read 2 Cor. 9. Feeling unproductive is a blight that can overtake any of us, anytime. Most people tell us to make lists, set clocks, prioritize and come up with action plans. Those are good, but what if they don’t get to the heart of the problem? What if feeling unproductive is a spiritual state that needs a deeper solution? Because let’s face it, no matter how much we do, sometimes it never feels like enough. Here are twelve remedies for the blahs that are guaranteed to work and most of them have nothing to do with alarm clocks, post-its and flow charts:
1. We can start by finding our sense of humor. We know we have one. At least, we used to. It’s got to be in there somewhere, maybe hiding under all that woe is me boring-yawn okay-I-might-be-taking-myself-way-too-seriously stuff….
2. We can also do the opposite and wallow. No, I don’t mean call ten long-suffering friends and complain while they put us on mute and iron their hair. I mean go on a prayer walk. When we’re in a bad mood, the last thing we want to do is go pray. When we’re feeling useless, we think we should go push it and work work work, but we forget that there’s an existential quality to this feeling that no amount of work can satisfy. But why would we want to go walk around inside of whatever is bothering us? That sounds awful. What we forget is that every time we go moan, whine and whinge to the Lord God Almighty – who guess what, made us and already knows we’re tired and in a stinky mood – we always end up feeling better. That’s because God let’s us go there, but He doesn’t let us stay there. He reminds us of all those helpful bits of Scripture our brains have blocked because we’ve gone into panic mode. He reminds us that all things work together for good for those who love the Lord. Oh, right. All things, means, duh, all things – including the usually minor things we’re crabbing to Him about, and even the major ones. And then somewhere along the way, we start to feel better to the point that we start thanking Him for stuff. Which brings us to…
3. We can think of all the things we’re thankful for. Being thankful creates a chemical shift in our brains. Even if we start out crabby, by the time we’re halfway through thinking up stuff we’re actually pretty grateful for, we literally get lifted to a higher plane. I would bet good money that consciously being thankful works along the same neural pathways and protein inhibitor-synapsey-blocker reactors as all those expensive side-effect-stuffed meds doctors love to prescribe. It’s the coolest thing. And it’s free. Oh, wait. No, it’s not. It will cost us our self-pity… Hmmmm. Choices, choices…
4. We can figure out what’s really making us anxious and counter attack with truth. For instance, what if we’re actually being pretty productive, but there’s a sword of Damocles hanging over us? What if there’s one thing we are dreading that we just can’t bear to do? We can go on fighting City Hall, or we can make ourselves do that one thing we’re doing our best to forget all about. Sometimes just one thing is acting like a dam, blocking our feeling of productivity and if we go do it, the dam breaks and the tides start to flow again in their normal rhythms. Just saying.
5. We can make sure that we spend time every day trying to root out all our little pot-bellied gods. Our hearts are idol factories, so our hearts are a daily war zone. Like, for instance, are we laboring under the lie that we need to add just one more zero to our salary, one more accolade to our resume, one more cow to our metaphorical barns? Dead end discovered. Those things won’t bring us the peace we think they will. Or are we obsessing over someone else’s approval? Maybe someone who’s been dead for decades? Or someone who’s been dead to US for decades? Newsflash: trying to impress someone who has a hard heart toward us will never work. We’ll always feel unproductive because we’ve set ourselves up for failure. And bigger newsflash; even if by some miraculous act of God, that person’s heart actually melts to the point they do approve of us, their approval won’t bring us the satisfaction we thought it would. Why? Because God made us to seek His approval and His alone. All other ground is sinking sand.
6. We can remember that if we are sowing generously, we WILL reap generously. It’s a law. 2 Cor. 9:6. Sowing generously starts with money but doesn’t end there. We’re supposed to sow generously into other people’s lives and into our own. We’re not supposed to forget the latter. We’re called to love our neighbors AS ourselves, not instead of ourselves. So we can love ourself. Really. It’s okay! We can go take that class we’ve always wanted to, not just sign our kids up for one or tell our friends to go take care of themselves. We can figure out what we really want to do with our lives and do the work we need to do to reach our goals. We’re worth it. God says so. He died for us to live lives of joy. And hey, if we’re being totally stingy and not sowing generously at all, then maybe yes, doing just that one small act of kindness will start to lift our spirits.
7. We can dream big dreams. God says no man can even “imagine” what He has prepared for those who love Him. So we can talk to Him and start imagining. We can start asking. God commands us to ask! God will do more! Asking Him for big things can free up all those bottled up dreams that might be making us feel like we’re about to explode if we stuff them just a second longer.
