The Destination of Procrastination
Isn't it true that most of us have been around the block enough to know that we are sure of nothing when it comes to our future? We know intuitively that our level of certainty is extremely low. Still, we somehow live our lives as if this isn't the case. We are certain we will grow old. We are certain our children will outlive us. We're certain we'll get into college, certain we won't get AIDS, certain we won't have trouble getting pregnant when the time comes. We were once certain our homes would hold their value. Despite this uncertainty, we put off things we know are important in hopes that we will surely get to them soon.
In the United States, census data showed that almost 50 million people had no health insurance in 2010. According to the Commonwealth Fund (a research organization in New York), twenty-six percent of people ages 16 to 64 had no health insurance for at least part of last year. 30% of American households don't have life insurance (individual or employer-provided coverage), according to a recent survey by LIMRA. While some of this is economy induced, it seems clear that many of us don't view these things as a financial priority. In particular, term life insurance is not terribly expensive ($200,000 coverage is $7 per month for age 25-29, less than $20 per month for ages 45-49). Some amount of coverage is certainly affordable for most of us. The question is whether or not it's a priority. Unfortunately, it's not a risk that we will reap the consequences of for ourselves. If the worst happens, our spouses and children are the ones who will be left with nothing. We will be long gone by then.
There is certainly deception in the certainty we find in this life. Many of us go through life believing that neither we nor those around us will be harmed or negatively impacted by opportunities lost. Still, deep down we know that we have no guarantees. And many of us have had our certainties come back to haunt us.
How often do we say, "I'll do it tomorrow" or "I'll do it next year?" It's so easy to decide to do the right thing later. Next time things will be different. "I'll work out tomorrow." We still do this, even though many of us know that tomorrow turns into a week which turns into a month and all the while we're still saying the word "tomorrow" as if the day of our deliverance is right around the corner. "I'll stop smoking next month." "I'll start saving for retirement next year." But we don't, do we?
When I was a kid, my teacher gave us something like two months to do our science projects. One day I showed up at school and my teacher let us know that our science projects were "due tomorrow." Of course I had done nothing. Panic stricken, I now had to figure out how to do a science project in less than a day. Ironically, I ended up forgetting about it until bedtime at which point I mentioned to my mom "Oh! Can you help me do my science project?" Naturally she asked, "When is it due?" She wasn't impressed with my answer.
Couples knee-deep in debt continue to spend money today as if tomorrow they fully expect an enormous sum of money to just drop out of the sky and solve all of their problems. Debt itself is, in its very essence, a dependence on tomorrow. Those of us who have run down the path and reached the end know how suffocating debt can be. Many of us are in our thirties or even forties and still haven't started saving for retirement yet. We've decided we'll "do it next year," while today we are falling further and further behind.
It's easy to assume that the opportunity will always be there to do that thing we've put off, but often this isn't the case. Many of us have waited and waited to mend broken relationships with our parents only to look up and discover that they're not with us anymore. Smokers keep smoking, despite watching their fellow smokers shrivel away much younger than they should. Eventually, they discover that they too have COPD (or emphysema) which is characterized by a long-term decline in lung function which can't be stopped. Some of us wait to have children until late thirties only to discover that we are now classified as higher risk for miscarriage and genetic abnormalities. Some of us steal time and energy from our families and give them to the office instead, only to wake up one morning with broken relationships and a broken home. Many Christians ask God to take a backseat in our lives so we can focus on what we want without his input, knowing that it's God who protects us--who provides for us. God wants our undivided attention, and He is willing to do what it takes to get it. There are many other examples of this. In the end, allowing the urgent to outweigh the important is not a good long-term life strategy.
The Obvious Answer
In Luke chapter 12, Jesus tells a story that reminds us that we are not in control and cannot accurately predict where our paths will take us.
Then he told them a story: "A rich man had a fertile farm that produced fine crops. He said to himself, 'What should I do? I don't have room for all my crops.' Then he said, 'I know! I'll tear down my barns and build bigger ones. Then I'll have room enough to store all my wheat and other goods. And I'll sit back and say to myself, "My friend, you have enough stored away for years to come. Now take it easy! Eat, drink, and be merry!"' But God said to him, 'You fool! You will die this very night. Then who will get everything you worked for?' Yes, a person is a fool to store up earthly wealth but not have a rich relationship with God." (Luke 12:16-21 NLT)
The message here is clear. In fact, it's not a shock to anyone! If it's important to you then do it now! If it's important to you to make sure your wife and children are taken care of, buy life insurance now. Start saving for retirement now. If it's important to you to live a long time with your family, stop smoking now. Start exercising now. Start eating right now. There's nothing earth shattering here. It's intuitively obvious really, but we naturally do exactly the opposite. What important things have you put off? How long have you been putting them off? Today, let's decide to be intentional about our lives and invest in things we know are important to God, to us, and to our families. Imagine how much better your life could be if "now" became the buzz word for your life rather than "later."