Better late than never?

Interested in joining my new club? Membership is open to anyone who will have trouble getting to the meetings on time. Maybe we’ll be more of a support group. Let’s call it “Likely to Arrive Tardy Excessively.”

Yes, LATE.

Truthfully, it’s a club I’d rather not charter. I’d prefer to be a reformed ex-member, not the poster child. I have tried before, unsuccessfully, to disqualify myself from this not-so-prompt posse.

I know I’m not alone. At my Bible study yesterday, a group of several hundred women, the coordinator announced that a table in the back of the room by the doors would be reserved so those coming in late would still have a place to sit. I applaud this welcoming gesture. I couldn’t tell you, however, what she announced last week. I had arrived after the announcements, regrettably late. Hopefully I wasn’t, in fact, the inspiration for the tardy table.

The real kick in the pants, though, was when I recently found myself the next-to-last car in morning car line at school. My children were not tardy, but I do know that arriving at 8:04 (and a half) for an 8:05 bell is not acceptable. I felt terrible and decided then to take action to rehabilitate myself. Guilt, in appropriate doses, can be an excellent motivator.

I started tackling the delay dilemma by seeking advice from my ever-punctual husband. “Just be on time,” he said. As if it were that easy. “If you can be there at 9, you can be there at 8,” he continued. Hmm, how? Anyway, I’m not ever that late. His final analysis: “You let the discretionary get in the way of the have-to-do.”

There may be some truth to that point. I struggle with time management and prioritizing tasks. I also tend to underestimate how long tasks will take and overestimate how much time I have available.  And if procrastination is the thief of time, there’s been grand larceny around here.

It’s not that I’m always late. I do somehow arrive on time – sometimes – and do enjoy the feeling of not being rushed. It’s pleasant to sit at a stoplight and not clench the wheel wondering how much longer it’s going to stay red. The lights are always red, of course, when you’re running late.

Or is that just another rationalization those of us who are habitually late tend to find? I got every red light. We couldn’t find my son’s shoes. I accidentally hit the snooze button twice. The morning I was bringing up the rear in car line, for example, I was helping with an 8:15 classroom volunteer shift because no one else had signed up. I found myself thinking after the fact that having to make myself presentable, too, made us late leaving. Truthfully, I should have gotten up earlier to allow myself more time. Sometimes what we see as a reason is actually just an excuse.

Excuses are a slippery slope. We all too easily find countless ways to justify to ourselves bad habits we know we should change. And then comes the real danger – when the habit is so entrenched that it has become part of how we see ourselves, consciously or not. I am a person who is always late.

When the habit is etched somewhere in self-identity, the idea of change seems overwhelming. Conquering all the reasons (excuses?) at once looms so insurmountable, that our resolutions for drastic change seldom fare well. Is there an effective solution to always be on time – or, for that matter, to always eat well, exercise more, get better sleep, waste less time, et cetera)? If so the world surely would be populated entirely with punctual, thin, fit, well-rested and productive people.

No, we have to change our habits one day at a time. What we choose today is what matters. We can make changes just for today. And then tomorrow we can work on tomorrow. If we string enough good todays together, our new and improved habits eventually gain ground.

In the wake of the 8:04 arrival debacle, I now focus each morning on what I need to do to be on time today. I set my alarm earlier. I wake the boys up earlier. I do the essentials first, like pack lunches. It may seem obvious, but the results have been promising. The first rehabbed day I dropped the boys off at 7:46.  The next day was 7:48. Fridays must be our Achilles heel: today, in week two of reform, they hopped out of the car at 7:57. I did hit the snooze button today, though. I will set my alarm a bit earlier on Monday.

Little by little, day by day, we can become who we want to be. Our lives are essentially the sum of our days. As Mark Twain said, “Apparently there is nothing that cannot happen today.”

Let’s rename the club. How about “Getting Ready Earlier Achieves Timeliness.” GREAT. Or maybe “On Time One Day at a Time.”

We’ll have an empty table in the back. But hopefully we won’t need it.

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