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A life of procrastination

Faithpoint | Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Thanksgiving break is over and we are caught up once again in a new season. Days are short and gray as folks scurry across the frozen campus. The tone of this new season is different, and everything and everyone seems to have changed. Some say the catchwords of this time are “Watch,” “Wait,” and “Be prepared!” I prefer, “Awake!” because this season has always meant one thing to me. “Gadzooks! The semester’s almost over and there is far too much work to be done!”

The Church calls this season Advent. It is a time to slow down, collect oneself and prepare for the coming of Christ both in our renewed celebration of his first coming into our world as a babe in a manger, and when he will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead. As a lifelong procrastinator, I have always called this season Panic. While I love the idea of Advent, my mind is too often directed to other things.

I was talking with my parents one Thanksgiving when I was in grad school. My mother opined that I must be excited that the semester was almost over. At her words, my stomach tightened and turned, leaving me certain that I was going to be sick. I could envision no Christmas break, only the mountain of under-researched papers still to be written. I tried to explain the reality of my immediate future and my mother laughingly quipped, “Honey, you’ve never finished a single thing in your life before the very moment it was due.” Suddenly, my mind was flooded with images of a lifetime of procrastination: the quickly constructed diorama of Abe Lincoln’s log cabin, the 4th grade book report scrawled after-dinner the night before it was due, the science project display board with the glue still wet as I carried it to school. I realized that procrastination was not merely a bad habit; it was a fundamental defect of my personality. It was who I was; it was my basic approach to life.

True procrastinators know that there is no real joy in delaying a project until the eleventh hour. The time between now and that moment when there is no tomorrow is filled with the knowledge of that pending deadline. The interim is wasted on idle chatter and useless tasks. Days are not enjoyed nor is life lived robustly, because one knows there is work to be done.

Procrastination is a life of wasted opportunities and half-realized projects. As a student, it translates into a career filled with the flush of excitement about an experiment or an idea without the time to run the data or push one’s intellect to the limits. It is a sad way to spend an academic life; it is a tragic way to live the spiritual life.

Spiritually, we are given seasons in life to slow down and reflect on the gift of God’s grace, on the blessings we have received, and the new life we have in Christ’s nativity, passion, death and resurrection. We are given the opportunity to cut open our festering wounds of doubt so that they may be healed by the radiance of his light. We are called to awaken and prepare for his coming with acts of praise and thanksgiving. We are allowed to watch for his return with true vigilance, practicing love as we await Love. We can embrace the gift or sit idly by as it passes us by. The watching and waiting of Advent calls for anything but procrastination. Rather it need be spiritual calisthenics to exercise the faculties that will help us be attuned to and ready for the signs of his coming in glory. When that day comes, there should be no panic or fear of too little time. For if we act on the gift today, the task will already be finished.

Advent is intended to help us prepare for the biggest project of our lives. We can wait with the intention of starting tomorrow, but tempus fugit and the due date is coming. Or we can wait with Christian hope, awake, watchful and ready for the coming of the Lord.

This week’s Faithpoint is written by Fr. Gary Chamberland, CSC, Professor of Theology at Notre Dame. He can be reached at [email protected]

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer..