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What I Learned By Being Late to Church

April 5th, 2019 by dk

I learned a lesson last month by being late to church. I was housesitting for friends and another friend was preaching at a church where he regularly volunteers. I used Google Maps to estimate my commute and organized my morning around a timely departure.

I read the paper, drank my morning cup of warmth, fed the cat, took out the trash, then started the car. Google Maps guided me out of the city and onto the highway, projecting that I would arrive at my friend’s church 15 minutes before the service began. Everything was going exactly according to plan, until it didn’t.

I had forgotten to turn off the tea kettle burner. After my initial panic, I had three quick thoughts. First, if I had been at home, I would have known neighbors who could be imposed on to enter my house and turn off the stove. Second, how long before our smart houses can turn off a stove on its own?

And third, why doesn’t mapping software include an undo button? Certainly, I was not the first person to head off somewhere before realizing I had reason to return to where I started. As it was, I fumbled with my phone to reenter my originating address, seeking help to return to my friends’ house as efficiently as possible. Time was suddenly of the essence.

So much for arriving early! So much for everything going exactly according to plan! My friend doesn’t carry a phone, so all I could do was rehearse my apology in the car as I drove.

I returned to the house, turned off the stove, got back in the car, and reentered the church address. Google Maps told me I would be arriving at 10:42. It also told me something else that turned out to be more important. I knew I would be twelve minutes late to church, but I also knew that there was nothing I could do about it.

Even if I drove recklessly, I was still going to be ten or eleven minutes late. So it became obvious that there was no reason to risk getting a ticket or causing an accident. The Google gods had decreed my fate. It was right there on the screen, staring back at me.

That was the surprise. An unexpected calm came over me. My general anxiety — “I’m going to be late!” was replaced with a very specific disappointment — “I will miss the first 15 minutes of the service.” Given this precise data, I calculated that I probably wouldn’t miss the sermon, which was really the point of the trip. I relaxed and worked on my apology.

Of course it all worked out fine. That was never really in doubt. But my morning epiphany was as profound as any I might have gotten from my friend’s sermon. Anxiety is rooted in what we don’t know, and one of the most common things we don’t know is how much delay will be caused by an unexpected obstacle.

We now have tools to estimate many of those delays, lowering our anxiety. They haven’t arrived a moment too soon.


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs at

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