When I'm Not Productive, I'm Loved Anyway

by David McLemore July 31, 2018

My six year old is the hardest worker I know.

He wakes up and gets right to it. My wife and I try to get up early every day. The alarm goes off at 4:00 AM and we make our way to the coffee pot and then upstairs to our bonus room to read our Bible, other books we’re making our way through, and to write or work on other long-term projects. Around 6:30 AM, my six-year-old approaches the stairs.

I call him the traveling salesman because each day he has a backpack, bag, or sometimes even a wagon—a little blue wagon with a yellow handle—full of toys, stuffed animals, trinkets, and “treasures.” He clinks and clangs up the stairs and takes his seat on the same cushion as his mother, hip to hip with the one who gave him life. There he sits with all his stuff, and then he starts talking. His questions are unceasing:

“How many minutes is 100?” I have no idea what that means so he clarifies, “How many minutes are in 100 minutes?”

Easy, son. “100.”

“How high is Mt. Everest? Is it like 100?”

What?

After interviewing me, he gets back to the task at hand: organizing his inventory. Often he’ll begin drawing sports logos. He never stops moving, even when he’s sitting. To sit next to him is like sitting next to fish surprised to find itself out of water. He flips and flops. He wiggles and twitches. He’s the Energizer Bunny, if the Energizer Bunny drank a case of Red Bull.

This will probably serve him well in life; he doesn’t lack for motivation. But getting him working on the right thing is often difficult. He will work for food, but only the right kind of food, mostly chicken nuggets or pizza. He will finish the task, but he’ll start another ten along the way. His doesn’t lack focus as much as he wants to focus on multiple things at once.

I know where this restlessness comes from. It’s my fault. As I’ve grown older, I move less, but I still do multiple things at once. And that’s where my problem comes - I struggle to finish one task before heading off to another. As an example, I wrote one full blog post and started three more before I finished this one. I checked my Twitter notifications and my work email. I ordered a coffee and I logged onto the Starbucks internet I have no intention of using. I’m a distracted man.

At the end of most days, I look back with disappointment. So much to do, so little time. Truthfully, it’s more like so much to do, so much wasted time. More often than not, I don’t feel productive at all. I feel like a waste, like a bad steward of God’s good gifts. I can never recover lost time, and I’m well aware of the price I’ve paid. It doesn’t stop me though. Tomorrow will be the same.

I wonder: have I made a god out of productivity?

Work is not a result of the fall. Adam and Eve were to tend the Garden of Eden before they sinned. But work is significantly harder after the fall. That difficulty creates all kinds of problems. We are measured by what we produce. “What have you done for me lately” is the way of the world and few disagree with its validity. The fruitful one is the model, even if the fruit is of the Wal-Mart quality, instead of the fresh picked field. We care less about quality and more about quantity. Don’t believe me? Look at Netflix. No one subscribes to watch a single well-produced show. It’s the thousands of shows that draw us in, even if most we would never watch in a million years.

The world measures us by our output, but God measures us by our input. Nowhere in the Bible are the capable called for God’s work. It’s alway the incapable. Abraham, the pagan family-man. Jacob, the deceiving little brother. David, the small shepherd boy. Jeremiah, the scared prophet. Peter, the unfaithful follower. Paul, the persecutor of Christians. These men produced, but their production is never mentioned as a reason for God’s favor. Rather, it is what God puts in them that sets them apart. God puts himself in those whom he calls. God saves on the basis of what he’s given, not on what we give him.

This truth destroys the overwhelming need to produce. When we aren’t productive, we lose nothing of ultimate value. We still have God because Christ was productive in all the right ways. On our best days, we will never produce the righteousness required, but Jesus never failed to. At our highest peak, we will still be weighed down by sin, but Jesus never was.

When we don’t feel productive, the work we should look to and be comforted by is the work done by Jesus. His work makes all of our work effective, even if it is small, because God takes small faithfulness and multiplies it a hundred fold. He can do in one minute what we could never do in a thousand years.

My son is a lesson to me. The things he does are of almost no value whatsoever to me. I don’t care about the old shoe he found in the street and deemed a treasure. I don’t care how many trinkets he’s collected in his mason jar. But I do care about him. He doesn’t have to do anything for me to love him. God is the same with me.

I know this now, but I won’t tomorrow. That’s why I’ll need another reminder. The gospel must be applied daily to a production seeker like me. You too?

Editor's Note: This post originally appeared at David's blog, Things of the Sort.