“On my way.”
That’s such a common phrase for me that my phone has it memorized in predictive text. I’m running late, so I send out a quick text right as I’m actually supposed to arrive at the destination. The text should be enough. They will understand, I think to myself.
I get caught up in a project, and those three simple words get me out of having to stop what I’m doing before I’m finished. I don’t plan ahead to get myself or my kids ready, so I just send off the familiar “On my way.”
Recently I have realized that lateness is not a new development for me. I didn’t suddenly start failing in time management when my kids came along. I’ve actually been pushing the limits with my time for a while now. When I have a hair appointment, I wait until the last possible minute to leave and arrive just in the nick of time — or later than scheduled. When I had to be at work at 8 a.m., I would hit snooze again and again, even after I set my alarm for as late as possible. And I cannot remember a time I arrived to class on time, let alone early. So what’s my problem?
A culture of lateness
It’s hard to write an article on tardiness in today’s culture. Most of us are OK with being late, especially with the arrival of technology that allows us to let everyone else know that we are “on our way.” You aren’t late when you tell them you are coming, right?
I used to believe my children caused my tardiness. Motherhood was a hard adjustment for me, so I made it harder by having four children in four years (including twins). No one expects me to get anywhere on time; I have four little excuses to be late.
When I was in high school, our choir director repeated a phrase that stuck with me, even though I am not good at holding to it: “If you are early, you are on time. If you are on time, you are late. If you are late, you are in trouble.” It had an effect on all of his students. No one wanted to be late because no one wanted to feel the shame of being in trouble. Practice started on time, so if you weren’t in your seat with your music, you were in trouble.
Schools still have tardy bells and still enforce rules about arriving on time, even as our culture gets careless with punctuality. The reality is we are likely getting worse at promptness, not better.
Punctuality is about loving others
While a lot could be said about the lack of time management that results in tardiness, something deeper needs to be addressed. When God created humanity, He created us in His own image (Genesis 1:26–28). That is an astounding reality. We bear His image. We tell the world what He is like. We work in the world to spread His glory and to rule and reign over His creation.
So lateness is not just about the person who is late, but also about the person who is waiting. You aren’t the only one created in God’s image. Everyone in the world is an image bearer of the Creator.
When you have a doctor’s appointment, consider all the people involved in that appointment. People are scheduled before and after you. Doctors, nurses and staff have family and friends waiting on them after work. What happens when you are just a smidge late? Or when, like me, you call on your way to at least let them know you are late? Everyone else is impacted. It’s not just about you and your appointment, but also about everyone who is part of making that appointment possible. The same applies to work, school, church and the coffee date you planned with a friend. There is a real human, created in the image of God, on the other end of that scheduled appointment.
I once watched a man berate the TSA checkpoint workers for their slowness at getting him through the security line. His flight was about to take off, and he was at risk of entirely missing the flight. He pushed past others in line. He monopolized the time of the security staff, as they had to deal with his tantrum and his rush through the line. And he acted as if he were the only person traveling that day. There are myriad reasons why a person might be late for his flight, but his behavior about his delay is telling.
Our lateness impacts people who are waiting on us, as well as those who have to get out of our way so we can get to our destination. As Philippians 2:3 says, we aren’t looking to the interests of others but instead looking to our own interests. We are thinking only of ourselves.
And isn’t that what chronic lateness is? It’s looking after my own interests (finishing a task, sleeping in, lack of time management), instead of the interests of the one on the other end of my lateness — my neighbor.
So how do I fix it?
My time is not my time
My biggest misunderstanding? I think my time is all about me. I tend to pack my to-do list with tasks I want to get done. I fill my days with activities that are important to me. Sure, I might have meetings or time with other people scheduled, but it all falls under my overarching consideration for my time — me.
Often I say yes to commitments without thinking about the long-term impact. Will this take more time than I anticipate? Will this stack my schedule in such a way that I could be late or overwhelmed for the next appointment?
Stacking our schedules too tightly doesn’t allow for contingencies. Things rarely go as we plan them, so when we try to do too much in too short a period of time, we run the risk of pushing everyone back. When I assume my time is all mine, I forget other people are intertwined with me.
Even more than that, I forget that it’s actually not my time at all. It’s God’s. Fighting my tendency toward tardiness begins with accepting the limits of my time and instead giving that time back to God.
Only one person is sovereign over time — and it’s not me. Only God can be multiple places at once. Only God can get everything checked off His to-do list. Only God can be all things to all people. Only God gets to make it all about Him.
Author Jen Wilkin says this about God’s sovereignty over time and space (what theologians call “omnipresence”):
God, unbound by a body, is not limited to one place. He is not merely big, he is uncontainable, able to be present everywhere … God is present in all places all the time. Not only that, but everywhere he is present he is fully present.
Time is God’s to possess, not mine.
When I treat my time like it is simply my own, I devalue the time of others. But if all time is God’s time, then I am under an obligation to honor both the time before me and the time I’ve promised to someone else.
It’s a new year, so maybe you are considering new resolutions. If chronic lateness is your vice, I encourage you to add promptness to your list. I’ll join you. Maybe then my pre-emptive text of “on my way” will be replaced with “see you soon” and an on-time arrival.
Copyright 2019 Courtney Reissig. All rights reserved.