Prayer, Solitude, and… Punctuality?

A friend recently turned me on to Catapult Magazine, which is smart, thoughtful writing about the spiritual life (that's my tagline, not theirs). The theme of a recent issue was "Community," and I enjoyed this article about the author's experience living with others in a community called The Hermitage. Here's the piece I took note of:

We cultivate spiritual disciplines [together]. Some of the disciplines most needed and practiced are personal prayer, solitude, and punctuality.

I have never heard of punctuality as a spiritual discipline, but I love it.

Punctuality shows respect for the person left waiting. And if you're living in community, sharing work responsibilities, punctuality is a way of submitting to the needs of the community and being accountable to them.

Punctuality is a big thing for me. Granted, I am late a lot more than I used to be before I had kids. (How many times have I need thwarted by a missing shoe or an ill-timed poop!) However, I remain committed to being on time for things as much as I am able. Chronic lateness is one of my pet peeves because it communicates that whatever has detained the person is more important than I am.

Punctuality also happens to be the way my life is set up right now. When Caroline was in kindergarten, I (or another adult I had designated) had to be at the bus stop when it arrived or they would not let her get off. Day care centers assess a fee if parents are late picking up their children. Thankfully, our provider doesn't, but I still need to be there by a certain non-negotiable time. In short, people are depending on me to be at a certain place at a certain time, and I honor that as best I can because I honor the relationship.

This makes ministry a challenge though, not just logistically---I have to plan hospital visits more carefully than I'd like, and try to guesstimate how long they'll take---but spiritually too. I end up screening calls more than I might otherwise, just in case the issue will require more time and attention than I have before the next thing. And I think some immediacy and intimacy is lost as a result.

This is something I've struggled with for years. I think to myself, if I were a real minister, instead of this hybrid minister/mommy thing, I would be able to drop everything and just go. Well, sometimes I can and sometimes I can't.

I don't feel very OK with the partitioning of my time in such a rigid way. After all, Jesus was all about the interruptions, eh? He was rarely so focused on getting to the next thing that he closed himself off from the needs that were right in front of him. And yet he seemed to be always on time for whatever needed to happen next*. Jesus seems a bit like Gandalf, who "is never late, nor is he early, he arrives precisely when he means to."

And that's my challenge, too---to live in this clock time and not be enslaved by it, but to love that reality and try to be gracious with myself and others as I move within it. Part of that is accepting the hard stops in my day, while not overstuffing my time such that I am going too fast to be flexible and aware. I wrote recently about the ethical consequences of being in too much of a hurry. But I find it a profound gift to think of punctuality as a spiritual discipline, a way of loving God, my neighbor and myself.


*Except with Lazarus... Jesus was late on that one. Or was he....?