Getting Okay With Being Unproductive

Kids kill productivity. I used to be able to get so much done in a weekend. Not that I took advantage of that a lot, but I could if I wanted! Now, home projects tend to stretch out for weeks or months. Yesterday I was majorly inhibited on a deck/landscaping project and just now, while writing this, my littlest one keeps trying to touch the computer… I was like 3 sentences in and had to take a break because he was getting upset that I kept pushing his hand away. I only started because I thought he was busy with something else for a while. It is exhausting being a parent in so many little ways that are hard to describe to anyone who hasn’t been trough it, and been through it recently I think, because, at least our parents all seem to have forgotten somehow. Yet another way I pledge to try to do better than them.

Okay, so little guys insisted on hanging out with me, like a jerk, so I tried to split the screen and put YouTube videos on, but since I am not great at doing two things at once, the SmarterEveryDay videos that I had hoped would merely distract him – and they did for a little bit – sucked me in as well. Meanwhile he got bored and began annoying me by chanting something that sounded like “cheese”… seriously?! I am amazed I get anything done at all sometimes. It’s a six-minute video for the love of peanut butter!

Another writing break to get some lunch ready because it has been two hours since they all had a snack and starvation panic attacks are setting in. I’ll be back.

So, where was I. Right, productivity. Just gone. At least in terms I used to think about it. The irony is I do more now than I used to, but is all stuff I tend to not qualify as “productive”; stuff that generally falls into the category of keeping children provided for. Needy little boogie vandals! Note to self. I need to clean the walls in their room.

Maintenance. Maintenance. Maintenance.

Just when you thought you were done – nope more maintenance. Unproductive. I don’t think I am alone in this way of thinking. Typically I don’t think janitors and babysitters are thought of as “productive” members of the workforce.

At various times I get a little depressed about this. Being productive is satisfying in a way. Being unproductive when you’d like to be productive, when there are so many things you would like to accomplish, even if it is just so you can just relax for a while, is so… frustrating!

Another break.

This time breaking up a fight, finding that they have removed most of the stuff from a shelf in the closet. I guess the floor seemed like a better place? Maybe they thought there was a neat picture on the wall behind all that stuff? I decide it’s not worth the fight to get them to clean that up at the moment because it is time to get little mister shit pants ready for a nap. If only I didn’t have to hunt down that confounded stuffed animal at every nap/bedtime.

I am not making this up for effect or something. I didn’t sit down to write with the thought I would be interrupted. In hindsight, of course, I should have expected this. I think most parents will attest that this seems about right. Just a normal day-in-the-life. My wife left me alone with them for less than 48 hours! How in the world single parents stay sane is mostly incomprehensible to me. I figure you’d have to just let a lot of the tasks of keeping children provided for slide. Provided for, but less so. It’s not their fault if that is the case. Simple math. You can only do so much. Even trading sanity, sleep, or personal hygiene is only going to buy you small bits in the Sisyphean effort of child rearing.

Does having two parents present really help? I mean it should theoretically halve the burden, right? Maybe it does in some ways, but in terms of productivity? Nah, at least not in my experience. Kids are around? Then productivity is in serious jeopardy. It’s not like you take shifts with the kids. At least most of the time that isn’t how it works out, and probably wouldn’t be healthy if it did.

Even when they aren’t actively demanding your attention – like when they’re asleep – they hinder things. Have some home improvement project you were hoping to make progress on while they aren’t pestering you? Maybe if it is a quite thing, sure, but most home improvement stuff isn’t. Just need to run to the store? well, you can’t just leave them home sleeping. Coin toss for which parent gets to leave the house tonight! But don’t forget you have to weigh this plan of temporary escape against the risk that the noise of the starting car or opening garage door might wake the gremlins from their slumber. Forget it, lets just use paper towels for toilet paper.

Okay, enough of my whining/commiserating. That wasn’t what I set out to write about.

What I wanted to write about is how I am starting to be able to be okay with it all. This has to do with a realignment of perspective. Life in the big picture isn’t about being “productive”. Not to sound too much like some cliché flowery poster or something, but life is about love(1). And, since love only makes sense in terms of relationship life is also about relationships. Boil it right down, and kids, while they might be just the worst helpers(2) anyone could hope for, and are a huge productivity dampers by way of the relationship they impose on you, cannot be hindering your life. (No matter how much it feels like they are sucking the life out of you sometimes). They reduce “productivity” not life. “productivity” is not a valid synonym for life. A productive existence does not necessarily equate with an accomplished life, and these two might even negatively correlate given how relationships, messy as they tend to be, reduce productivity.

Maybe this is obvious to most people? Regardless, it is a simple truth. It is easy enough to say I believe it. On the other hand, letting it be true deeper down, and actually letting relationships have priority over productivity – this is going to continue to be a struggle.

