The Productivity Mindset
There is currently a trend in our culture to be constantly productive. This is especially true for type-A, perfectionistic, goal-oriented people like myself; we want to make the most of our time and achieve something meaningful. And it’s good to set goals, make plans, and achieve something great with our lives. The key here is to be productive in the right way, to use our time on what is truly important rather than what is superficial, and to allow ourselves time for rest, community, prayer, and simply being with the Lord.
Working Out of Anxiety
So why are we always working so hard? One reason may be that we are anxious about making money to provide for ourselves and our families. And that is a reasonable thing to be worried about—in a practical sense, we need money and should be responsible and diligent in our work. However, God does not want us to be anxious about such things, nor to overwork ourselves. If we put God first, He promises that He will take care of us:
“So do not worry and say, ‘What are we to eat?’ or ‘What are we to drink?’ or ‘What are we to wear?’ All these things the pagans seek. Your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom [of God] and his righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides. Do not worry about tomorrow; tomorrow will take care of itself.”Matthew 6:31-34 (NABRE)
We can rest in the peace of knowing that our Heavenly Father will take care of our needs. So you can slow down! God’s not going anywhere.
Putting Our Value in What We Do
On the other hand, for many of us, productivity in itself can become like an idol—we put too much value in how much we can accomplish and how well we do it. I have struggled a lot with perfectionism (and still do sometimes), and I’m sure many of you can relate to that as well. But, during a retreat at my college a couple years ago, I asked one of the prayer teams to pray that I be freed from perfectionism, and God answered my prayer. Through the words of those who were praying over me, one fundamental truth really hit me: We don’t have to do anything for God to love us.
Let me say that again: You do not have to do anything for God to love you.
Obviously, I already knew this in my head, but that was the moment when the Holy Spirit came in and really spoke it directly to my heart. I had been working so hard to do everything—whether school or work or personal projects—out of anxiety because, unconsciously, I was buying the lie that just being myself, without any accomplishments or good deeds, wasn’t good enough. But God loves us—He died for us—just because He is a good Father. Just because He made us to be loved.
Thus, though we want to take care of our responsibilities and accomplish great things, we need to step back and examine why we are doing these things—because we feel like we need to do them to be loved? Or because we want to do them out of love? Our mindset makes a huge difference in how we live our lives.
Martha & Mary
This difference in mindset is actually well exemplified in one particular story in the Bible: the story of Martha and Mary. (Many of you probably already know it.)
When Jesus came over to visit Martha and her sister Mary, Martha was scrambling to get food ready, tidy the house, and do other practical things. She was frantic to make everything perfect for our Lord; but Mary sat at Jesus’ feet, simply listening and spending time with Him. When Martha complained that her sister wasn’t helping her, Christ replied:
“Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things. There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her.”Luke 10:41-42
In other words: The Lord does not expect us to be perfect. What Christ wants most is to simply be with us and love us. That is what’s most important. Though it might not seem “productive” in the world’s eyes, we need to put prayer first and spend time simply sitting in His Presence.
The Value of Virtue
So then, how do we put God first? How do we balance our work and our spiritual lives? How do we know what is most important to do in the moment?
The answer is virtue.
First of all, virtue (particularly perseverance and prudence) will actually make us more productive. As said in the Book of Wisdom:
“If riches are desirable in life, / what is richer than Wisdom, who produces all things? / And if prudence is at work, / who in the world is a better artisan than she? / Or if one loves righteousness, / whose works are virtues, / She teaches moderation and prudence, / righteousness and fortitude, / and nothing in life is more useful than these.”Wisdom 8:2-7
Virtue is incredibly valuable to help us live a productive and balanced life—piety instructs us to put God first, justice demands we take care of our responsibilities, perseverance drives us to work through hardship, prudence guides us in determining what’s most important, when to work and when to rest, and so on.
More importantly, however, virtue is productive in the most important way—it produces spiritual fruit. These spiritual fruits—which are, ultimately, the desires of our hearts when we chase worldly success—are the products of virtue and a deeper relationship with God. For Galatians 5:22-23 says:
“the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.”Galatians 5:22-23
Therefore, if we want to reap joy and peace and all these gifts of the Spirit, then we must sow virtue through a relationship with God. These products of virtue are more important than any product of our hands—the physical will pass away, but the spiritual is eternal. The products of the hands may save the body, but only Love can save the soul (without which the body is meaningless). As it says in the Book of Matthew:
“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and decay destroy, and thieves break in and steal. But store up treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor decay destroys, nor thieves break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there also will your heart be.”Matthew 6:19-21
Thus, true productivity is not about “How much can I get done today?” but rather, “How can I practice virtue today?”
God bless you and keep you,