The god of productivity

Christ with Martha and MariaHenryk Semiradsky, 1886

Ever since college, I’ve felt a bit guilty for reading unless everything in the house is spotless, dinner for that night is made and the next is planned, and nothing on my to-do list is calling out to me.

Now carry that over to television. I have the same complication with watching TV shows, except I have the added guilt of knowing I could be reading.

It’s ridiculous, I know. And yet, slowly but surely, I’ve become addicted to crossing things off my to-do list. I judge everything by how productive it would look on paper.

Lately I’ve found myself scrubbing baseboards late at night, then spotting my Bible on the coffee table unopened. This happens all the time. I keep thinking think if I just wash that sinkful of dishes or scrub the bathroom counter it will fulfill my pressing need to do things that matter.

And yet, I never identified with Martha in the story of Mary, Martha and Jesus. Jesus visits the two sisters; one bustles around making dinner and probably scrubbing the baseboards lest the Savior notice how grimy they’ve become. The other sits by him and listens to whatever he was saying that night.

I always thought I was Mary, because half my busyness is usually procrastination, so I don’t have to tackle the actual chores on my list. I assumed I would have sat at Jesus’ feet to avoid the effort of scrubbing dinner dishes. But I’ve always been wrong β€” or maybe I’ve changed since moving to a city where everyone is always busy.

With this in mind, I’m trying to kick this checklist addiction. My Bible has seen good use these last few mornings; the Lord has drawn me to himself before I tackle my list. He’s used the quiet mornings without work to reset my habits and show me how silly my priorities can be.

Seeing this has helped me re-think lists and rest. I even read several of G.K. Chesterton’s Father Brown mysteries in the middle of the day. And yes, I still felt odd, but I don’t think my baseboards minded the break.

In that spirit, I decided to stick it to the god of productivity and watch an episode of Dr. Who before bed last night, just because I could. Seriously, if you saw this video in the morning, wouldn’t you be thinking about watching Dr. Who all day?


About Michal Conger

I’m a reporter and digital editor, a cooking and whole foods fanatic, a runner, a music lover, an Anthropologie devotee. I'm an avid reader of G.K. Chesterton, C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien and anti-modernist novels. Lately you’ll find me freelancing about education policy and local economic issues to support my horseback riding habit. I am married to my best friend. And above all, I am committed to bearing the testimony of the Lord Jesus, giving an answer for the hope that is in me.
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9 Responses to The god of productivity

  1. Rachel Duke says:

    Haha, that video was AWESOME. Gotta love British humor πŸ˜‰ Thank you for reminding me to not be all about or find my identity in checking off a to-do list.

  2. I know, I saw this video yesterday morning and wanted ALL DAY to watch Dr. Who. But I couldn’t bring myself to do it till 10p.m. when the dishwasher was running and everything was clean. Ridiculous! So I wrote a blog post. πŸ™‚

    • Rachel Duke says:

      It’s amazing what inspires and compels us to write πŸ™‚ I have never watched Dr. Who, but now I do, haha! It’s funny you wrote about that because it’s a struggle I’ve recognized in myself…that I only feel good about myself when I am or appear to others to be productive and on top of things. Sometimes I feel guilty about relaxing or pleasure reading…or when I go to reread a book I feel it’s a waste because there are so many other books out there and then I get paralyzed and don’t read at all. I need to compose a book list (haha, there goes the checklist mentality) – not that I NEED to read ALL of them, but just to have a point of reference if I can’t think of what I want to read off the top of my head. What suggestions do you have?! I’ve been craving a good book.

  3. E. Henry says:

    I am so relieved to know I am not alone! You spoke right at me and what has frustrated me today.

  4. Emily, it sounds like we need to spend more time together! πŸ™‚ I’m so glad my own problems can encourage someone else. πŸ™‚

  5. Rachel, yes, exactly! I feel like I have to have a list ready any time someone asks me how my day has been. “It’s been good because I [name the list].” It’s only since I’ve been unemployed (a whole week and a half, gasp) that I’ve even realized how deeply this mentality has taken root.
    I have so many book recommendations! In no particular order, here are some that must go on your non-list: A Severe Mercy (Sheldon Vanauken), Orthodoxy and Manalive (G.K. Chesterton), Till We Have Faces (C.S. Lewis), Delta Wedding (Eudora Welty), Go Down Moses (William Faulkner), The Tale of Despereaux (Kate DiCamillo), and Howl’s Moving Castle (Diana Wynn Jones).

    • Rachel Duke says:

      Praise the Lord that He took this time to reveal to you your struggle with that, and in that, even more joy/meaning to be found in Him! And then used you to have us examine our own hearts in this matter. πŸ™‚ ::eek:: Building my non-list today – these look A-mazing!! It’s that balance of having goals/desires, yet how I go about doing them…so as to not idolize and wrap my whole identity up in them. This goes hand in hand with what Mark Driscoll is talking about in his Ephesians series – you should listen! (you’ll have to click on Part 1, since I’m listening to Part 2 right now) πŸ˜‰ Love you!

  6. I can very much relate to this, but more often than productivity I succumb to laziness. Many of the things on my to do list I do to love my husband, and not because I feel good about them getting done. So I’m instead a lazy lover to both my God and my husband. However, I’ve always related to Martha. I suppose you could say I’m the other end of the scale and what we both need is balance in our lives. Maybe we could help each other with that. πŸ™‚

  7. Sister, I know just what you mean! I am more of a lazy busy-body than anything. I fuss and fuss without getting very much done, but I keep on making ambitious lists! I am ambitious and lazy at the same time. How does that happen? I don’t know! But I would love for us to help each other with that. πŸ™‚

    Rachel, I DO thank God both that he revealed this checklist habit to me, and that apparently others I value and respect have been thinking about the same thing! I think you’re right– it really is about balancing goals and idolizing their accomplishment. It’s a matter of motivation– I think if I were motivated more by love and less by duty, I would get more done but place less importance on the list. I will be sure to listen to Mark Driscoll!

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