8. While we want to dream big, we can start small. We get overwhelmed if we think we’re supposed to solve all the world’s problems all at once. We can look at Jesus’ life. He walked around talking to people, listening to people, teaching people and healing people. Those are good things. If we’re doing those things, we ARE being productive. We have to block out the voice of the enemy who tells us we’re wasting our time. Of course, we might get overwhelmed if we think about the magnitude of what Jesus did. He also took all our sins on Himself and died for us. We can’t do that. We don’t actually need to, anyway, because God already did it. But maybe we can let go of a grudge and be completely merciful to one person who’s hurt us. Mercy is unbelievably productive. It fills us with the kind of joy that gives energy. Holding onto grudges is a total energy vampire.
9. Paradoxically sometimes the most efficient way to counter feeling unproductive is to rest. Maybe we’re feeling unproductive because we’re totally burned out. Maybe our serotonin levels are depleted. Maybe the enemy has already stolen from us the memory of how productive we were LAST week. All that’s left then is a burned out shell called a spent person, and that person is so exhausted she’s forgotten how she got there. Sometimes the antidote is literally to rest. The best kind of rest is the one we usually squirm away from. God says He has to “make” us lie down in green pastures. He “leads” us beside the still waters. Psalm 23. I don’t know why, but we go to God’s green pastures and still waters kicking and screaming. Then when we get there, we say, ahhhhhhh, why did we wait so long? We are so fickle, we humans, it’s ridiculous. God wants us to get outside. He wants us to go look at the clouds. Look up at a tree. Consider the lilies. It’s hard to consider them if we never see any. He wants us to go lie down in a meadow. Resting in the presence of the One who loves us most is the most productive thing of all. Resting is good. It’s a command!
10. We can catch ourselves if we’re beavering away at comparing ourselves to other people. That’s counter-productive. God has an individual plan for every one of us. We have to let go of other people’s expectations – especially the expectations we often only imagine they’re projecting on us. Expectations are crippling. We’re to go out and find out what God wants us to do. We’ll be miserable until we do. That’s a law, too.
11. And yes, there’s a place for all that prioritizing we feel guilty we haven’t done. We can try to do first things first. That’s why I put the prayer walk near the top of the list. If we want to get something done, why wouldn’t we go to the Author of the Universe first? Also if we want to use our time wisely and be good stewards of our gifts, we can take a little time to list what we’re good at, and another list of things in the world that make our hearts break, and see if we can use the former to counter the latter. We can find our passions and deploy them. To do that, we can make a list of everything we want to do with our lives. We can put it in order of priority. We can make a list of small steps we can make toward each goal. We can program the realistic steps into our calendars, and if we’re computer savvy we can give ourselves reminders on our emails. Outlook will email us anything we want it to. As in an 11 a.m. email to ourselves: look out the window right now, my friend!
12. We can make a budget and be sure to tithe. Sorry, but tithing is another law. Jesus said we have to tithe, and that tithing is just a starting place. Luke 11:42 (“But woe to you, Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and every little herb, but disregard and neglect justice and the love of God. These you ought to have done without leaving the others undone.”) Tithing is actually incredibly freeing. It means that when people ask us for money, we already have some set aside to give. It helps us do what sounds so hard in today’s passage, which is to give cheerfully. If we budget our ten percent – or whatever percentage higher than that we feel God calling us to – the moment someone asks for it, we get to say, “Sure! No problem! I would LOVE to! Coming right up!” Tithing reminds us that none of it is ours anyway, which also makes us feel more productive. And God promises to bless us richly if we give generously, so giving a portion of our earnings away is guaranteed to result in exponential returns on our output.
13. I saved the best for last and didn’t even “number” it among my 12, as it’s really nothing we have to do. Because even when none of the above seem to move the needle in the right direction, or when the needle is so far below empty that all of these tidbits do nothing but depress us more, there’s still good news. Jesus already did all the work. All of it. He died to lift us to heaven. That’s the good news. So being in Him by definition makes us productive. And if you’re reading this thinking, gee that sounds good but how do I do that? the answer is to ASK. As in ask Jesus for forgiveness. Tell Him you’re sorry you’ve fallen short of every law He made and most of the standards you’ve ever set for yourself and other people. Ask for salvation through grace alone. Boom. It will be done. He already paid the entry fee for every one of us to get to heaven; he already died to set us free. And then watch out! Because where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is always action. God’s peace is like a river – and a river, by definition, is always flowing. Jesus said that once we’re saved, God’s Spirit makes streams of living water flow through our hearts. God’s Spirit is one of love, and love is a verb. But what we forget is that the action God values most is sacrificial service to those who don’t deserve it. Starting with us, most of all, especially when we feel we deserve it least, because we feel like we haven’t done a thing… except recognize our need of Him. And recognizing our emptiness is the most productive thing of all, because at long last there’s room for God to move in us and move us into the place He intended us to occupy – at His right hand, basking in His love, being told, don’t worry, my child, everything’s going to be alright. It already is.
Amen. posted by Caroline Coleman in A Chapter a Day, because it’s Monday. Sept. 29, 2014.