Procrastination doesn’t just rob us of success, it steals God’s best right out from under us.
Nearly 20 years ago, I sat in a bright classroom filled with fastidious first year students in university. Our final exam – three reflective essays on the Ottoman Empire – was the course de jour, and my copy book sat disturbingly untouched. I'd struggled for weeks to prep for this exam, hiding from my notes and maybe watching a bit too much MTV. So when the day finally came, I held my pen over the empty pages and considered what I’d been meaning to write. Instead, I closed book, handed it to my professor, and walked out of class.
That was not my finest hour at that particular university. In fact, it was my final hour. I went back to the dorm, packed up my books, and left. For good.
So it's no surprise today's fifth most read article at the Irish Times jumped out at me:
And it’s certainly telling that as I opened a Word document to begin this article, I decided to click over to their website “just to see.” Of course that headline caught my eye, as did the image of a pouting little girl.
I thought to myself, “Boy, I’ve seen that expression on my little one.”
Then I read the article and realized that little girl was me.
“There is a corner of my mind devoted entirely to haughtily disdaining people who put off what they are supposed to be doing,” writes Laura Kennedy, “which is of course a sure sign I’m a person who puts off what they’re supposed to be doing.”
The truth is – as you couldn’t tell by my opening anecdote – I, too, am a serial procrastinator. I sat in front of this very page one week ago today, considering all manner of things I could or should be writing about, so much so that they jumbled together like clanging flatware.
Protests? Maybe. Women’s ministry? Sure. In defense of naps? I guess. But I let them be, the words and the dirty forks and spoons, and went for a walk. Then took a nap (for research). Then browsed Facebook. Then made myself a snack. Then I gave up.
I emailed our benevolent supreme leader, filled with shame at my impressive ability to not work, only to receive the response I least expected.
“Give yourself a break,” she said. So I did. I closed the computer and, with relief, called it a day.
Still, feelings of failure nagged at me. I’d been let off the hook, but I couldn’t escape the sensation that I’d flunked a massive mid-life exam. The memory of that lonely, long-ago day came to me in a flash I couldn’t control. I remembered the feelings of complete failure, of wasting a year’s worth of tuition, of all the things I should’ve done before it got to that point. I’d been waiting all my life, it seemed, to go to this particular university, to study history and English and music. And I threw it all away.
Kennedy writes that procrastination is a sinister beast. “It is in reality an incapacitating fear of failure that leads us to put off doing something we fear, or perhaps even know, we can’t do to as high a standard as we’d like. We sacrifice larger, far-off gains for smaller and much less fulfilling immediate gratification.”
She’s right, isn’t she? We set goals, dream dreams, and set about avoiding them. We dread the hard work it actually takes to achieve something amazing, afraid it will be all for naught. We do internal risk/benefit analyses and give up before we truly consider the pay-off, or truly appreciate the cost.
We settle for the instant gratification of scraps, and in the end, forsake the feast.
Jesus tells us that “the thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full,” (John 10:10). Life to the full may indeed involve naps and sweets from the cupboard, but we know it also involves obedience, trust, love, and a good deal of hard work. God’s best for us – this life to the full – tells us it will be worth it, even now.
“We need to recognise procrastination for what it is – the jutted lower lip of our pouty inner child,” concludes Kennedy. “I hope that by understanding her fear and reluctance is couched in insecurity, I can quiet her nerves and put her to bed.”
I hope I can, too. After all, I have a sneaking suspicion God’s best for me is where I am today.