The Trap of Procrastination

When it comes to the subject of procrastination, St. Augustine perfectly summed up it’s dangers when he said “God has promised forgiveness for your repentance, but He has not promised tomorrow for your procrastination.” While this quote is definitely hits the nail on the head, I love Oscar Wilde’s take on the subject when he said “I never put off till tomorrow what I can do the day after.” It always makes me smirk a little. Procrastination is something all of us are very familiar with. Many of us are master procrastinators, others, not so much. Productivity and efficiency are things that are often praised and rewarded, but we don’t strive for them. I myself am a king procrastinator. I wake up at 6:30 intending to do stuff, then reset my alarm for 8. I get my bible and journal out intending to do some reading, then find myself “checking the weather” for half an hour on the internet. None of the papers I did in college were ever started earlier than a three days before they were due. I wrote a twenty page term paper in one marathon session because I kept putting it off. Granted I made a B+ on it and passed the class with flying colors, but this isn’t the point. Procrastination is the offspring of being undisciplined, and it’s something I am constantly trying to be mindful of. We as a culture procrastinate in everything. We live in the “entitlement” generation. We think things should be easier than they really are and we are upset when we’re proven wrong. We procrastinate in the workplace, relationships, personal goals, schoolwork, and even in our spiritual or physical well-being.  This even sneaks into the idea of how we learn. We often don’t take real time to absorb and we mitigate our pursuit of knowledge to tweets, bullet points and Cliffnotes. People don’t take time to absorb stories or history any more. I believe stories and history have far more power to teach than bullet points or outlines. So when it comes to the subject of procrastination, few things struck me as powerfully as a story I heard a few years ago chronicled in Thomas Costain’s The Three Edwards.

Back in the fourteenth-century Belgium, there was once a duke named Raynald III. Raynald was the ruler of the kingdom, and he was a very large man, often called by his nickname Crassus, which is Latin for “fat”. After a particularly violent quarrel with his younger brother Edward, Edward resolved to overthrow his brother. After leading a successful revolt against Raynald, Edward captured him alive and imprisoned him in the Nieuwkerk castle. But Edward did not just throw his brother in a cell, lock the door behind him and throw away the key, he had something far more inventive in mind. Edward had a room built around his extremely fat brother complete with doors and windows, except this room contained no bars. The entrances were built too small for Raynald to fit through, although a smaller man could come and go as he pleased. Edward said that Raynald would regain his title and property in full, only if he could fit through the door. This sounds simple enough, but yet again Edward had a trick up his sleeve. Every day he had the castle chefs bring exquisite foods to the room for Raynald, and every day Raynald was presented with a choice: either overcome his addiction, or die in that room. When the Duke Edward was accused of being cruel to his brother, he simply responded with “My brother isn’t a prisoner here. He may leave whenever he so wills.” Raynald lived in this room for 10 years, becoming fatter and fatter, as Edward had expected he would. He wasn’t released until Edward died in battle, and by then he was so unhealthy that he was dead within a year. Raynald was never able to overcome his addiction, and it is what lead to his death.

Hearing this story, I at first thought it was just an inventive way one brother punished another, but the more I thought about it the more I realized that many of us would have died in that room. I imagined Raynald sitting in that room, looking out the windows at the rolling meadows or watching people pass by his doorway every day, eating another savory piece of cake and telling himself that he’ll eat less tomorrow, and every day the process would repeat itself. I feel like we do the exact same thing with sin. All of us struggle with something, be it pride, fear, lust, anger, gossip, bitterness, etc, and all of us make a choice daily to deal with that struggle. We know we must give everything up to God and fight daily to follow him with everything we have, and yet many of us always say, “Well, I’ll start on that tomorrow.” This is the most dangerous thing we could ever do. The slippery slope of sin is steepened by casual indifference. We cannot fight against sin casually, we must fight against it fanatically, clawing with our fingernails for every inch to stay close to the presence of God. Hebrews 12:4 says “In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your own blood.” This isn’t a mild disagreement, or a casual debate, this is an all out war, and too often we fight Satan’s all out assaults by politely asking him to stop and never fully standing up against him. We can’t fully experience the character of Christ until we are free from unrepented sin. That doesn’t start by us putting it off till tomorrow, it starts today, right now. I myself have fallen into this trap time and time again, and I don’t want to die like Raynald did. I want to fully experience everything God has to give, and I can’t do that from a jail cell of my own design.

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