Stop Being Productive by Steve Bezner

I have chased a desire to be remembered, to be admired, to have my name on the spine of a book that someone might read a hundred years hence. I have yearned for permanence, to live beyond my body, for people to seek out my words, my thoughts. I have sought immortality—not spiritually, but to achieve a sort of legendary status among people.

I share this as a confession. I am not proud of this fact. In fact, it is somewhat embarrassing to type these words, to admit that I wanted people to consult my opinions a century beyond my death. But it is in confession that freedom is found. It is only when we admit our most ridiculous imaginings that we can move from the fantastical and into the real.

I have often viewed myself as the sum of my work, the bulk of my production. The more that I achieve, the more notable I am. This is certainly common among humans. How many conversations do we begin by asking, “What do you do?” In knowing someone’s job, we assess and judge their character, their drive, their intelligence. None of this is grounded in reality, of course, but it is what we do. We are obsessed with doing. And for those like myself, who have been deeply infected with the virus of doing and production, we have subconsciously and consciously pursued immortality. We convince ourselves that if we do enough, that if we make an impact, then our names will somehow be chiseled into the halls of human memory.

None of this is healthy, per se. But it is true.

But what if our best work is the invisible? What if the things that matter most are the things that are never seen, that are not in the least productive?

I rise early most mornings. I let the dogs out and make the coffee. I bring the dogs back in and feed them. Then, with them settled, I fill my cup and I sit on the couch. When I was preoccupied with doing, I had a plan. I had a certain number of chapters to read in my Bible. And then a prayer list to march through. And to be done by a certain time so that I could move on to the next thing. When I became aware of my addiction to production, I changed my rhythm.

I now sit in the dark in the morning, sip my coffee and intentionally do nothing. My mind wanders. It floats into prayers. It floats into a posture of listening silence. I pray, yes, but it is far less structured. I eventually read my Bible, but not in a hurried or perfunctory way. I do not pray in order to produce. I pray in order to commune with God. Deep work is happening in those moments, but it may not be immediately apparent.

Poetry is not productive. It startles us because it observes the common in a fresh way, coming round from a perspective that is surprising, that is methodical, that is intentionally slow. Poetry is not productive but is so very helpful. Poetry is not productive, but it is so very good. It reminds us of things we did not know we had forgotten. Poetry is the literary equivalent of sitting quietly. Deep work is happening, but it may not be immediately apparent.

Some of the best work I do is not productive. It is sitting at tables in houses, sitting face-to-face in my office, listening and advising. These conversations will not show up in attendance or baptism statistics. But they are the place where pastoral poetry is written. It is there, when hearts are shaped by the Spirit that deep work happens. But it may not be immediately apparent.

I hope you make beautiful things in and with your life. I hope you paint and write and build and cook. But you are far more than those things. And if, as Zinzendorf said, you die and are forgotten, if you lived your life in Christ, then you are gifted with permanence, but it is a permanence unlike that on the spine of a book. It is a life in God—where in living with Him, we fellowship forever. We are permanent in the City That Never Fades.

Stop being productive. Instead, embrace your invisibility and enjoy the love of God in Christ.

Deep work is happening, but it may not be immediately apparent.

Image: Big Bend at night. Source: Unsplash