Everyone who gets to know me sooner or later comes to learn of one of my greatest shortcomings. I am forevermore perpetually late to almost everything. If I am only five minutes late that is a triumph. If I am on time, then it’s a miracle. Although I have actually gotten places on time before, it’s safe to say that it’s a rare occurrence. If my life were a Greek tragedy then my perpetual lateness would be my tragic flaw. When all would be said and done, at the end of the play the chorus would recite a monologue about how if I’d just been on time everything would have turned out just fine and the city wouldn’t have burned down and the country now wouldn’t be at war with the rest of the known world.

Thankfully my life is not a Greek tragedy and not much usually depends on my timeliness. (Although, I’m sure my friends would like me a lot more if I actually met them when I said I would instead of 45 minutes later.) So, with all that said you would think that I would be a great fan of the common platitude “Better late than never,” when in fact I actually really dislike it. I don’t like it because I think it’s highly misleading.

Yes, there are times when it is better to be late than to have never made the effort at all, like wishing a friend a happy belated birthday–the consolation is that you didn’t entirely forget his or her birthday. Or say you tell your friend that you will help her move and promise her you’ll get there at 10 am but something comes up and you arrive at 11 instead. Chances are the sixty minutes won’t make much of a difference to her since you arrived to help with the arduous task instead of cancelling on her.

But for every instance when tardiness is excusable and doesn’t make much of a difference there are several instances in which promptness is essential. The physician delivering a life-saving dosage of medicine to a patient must do so before time runs out for the patient. The attorney making sure his client’s claim is filed before time runs out. The credit card bill that must be paid by a certain date before exorbitant interest begins to accrue on the balance.

But I think the phrase “Better late than never” presents the most palpable danger to us in terms of our relationship with God. It is so easy to put Him off till later. We all do it without noticing. I’ll pray later today. I’ll read my Bible tomorrow. I’ll start fasting next week. I’ll confess before the next time I decide to take communion. I’ll take communion after I make it to confession… the cycle starts and soon we can’t get out of it. And we console ourselves into a stagnant complacency with phrases like “Better late than never.” Well, it’s better that I get around to God sometime someday in the future than not getting around to Him at all. We use words of scripture that tells us that God waits for our return to Him to bolster our complacency about now and place all our eggs in tomorrow’s basket.

But what if tomorrow never comes? What if today is all you have? You wouldn’t know it, and the suddenness of it all would be far too much. 

Perhaps this is why Saint Paul gives us the following advice in his epistle to the Ephesians: “See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil” (5:15-16).

He tells us to walk with caution, to use our time wisely because time itself is a magician’s trick. We are here today and with a simple sleight of hand gone tomorrow.