Spiritual Procrastination

At work, there hangs on the wall a large, flatscreen TV, meant to entertain our members while they wait. News, ads, CNN, trivia, quotes, all flash across the screen for several hours. Sometimes these quotes catch my eye, and so it was the other day that I was shocked to see a quote lifted from St. Augustine of Hippo’s Confessions.

Under normal circumstances, my reaction would have been characterized by an abundance of joy (especially since my place of employment is secular in nature). Unfortunately, the line they decided to paraphrase was out of context, and people probably laughed at it rather than took it seriously.

Which was it? Take a guess.

“Lord, let me be chaste, but not yet.”

As anyone who has had any experience with St. Augustine knows, he does not say this to endorse unchastity, but to demonstrate a step in his conversion process. Let’s put the quote in context, shall we? This is from Book VIII of the Confessions:

But now, the more ardently I loved those whose healthful affections I heard of, that they had resigned themselves wholly to Thee to be cured, the more did I abhor myself, when compared with them. For many of my years (some twelve) had now run out with me since my nineteenth, when, upon the reading of Cicero’s Hortensius, I was stirred to an earnest love of wisdom; and still I was deferring to reject mere earthly felicity, and give myself to search out that, whereof not the finding only, but the very search, was to be preferred to the treasures and kingdoms of the world, though already found, and to the pleasures of the body, though spread around me at my will. But I wretched, most wretched, in the very commencement of my early youth, had begged chastity of Thee, and said, “Give me chastity and continency, only not yet.” For I feared lest Thou shouldest hear me soon, and soon cure me of the disease of concupiscence, which I wished to have satisfied, rather than extinguished. And I had wandered through crooked ways in a sacrilegious superstition, not indeed assured thereof, but as preferring it to the others which I did not seek religiously, but opposed maliciously.

Augustine says he was wretched because of that. He wasn’t telling us to procrastinate; rather, he was urging us to the opposite, to not make the same mistake.

But all of us do it at some point. Procrastination doesn’t just happen with homework or employment; it happens with people, relationships, hobbies, the spiritual life.

I was struck most forcefully by this concept in one of the kdramas I’m watching. It’s one from a couple of years ago called The Master’s Sun. The storyline is one quite common to kdramas–rich guy and poor girl fall in love–but there’s a twist. Ever since her accident, Gong Sil has seen ghosts, so she lives her life closed up in her apartment. Until one day, she touches Joo Joong Won, heartless, money-grubbing bastard and owner of Kingdom Mall. Whenever she touches Joong Won, the ghosts disappear, so Gon Sil worms her way into his life (with much resistance from him, of course). He only agrees to let her stay around because she can get him in contact with his dead ex-girlfriend Cha Hee Joo, who died when the couple was kidnapped in high school.

Joong Won really is your typical “trauma-made-me-heartless” lead, though he’s not quite as bad as Joo Won from Secret Garden. I love So Ji Sub, and Joong Won as a character is sometimes amusing and sometimes good, but ends up doing the same thing Joo Won does: he stays around her, and tells her he loves her and likes her, but expects her to be able to just drop the relationship at any moment. Basically he selfishly wants to use her, spend time with her, enjoy her company, but still make a marriage that pleases his aunt and father, and is beneficial to his business.

Why?

Because of procrastination, actually. (You thought I was just doing this to talk about kdramas, didn’t you? You’re partly right, but I do have a point, too.)

In Episode 9, we have a horrible cliffhanger ending. Joong Won is waiting to board his flight to China, but rushes back to his mall to save Gong Sil from being possessed by a ghost. Obviously, the way to do that is to kiss her, which he does–but then before she comes to, Joong Won runs off, and Gong Sil is left with the glimpse of a man’s back and no memory of what occurred during her possession. Joong Won returns to the airport and talks with Secretary Kim. Joong Won is now very aware that Kim has been encouraging the budding relationship between Joong Won and Gong Sil, and Kim acknowledges it: “It’s nice to see you change.”

Yes, this pic is just filler and an opportunity to display a handsome, angsty So Ji Sub.

But Joong Won’s last (or almost last) words in the episode are, “I don’t want to change.” Joong Won, who has been betrayed by his girlfriend (or those related to her) and his family, has turned into someone interested only in money. Now that someone has come to soften his heart, he refuses to change. And he admits precisely why: because he is afraid.

This is so very characteristic of us in our conversions (which happen not simply once in a life time, but daily). We say, “I want to correct this bad habit, I want to get rid of this sin, I want to love God, I want to pray more, do this, do that.” Then we keep doing the bad thing we say we don’t want to do. Sometimes we do it because, like St. Augustine, we love the satisfaction we get from the sin more than we love God. Other times, we do it because like Joong Won, we are too attached to the satisfaction we have now and are afraid of upsetting the status quo, afraid of change, afraid that maybe what God promises us won’t be that satisfactory and we won’t be happy anymore.

The only remedy for this is faith and courage. Faith in God, that what He has given us is so much better and more satisfying than any feeling or pleasure this world can offer, and the courage to take the step and break away from our comfortable stability, and deal with messiness and uncertainty of the world.

Because the only certain thing in life is God. Everything else changes. We change. The people we love change. Jobs are lost, people die, people betray us, our favorite restaurants close down, natural disasters wreck our favorite places beyond belief. But if we put ourselves in God’s hands, nothing can shake us.

But we have to do it now. We can’t just wait. Life passes us by, and if we continue to say, “Oh, I’ll fix that tomorrow, let me be chaste tomorrow, let me be charitable tomorrow, let me be courageous tomorrow,” we’ll find ourselves like the rams separated from the goats. We may not have done anything bad, but we won’t have actively done good, and actively loved.

So take another lessen from St. Augustine of Hippo. Remember what he says in the first few words of Confessions? “For Thou madest us for Thyself, and our heart is restless, until it repose in Thee.”

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