One thing I have been trying out that is maybe helping with this some for me is incorporating the idea of a Sabbath into my schedule. And I don’t mean the drag the whole family to church services and activities for the day(3) that many people call by the same word, but more like the biblical idea of a Sabbath. One day where I intend to be entirely unproductive. The idea behind it is rest, spiritual rest more than physical rest as I understand it, so for me it isn’t about avoiding things that take energy, but about putting aside whatever to-do list I might have and focusing instead on resting, relaxing, and just enjoying life instead of working. Giving myself a break from the need and drive to be productive.

I think my wife thought this meant I just wanted to be lazy and go off by myself for one day a week since as an introverted person that is a common way I re-energize, however even as an introvert there is a certain amount of rest to be found in relationships when there isn’t any productive work I am supposed to be doing. For example, when I am not being emotionally worn down by the frustrations of trying to be productive with kids around I find I can more easily enjoy them. Even apart from Sabbath days I am attempting to see the ways that relationship interrupt productivity as less of something to be frustrated by and more like the primary thing life is about intersecting into that which is merely auxiliary to life.

1. I won’t bother to make a case for this statement, just read the bible or something. However, if you don’t agree then my conclusion won’t make any sense.

2. I cringe inside every time people at the store say to me “looks like you have a lot of helpers today”

3. Dragging my family to a church service would be almost the opposite of what Sabbath is meant to be. It is only one of the many reasons I think “church” is dumb.

4. Why WordPress doesn’t have flippin footnotes as a built-in feature by now!


A Fresh Angle on Justice

I have been contemplating the theological idea of penal substitutionary atonement. It’s the one often preached as ‘Jesus took your punishment for sin and died on the cross in your place’ or some similar variant. As I understand it, it goes hand in hand with the concept that each person has a sin debt that must be paid. There are lots of legal or economic metaphors for the sin debt and how Jesus effectively takes care of that for us. But whatever the metaphor, in my mind, the doctrine has held some merit because God being perfectly just meant sin couldn’t merely be forgiven.

Over the past few years and recently in reading on the topic more I have started to get a new perspective on the idea of justice though. Whereas I had seen justice as sort of opposite of mercy in very rationalistic terms – mercy being not getting what you deserve,  and justice being getting what you deserve – I have started to embrace the more emotional aspects of these words which changes their meanings dramatically. ‘Do the crime do the time’ used to make more sense to me than it does now.  Jail and even kids time outs may still serve some purpose, but I have pretty much given up on it being about serving the purpose of justice.  And letting people just get away with whatever bad behavior doesn’t equate to mercy in my mind.

This quote struck a chord in me,  ‘If we want to understand the concept of justice as the writers of the Old Testament did, then we must see it as a “setting things right again”.’ how did I miss this? It’s all over the place in scripture, and even just common sense says Justice has more to do with restoration than punishment.  And mercy! Mercy isn’t leniency, it isn’t neglecting punishment, it’s about being compassionate. Compassion meaning to truly see through the eyes of another. Jesus had mercy on sinners not because he was denying their sin, but precisely because he did see.

In light of this, the dichotomy between a “God of justice” in the Old Testament and a “God of mercy” in the New mostly disappears. The supposed split in his character dissolves. God has always been compassionate and loving, he has always been mercifully seeking justice. Jesus reveals who God is and who God has always been. Justice is about mercy. Justice comes through mercy and always has.

For me I feel like the penal substitutionary atonement doctrine has gotten in my way. I don’t know if I am ready to say it is altogether inaccurate, but I am pretty sure it is overemphasized and often oversimplified in ways that, at the least, paints an inaccurate and incomplete picture.

Hating on Pragmatic Idealism

One rarely knows what is good for us and what is bad. Therefore if we knowingly put ourselves in the hands of Almighty, whatever happens must be deemed good. And I try literally to follow that precept. – Gandhi

As one who has often been labeled as an idealist, where the implication was clear that it is a negative attribute, this quote resonated with me. It’s not not because the assessment isn’t true, I am pretty idealistic, it’s that the judgement is both hypocritical and arrogant.

That comes off as overly defensive maybe, but allow me unpack it. The underlying assumption and attitude is that it is better to be pragmatic. So, when I say that the critique of idealism is hypocritical I mean that the brand of pragmatism that criticizes idealism is itself an ideal. If by ideal we mean that which is the best way of doing things, or determining what are the best things to do, then pragmatism is simply a particular one that says we ought to determine our actions based on what (we guess) will produce the best outcome. Pragmatism seems to be a peculiar sub-species of utilitarianism. Unfortunately as part of being ‘realistic’ they often attempt to bypass meaningful debate by labeling so called idealists as having their heads in the clouds, or up their butts or something.

The arrogance of the pragmatist lies in the assumption that we have either sufficient knowledge or reliable methodologies for concluding what is ‘best’. There are clues for that sort of thing. Patterns of cause and effect. I don’t mean to say wisdom isn’t important. Being pragmatic isn’t all bad. It can be a highly beneficial thing when given the proper role or emphasis. It becomes bad when we are willing to sacrifice principles on its behalf. I think this happens to often. However, I don’t see people jumping at the chance to cave on issues they care about. Rather than consciously capitulating, I notice people making the sacrifice in the name of pragmatics preemptively by avoiding or refusing to see any given issue as one where principles apply.