It doesn’t discriminate. Work, catchups, church, appointments, parties, running, meetings, funerals, or dinner. I don’t think it’s always been the case, but it’s certainly reached a crescendo in recent times.
Part of my work as a nurse involves collecting data to reveal the knock-on-effect that arriving late has on a day in the operating theatre. Staff-wise, we focus on surgeons and anaesthetists. Probably because there’s nothing that can technically happen without them. Things like ‘increased risk of patient cancellation’, ‘unmet KPIs’ and a general waste of taxpayer dollars are highlighted as outcomes of this behaviour.
Every week, I produce my graphs and sheepishly put them up for department perusal. I cringe and then taste the irony.
Monday through Friday, I’ll leave home for work with the knowledge that I can’t physically do the 18 minute trip in 13 minutes, but I give it a go. Every day. While I can’t text ahead to work along on the way and say that I’ll be a few minutes late, it’s the protocol for social catch ups.
At my recent Performance Development Review, the topic of punctuality came up. Again. The managers were more than aware of my arrival times, despite my feeble attempts to make them less obvious. The conversation concluded, I was put on a warning and HR on speed dial. I made the resolve change my ways and made a pact that it wouldn’t be an issue, next time ’round.
It was later that month, at a social thing, that I rocked up five minutes late. It was blatantly obvious that I’d caused people to wait. In the cold. The cumulative conviction must have banked up, and it hit me in the guts. These were people I liked and respected, they held up their end of the bargain. Why couldn’t I?
There had to be a consistent factor behind my consistent lateness. A long-term mindset? An ingrained habit? Perhaps plain disorganisation? Multiple factors? Ultimately, it was something that set my ‘arrival default’ to ‘late’. My attitude varied a little, depending on the situation.
I started to question why.
Potential answers flooded to mind. “I’m disorganised”; “I’m currently getting away with it”; “I suck at small talk”; “My estimating skills are whacked”; “More time in bed is better”; “The challenge of trying to get to the same destination in a shorter amount of time is really appealing?” Or: “I actually prefer the idea of others doing the waiting? Rather than me.” Ouch.
I realised that being late said a whole lot, without saying a thing.
Inevitably, we’re going to be late at times. It’s a part of life. But it was my consistent lateness that started to speak. It said that my time and comfort were more valuable than others. As for work, it said that I’m cool with being paid when I’m not at work, working.
After a little swallow, I paused for a very uncomfortable moment. If it was in fact, speaking these things, what was it that was giving it a voice?
As I sat in my (warm) car, I dug in thought to find some roots. I gave it another few minutes. Zero clarity. I decided to take some action and update the time displayed on my dashboard to six minutes faster, which was the actual time. A small step, but a base on which to build.
So I didn’t know the ‘why’. But I could consider the ‘why to change?’ Do I value people? Yep. Was my behaviour impacting people? Yep. Positively? No, no not really.
Jesus’ actions added weight to His words when the Bible describes the value He places on people. His actions spoke purpose. The volume was turned loud, when, of His volition, He put on skin, came to earth and lived among people. In His desire to restore relationship between God and people, He (purposefully) became ‘the’ sacrifice, the weighty action revealing a voice of ultimate and absolute love.
While His demonstration of value is on another scale altogether (and it’s unlikely He was a late-comer), it goes extreme in ‘voice’. It goes extreme in ‘purpose’.
As I considered His perfect example, I knew I was a little different.
Paul writes in Romans: ‘But I need something more! For if I know the law but still can’t keep it, and if the power of sin within me keeps sabotaging my best intentions, I obviously need help! I realize that I don’t have what it takes. I can will it, but I can’t do it. I decide to do good, but I don’t really do it; I decide not to do bad, but then I do it anyway. My decisions, such as they are, don’t result in actions. Something has gone wrong deep within me and gets the better of me every time.’ (Romans 7:17-20 MSG)
Over and over again I’d missed the mark, just like this. Then Jesus enters this story with purpose. He knows the predicament and acts to provide the solution for all our ongoing contradictions, large and small. Perhaps as small as chronic lateness. As I put my trust in Him, His Spirit is at work in me, always available and ready to speak truth and remind me of the purpose of my actions.
In the mornings, I’ve found that putting good intentions into practice can be bland and a little unattractive. A few months back, I found I had an ally. Jen was also up for making a change to her arrival times.
At 7 am on any weekday morning, texts of inquiry and recommendation are exchanged:
‘Have you left yet?’
We win some; we lose some, but we’re getting better. And our actions are speaking better words..