Wednesday, May 28, 2008

"Never do today . . ."

Well, today I mowed my lawn. It's needed doing for at least a couple of weeks -- and so prior to my mowing the lawn, it looked more like a tropical rain-forest than a back-lawn. Who knows what bizarre creatures were slinking about beneath the ridiculously long blades of grass! All number of things caused me to put it off. There were various circumstances, including rainy weather and having to get the car fixed. Not to mention that I usually try and make sure to get church work done before yard-work. But the truth is, it's never hard to find reasons (read: excuses) to leave yard-work for another day. Oddly, once I'm actually in the middle of mowing the lawn, I generally don't mind it. And even more oddly there are occasions when I actually enjoy getting outside and getting such things done. Yet I still put it off. "Never put off until tomorrow what you can do today," the proverb goes. My attitude, though, toward yard-work usually reverses this proverbial wisdom: "Never do today what you can put off until tomorrow!" Including mowing my lawn. Maybe especially so.

So my question is, if once I get going I don't mind it so much, why is it that I put it off or find excuses to leave it to another day?

A good friend of mine once coined a definition of procrastination: "Procrastination: the art of using one's relaxation time to produce stress." And he coined this with particular reference to his habit of leaving the writing of essays and sermons to the last minute -- though the ideas had already been simmering in his head for some time. But actually sitting down and doing the work of putting thoughts on paper usually didn't happen until the night or two before. It was the time-crunch, the reality of an imminent deadline, that spurred him on.

On another occasion he and I were supposed to be preparing for a Greek mid-term. This was when we were fellow-students in seminary. It was the night before the mid-term, and I was really getting stressed partly because we weren't really getting around to studying. Though my friend wasn't at all stressed; again, the pressure of time actually made it easier for him somehow. He kept saying to me, "Don't worry about it. We'll be fine!" Well, I had no confidence that this was so. Thankfully, despite my stress and our mutual procrastination we both did well on the mid-term.

Anyway, I am not the kind of person who thrives under that kind of pressure. I might put off mowing the lawn but I will do everything I can to get an early handle on my sermon, for instance, as soon as possible during the week. The closer I get to Sunday morning without a complete or near-complete sermon, which does happen on occasion, the more nervous I'm likely to get. I'm not a fan of "Saturday night specials," when I find myself on my knees on a Saturday evening praying for a text and a title! Though, thankfully, this is an area where I am learning to trust God more and more. So even if I do find myself in this situation, either because of circumstances beyond my control or because of poor time management, I don't react as often with sheer panic. Not like when I was worrying about a Greek mid-term!

Of course, all this aside, not many -- including me -- are likely to panic over a lawn needing to be mowed. So putting that off is much easier. An unseemly looking yard has never caused me too much stress. If it has, it's only because I've got so much else to do in a given week and leaving the lawn too long means a standard mower will not do the trick; I'll need a bush-hog! And if it has, it's because it's just one more thing -- even if one more mundane thing -- that I have to get done. I found this to be the case when we were pastoring at our last church where I was bi-vocational. Having a full-time job on top of being a part-time pastor meant that time was a valuable commodity.

Truthfully, that's why I've got the tendency to put off mowing the lawn here. It's not so much so that I despise the task, but that it takes time away from what I generally consider more important things. If I take time this afternoon to work on the yard, will I make getting my sermon on time more difficult? Probably, but in how many other ways do I fail to manage my time well so that getting prepared for Sunday or for some other responsibility is more difficult? Frankly, sometimes it's my fault. And it's got nothing to do with mowing the lawn.

Christian stewardship involves our finances, other resources, our gifts and energy, and also our time. Without discipline, responsible stewardship proves much more challenging. I can't speak for anyone else, but I find managing time to involve the most discipline and therefore the most difficulties. I don't think we should micro-manage our days, but I know that I tend to thrive best when I have some manner of routine in place, one that provides a sense of managed time. Discipline goes hand in hand with freedom.

God provides a sense of time through creation -- seven days, each with its own work of creating, day and night, seasons and years, rest and work. There is a rhythm to creation, to time as God has shaped it. To that end, you could say that God has imbued creation with a sense of managed time. And God certainly didn't create the world by saying, "Well, never do today what I can put off until tomorrow."

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