I’ll never forget the first time I was invited to a Shabbat meal in the Old City of Jerusalem. I was told to be there no later than 6 PM. Well, as I am slightly time-challenged, I took “6 PM prompt” a bit figuratively, and showed up at 6:15, which was the most on-time I had ever been at that point. I noticed the Shabbat candles beautifully dancing, apologized for being late, and asked if I too could light the candles. “Better late than never,” I said with a smile, reaching for the matches. To which I was told, “I’m so sorry, but you can’t. It’s too late.”

I was so used to second chances, extended deadlines, one more opportunity . . . but this time there was no discussion

It’s too late? What? But it was only 6:15. Really? That was it. Over. Done. I was so used to second chances, extended deadlines, one more opportunity . . . but this time there was no discussion. I wasn’t going to get to light.

Now, it wasn’t as if I had lit candles for however many years prior to that. But being told I couldn’t really bothered me. So much so that it prompted my decision to check out more about Judaism, and why being so on time in this particular situation actually mattered.

It’s been over 20 years since that one Friday night, and I have been lighting my Shabbat candles, on time, for at least 20 of them! (Click here to read about one that I missed: “A Missed Opportunity.”) But I can’t say I have fully integrated the importance of being on time, or more importantly, present in the right time, in all aspects of my life. And it is something I struggle with.

Lighting Shabbat candles at a very specific time teaches us how important it is to do what you need to do, when you need to do it. And sometimes, being ready just a tad too late, or even too early, is not really helpful at all. You know, like your friend who shows up after you have done all the work, and then asks if there is anything you need? But I see it in my own home. I see it with my children. They want my attention. Now. But I may not be available. Now. So I push them off. Or I tell them to come back later. But by the time I am available, I may have missed that opening, that opportunity. Or my husband might want to share something he has just learned or read about, but I am in the middle of something. He might still tell me at a later point, but the excitement is gone.

By the time I am available, I may have missed that opening

We are all busy. We have things we are doing, and things that need to get done. And, unlike Shabbat, we do not have set times for some of the most important things in our lives. Our children do not work according to schedule, nor do the needs of our friends and loved ones. People need us when they need us, and it is up to us if we make the time. Because we somehow manage to find the time for the bad. When, G‑d forbid, there is a funeral, we make it. But the wedding? The happy occasion? For that, how often are we late, if we make it at all?

When I think about all the moments I have missed because they weren’t happening at a good time for me, I cringe. Those moments are gone, never to be experienced again. But there will be new ones. And those new ones I can be present for, if I readjust my sense of time. If I recognize that I can make time even if it doesn’t appear to be there. When something is important, time will expand.

Just last night, my youngest daughter asked if she could sleep in my bed. I told her she could, and she went upstairs. But I kept hearing her stir. She wanted me to cuddle with her. And I was busy. But fortunately, I realized that since I am always busy, there was no pressing reason I couldn’t take a small break. So I went up to her. And as we cuddled, she told me about her friends and her dreams and the projects she wants to make. She asked questions and philosophized, and just enjoyed having her mommy to herself with no interruptions. As did I.

I am no longer going to try to find the time, but I will focus on making it

I had meant to head back downstairs to my work as soon as she fell asleep, but when I woke up this morning, I realized it didn’t happen. I fell asleep with her in my arms, and woke up with her there as well. Such a rare treat for both of us, but one that I know we will remember.

And the best part? The time I invested was not only invaluable to our relationship, but gave me sleep I so desperately needed—so that today, while she was at a play date, I was able to focus and produce more than I ever would have last night.

So this is my new goal. I am no longer going to try to find the time, but I will focus on making it. No doubt it will be hard, but it will be worth it. After all, if I can somehow figure out how to be ready for Shabbat in the winter at 4:30, even though I use every minute during the summer and barely make it when Shabbat is at 7:30, clearly time expands as it needs to.

And, what perfect timing . . . one of my kids just called my name. So, instead of saying “one second,” I will head up. Because at the end of the day (literally and figuratively), I never want those I love to feel I do not have the time for them.