A Pigsty of Procrastination

A Pigsty of Procrastination March 31, 2019

[Jesus, pictured here, is excited that I’m blogging instead of doing the thing I’m supposed to be doing. ‘But Jesus,’ I say, ‘I blog every day…]

I don’t mean to be obsessed with self-care, self-compassion, and self-forgiveness, but I run into them everywhere, especially in this, which I was reading, get this, as a way of procrastinating.

That’s right, there is something I have to do that I’ve been avoiding for weeks. I could have done it at the beginning of March the way I imagined I would, even scrawling it out on my list and then transferring it to the next column every single day through the whole month. But instead I did piles of laundry, deep cleaned the kitchen, did not neglect the little girls’ school (that’s how bad it was), and diligently stayed on top of my inbox.

The article, which I really liked by the way, because of the state I’m in, is about how procrastinating isn’t a time management problem, it’s an emotional, psychological problem. It’s about relieving the pressure in the near term, even while you know you are sabotaging yourself in the future. You can’t face some unpleasant task because of insecurity, fear, and doubt, and so you do something that makes you feel adequate—like folding piles of clean laundry.

This avoidant, competent diversion rewards whatever portion of your brain it is that responds so well to that sort of thing. In this way you create a round circle of despair for yourself, much like the one lived out in this morning’s gospel. You might remember that young man, the son who ran away from all his obligations and responsibilities to live the good life. He ended up starving in a pigsty. It only came right when he ‘came to himself.’

Which is a nice twist on what the article suggests. You don’t need to ‘come to yourself’ posits the author, because you already know how it should go. The way out is to reward yourself for doing the right thing, which is where my favorite words came out to play. These rewards are meted out as self-care, self-compassion, and self-forgiveness.

Maybe I was just annoyed that they didn’t suggest a real reward, like a whole cheese eaten alone in a dark cupboard, or a box of Leonidas chocolate.

It is true that at some point you have to forgive yourself for being an awful failure or you can’t move forward. But what if you can’t even do that? You really just compound the misery. Also, you have too high a trust in yourself—thinking that you don’t deserve forgiveness, you were better than that, except that you weren’t because you couldn’t even do this one simple easy task that should have been no big deal. Self-forgiveness should be somewhere on your list, but it can’t be the first item.

The first task has to be repentance. Which is not nearly so enticing as self-compassion and self-care. Consider our prodigal, poor young man, and yet me almost every day as I flee from the clear, persistent love of the Almighty. He just wanted what was coming to him. He just wanted to live unshackled from all the troubles and cares that pressed in upon him. His life was too narrow. He needed to see more, to experience all that the world had to offer. Working the family farm under the thumb of his ever-present father and morose brother was intolerable.

So sayeth every person who looks over the confines of an ordinary, frustrating life and decides to chuck it all. So also the one who just doesn’t want to do the obvious, obedient, biblically commanded, godly thing. So say I when I want to be rid not only of the burden of work and promises that lie before me, but of my own pathetic sense of myself.

The illusion is shattered when you wake up in the pigsty of procrastination and certain failure because you didn’t do what you were supposed to do. This goes for every other kind of sin—banking on near term comfort at the expense of far reaching goodness. You begin by letting yourself off the hook. You move on to a guilt addled Target run. You end up ‘just being gentle with yourself,’ cleaning your house in a state of crushed anxiety over potential failure. You bite down on a corn husk and explain to yourself that it’s delicious.

No, you need to repent, which is to come to yourself and admit that you are wrong—doing the wrong thing at the wrong time in the wrong place. And you are sorry. You see that you have done it and you can’t undo it. You need help. Then you get up and go to the one who has the power to forgive you—completely. Because he went into that very sty and paid all your creditors. You ask him to forgive you and accept you back.

Then, of course, you must forgive yourself. Because if the person you owed your very life to forgives you, what business do you have continuing on not forgiving yourself? But yours can’t come first, because you can’t even do your work in a timely manner. Am I still saying you? Or course I mean me.

Also, though, I think real rewards are better than a boring word like self-compassion. If you face that thing that is so unbearable, take a bag of chocolate with you, or whatever it is that will override the center of your brain that makes you feel like taking everything out of your kitchen cupboards and then putting it all back again.

The son remembered his Father’s house—that comfortable, ordered, busy haven of obedience and trust. Not a place where you strive and prove to everyone how amazing you are, but a place where you show up to your work day by day because of who you belong to, and how much he suffered so that you could be there—even the cost of his own life.

You can’t do whatever it is this morning, though. Go to church first.

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