The word ALMOST is an incredibly sad word. It usually denotes a crushing sense of failure, disappointment, and regret.
I once watched a race where the fastest runner was clearly ahead of his competitors. But as he approached the finish line, he slowed down and waved at his fans, prematurely celebrating his victory. It took him only a split second to do this, but that was enough for another runner to overtake him. He ended up second.
When asked about that race, he said dejectedly: “I almost won, but did not. I wrongly assumed that the other runners were very far behind.”
The Old Testament abounds with stories about “almost.” Adam and Eve almost stayed forever in paradise, enjoying God’s bounty until they ate the forbidden fruit (Genesis 3:1-8). After 40 long years of leading the Israelites away from Egypt, Moses was almost about to enter the Promised Land but God forbade him because he had offended God at the waters of Meribah (Deuteronomy 32:51-52).
King David’s record of unquestioning obedience to God’s law was almost immaculate, until he committed adultery with Bathsheba (2 Samuel 2:26). King Solomon almost lived up to his reputation as a wise man, having been given wisdom, and understanding “like the sand on the seashore” (1King 4:29-30), until his lust for foreign women corrupted him.
In the New Testament, there is the story of the rich young man who almost got what he wanted—eternal life—but he missed the opportunity of obtaining it because he was afraid to lose his many earthly possessions (Matthew 19:22). We also read about the parable of the man who almost made it to the wedding feast but was thrown out for not wearing the proper attire (Matthew 22:12).
We often think that our lives move through actions that have immediate, awesome, and spectacular impact on our lives. More often, though, our lives are shaped not by such actions but by small decisions that generate a cascade of unexpected events.
For instance, take the pandemic. When the COVID-19 cases appeared in the US and Europe, officials almost had the sterling opportunity for proactive mobilization that could have stopped the spread of the virus. But despite the information they had about what had happened in China and their superior technological and medical know-how, they took their sweet time before doing anything. They are now reaping the tragic result of this missed opportunity: the rapid escalation of COVID-19 cases in Europe, and the shift of the epicenter of the pandemic from China to the US.
Nothing is more tragic than a missed opportunity. How many once-in-a-lifetime opportunities have we missed because of our laziness, procrastination, unpreparedness, and misjudgment?
Today’s parable about the foolish virgins illustrates such a tragedy. They were supposed to welcome the groom with their lamps alight, but the oil that they brought for their lamps was not enough. So when the groom finally arrived, they were out buying oil. Sad, isn’t it? They waited the whole night, only to miss his arrival. They were almost there, but not quite.
Every decision, however small, creates a sequence of changes that rigidly follows a determined course. We cannot postpone indefinitely crucial decisions that ought to be made, without damaging our future. We often say: “I’ll do that tomorrow.” But tomorrow never comes. The only time we have is NOW.