that perhaps few occupations offer this opportunity with the same regularity that parents face.
Late child psychiatrist and author Daniel Stern applied the concept of kairos moments to the interactions that parents have with their children. Stern recognized that kairos moments are moments in time when—if you act—you can change the course of your life or your child’s life. Amazingly, Stern found that most kairos moments with children last only about 10 seconds.
Kairos moments with our children involve decisions on our part. We can choose to watch television or to commit our full attention to our son’s question. We decide to focus on watering the garden, or see it as a precious experience to share with a young daughter.
Children have the gift of being less tied to chronos time, relatively unconcerned with the passage of hours. They don’t consider how much else you need to accomplish before you leave for work in 15 minutes. They only love the sound of your voice as you read that book for the seventh time. When they are young, they are entirely available to be in the moment with their parents.
Every kairos moment opens up the possibility of some new creation: the creation of a new idea, a new feeling, a new experience, or a deepened relationship. We make a decision that creates something new in our lives. We emerge from our kairos moments as changed people.
When we live our lives with little intention, swept along by the tides of daily schedule and routine, we tend to miss these moments with our children. But when we set chronos time aside and live mindfully, choosing to experience kairos time with our children, we have an amazing opportunity to write our relationships with them on their hearts.
More than the lessons we teach with our words, these moments create our children’s most deeply held values and beliefs. And the kairos moments we enjoy with our children remind us that raising them well may be the most important thing we will ever do with our chronos time.