We are all procrastinators, some more than others. To procrastinate means to put off doing something, to do it later instead of now. Procrastination can be dangerous when it comes to our spiritual life, because it delays or even stops us from doing the good that we intend. Jesus understood procrastination, and counseled against it.
The first problem with procrastination is that if we do not do it now, we may not have time to do it later. Jesus tells various parables about this, recorded in the Gospel. One [Matthew 25:1-13] tells of unmarried ladies, attending at a wedding, who are supposed to carry lighted oil lamps. The wedding party is late. Some, seeing their oil run out, wait until it is gone, try, unsuccessfully, to borrow some from others, and then go out to buy more. But they get back too late, and miss the wedding. Jesus tells another story [Luke 12:42-46] about a chief servant put in charge while his master is away; he assumes the master will take a long time to return and so he starts to misbehave, thinking he will enjoy himself now and have lots of time to straighten things out later. But the master comes back early, unexpectedly, and the servant is caught red-handed. In each case, the people in the stories know what they should be doing, but they thought they had time, so they procrastinated, to ill effect.
The second problem with procrastination is that by doing something later, the thing will remain undone longer. But many things for which we procrastinate are things that are better done than left undone. If something is bad for us when left undone, and good for us when it is done, wouldn’t it be better to spend more time in the good state than the bad one? When we procrastinate, we increase the time the thing is still undone, and decrease the time where it is done. This is particularly problematic in the case of conversion of the heart: the longer we wait, the longer we do without the salvation that Jesus is offering, and all the good that comes to us from it. So we need Jesus, and soon! Turn to him now, not later. The holy scriptures tell us, “See, now is the acceptable time; see, now is the day of salvation!” [2 Corinthians 6:2]
So what to do about procrastination? Here is some advice, coming out of my own experience and offered in case it is helpful.
First, know why you want to procrastinate. Is it dislike? Fear? Look at what it is that are afraid of, or what you dislike. Is it going to be helped by waiting? If the answer is no, and you know that the thing will come, whether or not you delay, you might as well screw up your courage, face it and get it over with. Sometimes it is because something seems more daunting in your mind than it is in reality, so you put it off in the hopes that you will be better equipped for it later. If this is the reason you are procrastinating, use your logic to test whether your mental assessment is correct. Will you really be better equipped for it later? If so, how? If you can’t answer this question, why are you waiting?
Second, remember that for all of us, sometimes procrastination comes out of our feelings rather than our rational mind. We know that feelings are always real, but they are not always true or wise. When they are not true or wise, they are not good guides for our actions, and we need to overrule them, acting against them through an act of self control. After all, are we free, or slaves? Do we, as human beings, act through choices made deliberately, or do we, as creatures of instinct, simply react to feelings uncritically held? What is it going to be? The choice is up to us.
Next, sometimes we procrastinate out of the hope that someone else will step up and do something we would rather not do ourselves. My advice here is this: ask yourself whether or not that’s fair and just. If it’s not fair or just to procrastinate and let someone else do it, step up yourself, not because you like doing it, but because you believe in fairness and justice, and your belief is more than just words.
Finally, remember this: so often, when we finally stop procrastinating and we do it, we feel much better. Remember this feeling the next time you’re tempted to procrastinate, and use it to resist the temptation.
This all being said, everyone procrastinates sometimes. I do. In fact, I procrastinated writing this. As the old joke goes, “I was going to start up a procrastination club because I am so good at it, but I haven’t quite gotten around to it.” But even if we are going to procrastinate sometimes, we need to be conscious of it, so that it does not rule us. Especially, we cannot let procrastination keep us from Jesus. We need him, every minute, and a minute of delay in going to Jesus is a minute without him. If you struggle with procrastination, good: struggle is the right response. But don’t struggle by yourself. Take it to Jesus in prayer. He understands procrastination, and he will help.