You don’t earn more points by finishing early, either in school or in work. Meaningful projects need to be completed on time, and it’s usually beneficial to take all the time you’re given. There’s no extra credit for being the first one done, a lesson I learned math test after math test, when my paper would come back marked all over in red, highlighting sloppy, thoughtless mistakes. I wanted to just be done.

We carry lists of to-do’s and deadlines in our heads every single day. Make dinner. Fold the laundry. Write the proposal. Wrap the gifts. Save for the down payment. They’re a weight, these lists, and the fantasy of their immediate relief is very enticing. But if it matters enough to go on a list, it deserves all the time we can give it.

In my early years of being a pastor, when I had to preach every week, I tried to have my sermon finished by end-of-day Thursday so that I could take my Friday and Saturday “off.” But I never liked those sermons; something got lost between 5 pm Thursday and 10 am Sunday. Once I gave myself permission to do some sermon work on Friday and some on Saturday, I felt better about what I was producing.

Could the trick be working when we’re not actually working? For projects that require a lot of thought and deliberation, making use of “down” time to cogitate on them for five minutes here, ten minutes there, can actually enrich the final product–and lessen the stress of the deadline.

One thought on “Deadline

  1. this is spot on. I think that a big part of writing a sermon is “sleeping on it” and letting everyday life seep into what you’re saying.

    I try to have the bulk of the writing done by Thursday so that I’m not constantly working while I’m enjoying family time over the weekend…but I preached last Sunday and the best parts of the sermon were the ones that I wrote at the crack of dawn Saturday and even Sunday.

    The sermon was 80% of the way there on Wednesday. Then N and I watched The Shawshank Redemption — doesn’t get much better than that for a Sunday focused on “hope” — so wove that in early Saturday. Sunday morning I was drinking my coffee and paging through the Chicago Tribune and there were numerous stories that begged to be referenced. When people came up to chat following the service, not a single one commented on all the stunning biblical exegesis I had done early in the week…each and every one wanted to talk about the Friday-Saturday additions to the sermon!

    Years ago I was on an APNC at Fourth and one of the candidates said that when she’s struggling with a sermon, she mows the lawn. I bet her sermons are all the better for it.

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