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Look to the Ant

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“Go to the ant, O sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise.” (Prov. 6:6, RSV)

As a kid, do you remember turning over a rock, brick, or piece of wood and seeing hundreds of ants scurry? Disrupt ants’ lives and it’s chaos. But within minutes, they are back at work busily restoring, relocating, rebuilding their lives.

Destroy an anthill and see it rebuilt in no time.

The Wisdom teachers of ancient Israel noticed the hard work, foresight, and industry of ants. To warn against laziness and indolence, the teachers instructed:

“Go to the ant, O sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise. . . . She prepares her food in summer, and gathers her sustenance in harvest” (Prov. 6:6, 8).
“The ants are a people not strong, yet they provide their food in the summer. . . .” (Prov. 30:25).

Ants busy themselves with tiny tasks to accomplish big jobs. They plan ahead. They store food all summer. They prepare for winter long before winter arrives. To the would-be loafer or procrastinator, the ancient Wisdom teachers said, “Look to the daily diligence and persistence of the ant!”

These proverbs speak to my lifelong struggle with procrastination. I’m not lazy; I’m a perfectionist. I delay tasks, especially creative ones, to think through every detail, carefully consider every option. When I finally sit down to a project or decision, I want to feel that it’s my best work.

Sometimes I think my schedule will open a wonderful block of time to write that report, design that new program, or make that important business decision. Too often, however, that time never arrives. I end up stressed out, overdue, pressured under a deadline—often with someone at my door waiting for the finished project.

To “procrastinate,” says Webster, is “to put off doing (something unpleasant or burdensome) until a future time—especially to postpone habitually.”

My guess is that most of us have struggled with this issue for all kinds of reasons. Who among us has not postponed in a way that increased stress, violated deadlines, or disrupted teamwork? Who among us has never finished because we kept waiting for “just the right time”?

“Look to the ant and be wise . . . all summer she stores up her food,” say the ancient sages. I’m trying to live that lesson in my work, family, and personal life. I’m still learning the discipline of partial tasks each day rather than waiting for the moment to do it all at once.

I also try to live that out in my faith. Each day the life of faith fills with choices and opportunities. “Today” is an important biblical word: “O that today you would listen to [God’s] voice” (Psalm 95:7). God calls us to the dailiness of the small things of faith that become large things in the kingdom of God.

As people of faith, we live our lives in the grace of God. The apostle Paul writes, “See, now is the acceptable time; now is the day of salvation” (2 Cor. 6:2). In other words: Open your lives to the presence of God’s grace at work in the world, and make the most of each day as God’s people—people of love, hope, and reconciliation.

In our faith, our families, the workplace, God calls us to “seize the day” with small acts of love—and to live boldly, trusting in God’s goodness.

Look to the ant and be wise!

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