Finding God between Life’s Ticks and Tocks

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A little movie called “The Hiding Place” was released for a limited run in the theaters last month. This stage-to-screen production of a book of the same name by Corrie ten Boom is the story of her family’s work to hide refugees from the Nazis at her home in Holland during World War II. Their home is also the family clock shop, in which they create that secret hiding space for the new friends they find. The film begins with a quotation about where we hide God in our lives: “between the tick and tock of our time on earth.”

These people hiding away in this clock shop are intimidated by time. They hope for a bright future but cling to the sacred pasts of their families in fear of losing them to the war and chaos of the present. Otto, one of the Nazi officers from whom they’re hiding, was once an apprentice in this shop, learning the intricacies of watch repair in hopes of applying that training for his own future. That plan changes as he’s caught up in Hitler Youth movement and moves up quickly in its ranks—to a job calling for the hunting of Jews.

What he and the family of clock makers hiding that quarry from him didn’t expect to find was God—hiding between the tick and tock of their time together.

After the war, the lone survivor from this family (the story’s author) meets the apprentice-turned-Nazi-turned regime survivor. In this space of their meeting, God appears as a new life for both of them—along with a new way and truth by which to live those lives. This way truth and life combine to form the love with which Jesus identified and offers to us as a sanctuary from what masquerades as life in this world.

A hint of that lesson is offered in one scene of the story where the author’s younger sister reads a passage from John 12:25:

Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will preserve it for eternal life.

Eternity fills that sacred space between our ticks and tocks, and that’s how God measures the time He intends for us to fill as depicted in this Sunday’s mass readings. We are apprentices ourselves in the lives for which the Master hired us—and we have a lot to learn, as Isaiah tells us in our first reading:

For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the LORD. As high as the heavens are above the earth, so high are my ways above your ways and my thoughts above your thoughts. (Is 55:6-9)

Take our thoughts about life and death, for example. Like the people portrayed in “The Hiding Place,” Paul tells us and the Philippians that he is caught between the two:

“I long to depart this life and be with Christ, for that is far better,” he says. “Yet that I remain in the flesh is more necessary for your benefit.” (Phil 1:20c-24, 27a)

Like us, Paul was put here as an apprentice, learning and teaching God’s way, truth and life. Our job is to find God hiding in each other, and in doing that, there’s not only no time clock to punch, but no time and no clock.

The idle people recruited to work in the landowner’s garden in the parable of Sunday’s gospel (Mt 20:1-16a) were rescued from the emptiness of lives in which this world’s time hung like a yoke around their necks. Yet this concept of time differed from their new master’s schedule—one by which you’re paid not by the hour, but by the space between the ticks and tocks by which we’ve synchronized our lives.

In Christ’s parable, those hired at the beginning of the work day were miffed that those hired toward the end received a full day’s wages.

“These last ones worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us, who bore the day’s burden and the heat,” one of them tells the boss, who says in reply, “My friend, I am not cheating you. Did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? … Am I not free to do as I wish with my own money? Are you envious because I am generous?”

In that timeless and generous space between our life’s tick and tock, what does it matter if the last are first and the first are last as long as we keep learning God’s way, truth and life?

–Tom Andel


  1. We are all afforded the opportunity of lifetime learning, and life will provide us lessons up to the time of our last breath. This is a good thing, for I for one am a slow learner.

    Like in this parable, we are many times confronted with things that just don’t seem fair. But, whoever said life is supposed to be fair? Jesus said that unless we take up our cross daily and follow him…….

    Actuality, we learn far more from difficult circumstances than we ever will from easy times. Out of Christ’s love for us, He will allow us to grow closer to him in bad times.

    No pain, no gain!

    • Pain is an indicator of something that needs addressing. Where would we be without alarm systems? The era of evil depicted in the movie we discuss here was unique but not unusual in human history. This modern world is full of man-induced suffering, with modern takes on slavery and torture–all at our own hands. Before his conversion, Paul was an instrument of torture. But like him, we have been called to be instruments of God’s salvation until we learn the lesson we were put here to learn. Paul beautifully shared the lesson he learned with the Philippians (Chapter 1: 20-24):

      “My eager expectation and hope is that I shall not be put to shame in any way, but that with all boldness, now as always, Christ will be magnified in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me life is Christ, and death is gain. If I go on living in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. And I do not know which I shall choose. I am caught between the two. I long to depart this life and be with Christ, [for] that is far better. Yet that I remain [in] the flesh is more necessary for your benefit.”

      We’re all here for each other’s benefit–even though we can sometimes BE a pain to those we love most. Humanity is messy.

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