One of my neighbors–an elderly gentleman–was evicted earlier this week. Police officers on the lawn, clothes in garbage bags, his meds retrieved, an emergency call to a moving company… It was an awful, heart-wrenching mess.
It brought sharply into focus how abysmal a neighbor I am. Sure, I waved hello and goodbye–but I never made conversation. Every time I missed an opportunity to reach out, I would say to myself these two dangerous words that now send shooting pains through my heart: “Next time.”
A former minister (from what I gathered), he lived alone. In the summer, he would open up his garage, as though it were a front porch, and people-watch. When he left to visit family, he would ask us to watch the house, and we would. That was the extent of our interactions.
Always it was “next time.” I should have invited him over to dinner–next time. I should have brought him cookies for Christmas–next time. I should have invited him to the church picnic–next time. I should have asked if he wanted to see a Coptic liturgy–next time.
Until next time never comes and all that’s left is regret.
Oh, I have my excuses and plenty of them. And, oh, I understand that “next time” is a kind of hope. And who knows perhaps it was the will of God that we pass each other by…
Ships that pass in the night, and speak each other in passing,
Only a signal shown and a distant voice in the darkness;
So on the ocean of life we pass and speak one another,
Only a look and a voice, then darkness again and a silence.
(Longfellow, Tales of a Wayside Inn)
How dangerous it would be if we mistook our own procrastination for God’s will!
Is that what they mean when they say “the road to hell is paved with good intentions”?
I will visit my Sunday school kids–next time.
I will call that sick tante–next time.
I will text my sister–next time.
There is no next time. Next time is never promised. Our lives are but a mist “that appears for a little time and then vanishes away” (James 4:14).
What are you putting off? What are you putting off? I ask you again, what are you putting off?
Do it now. Do it quick.
“Time and tide wait for no man!”
“Is there not a time of hard service for man on earth?
Are not his days also like the days of a hired man?”
You are on the job–the only job that matters: your life! Will you finish strong or will you twiddle your thumbs and let it pass?
Next time. What terrible, terrible words!
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