Monday, March 18, 2013

Productivity and Soul

I have two indicators that my soul is doing poorly: If I get angry at minibus taxis who cut me off when I'm driving (which is like getting angry at the rain for falling), and if I get really angry when Noah wakes Eli up after I've spent ages lulling him to sleep (which is like getting angry at the rain for falling).

Our pastor at the Vineyard in Boston used to describe this condition of "grim drivenness" as something to avoid at all costs. The words sum up the condition well: in myself a space where the voice in my head says I must go on; everyone should congratulate me on surviving, I must go on, I consider myself that pillar that cannot fall. Given all the time that we've spent to avoid consumerism and the 9-5 and give our best to Noah, Eli, and eachother, it's unfortunate that I've fallen deeply into this drivenness in recent months.

I could give you the background but I wonder if it is a background each of us can relate to in various stages of our lives: babies not sleeping, parents not sleeping, a death in our family, some concern over vocation and work and finding space for this in amongst the babies, and South African Home Affairs. Delete home affairs and maybe the babies, and I guess it's your story at some stage, too.

What I have been discovering recently, to my surprise, is that my soul is more important than productivity, even creative self-actualizing productivity. It is not that I didn't know this. It is just that I didn't know I was neglecting my soul. It is something that crept up on me. The problem is, the soul is whispy and intangible, and my work is tangible and involves timelines, deadlines, and money. I take great pride in being a juggler, in writing a journal article and canning tomato sauce in one day. But pride, at least this kind of pride, is usually a sign that something is not quite right. While it always seems the soul can wait another day, the reality is that it is the one thing that should not have to wait.

My soul needs rest and space to recover and give space to others. It is no good to live or parent from a place of grim drivenness. Rest is also ephemeral- it is not TV or internet, or even practicing spiritual disciplines such as devotionals or prayer, though these definitely help. That is, rest cannot be ticked off a to-do list like prayer or reading some Psalms. Entering into rest involves having my eyes opened to the reality that the pillar wasn't actually bearing any real weight after all, and the house will not only stand but might even look more inviting if it were to fall.

For me entering into rest often involves reading a good, soul-feeding book: I'm reading Wendell Berry's "Art of Commonplace", Mark Scandrette's "Practicing the Way of Jesus", and Masanoba Fukuoka's "Sowing Seeds in the Desert", if anyone is keen to read along with me. For me it is also cleaning the house, and learning to treat my work in the household as valuable and important and beautiful- and self-actualizing, surely as much as any less tangible work outside. It is going to bed really early so when I am woken up, I am not angry. And, perhaps most surprisingly for me as a beginner parent, it is placing some limits on my children not because I know it is best for them to have these limits or because I think they must learn to be unselfish or whatever, but because if they need more than I can give them, then it is better to acknowledge this and step back to see how to get them what they need another way, than to attempt to give what I do not have and in so doing become a pot of simmering anger. To put it somewhat dramatically in a very long sentence.

Which is to say, even having [tentatively] let go of many external measures of success (money, a good job, the praise of peers), there remain so many internal measures of success that are directly opposed to a flourishing of good fruit (love, abundance of spirit, gentleness, self-control, real generosity). This good fruit is from God, available for the picking, but somehow very hard to reach up and pluck.


Lucy said...

I read this article the other day. When I read your post I thought about it:

I would be happy to look after your children for a few hours if you and your husband would like some time together. Just let me know.


Darren B said...

Speaking as someone who is in a similar boat, I could totally relate.

It can be hard to recognize healthy boundaries for ourselves. I think part of the "problem" is that you guys are so incredible and capable.

Praying that you guys can find the grace of being able to slow down and that you can occasionally stop and say, "Yes, I can do (this), but I need a break even more."