dord (dôrd), n. density of mind; chiefly exhibited by one who attempts to demonstrate supposed knowledge --adj. dord'ish


Too Fruitful?

“Is it possible to have too much fruit and not enough productivity?” That was the question raised by Laedelas in response to the last post.

It started me thinking (or kept me thinking -- you might call this Round 2), and I found my response to be far too long for a comment. Thus, this post!

Clearly, I'm no expert, and I hope people will call me out if my answers are unbiblical (or just plain don't make sense). After a lot of thinking...

I propose that there are three main categories of "not enough productivity"
(1) Reasons unknown and/or beyond our control (priorities are right and responsibilities stewarded, but the results aren't there)
(2) Inefficiencies that are being or will be appropriately addressed (we all have these)
(3) Laziness, misplaced priorities, etc

So Laedelas, if I understand your question, you're not talking about (1) or (2), because you mentioned "too much fruit" in conjunction with “not enough productivity” -- a problem of priorities (not mere inefficiencies) that hasn't been personally addressed. I talked about overemphasizing productivity and ignoring fruitfulness in the first post, so I think you're asking: what happens when they are switched? What does it look like to overreact?

Can we emphasize fruitfulness and relationships to the point of being unproductive (and ultimately irresponsible)? Yes. But would I call that situation one with "too much fruit"? No. I can't think of any Biblical reason to say that one could have too much [real] fruit.

So if there is "not enough" productivity in sense (1) or (2), I don't think it could be attributed to any manner of over-fruitfulness. If it's in the sense of (3), caused by a person suddenly becoming obsessed with producing fruit and ignoring productivity*, I would question whether one is truly being fruitful. And therein is the irony: instead of being fruitful, the focus fallen on producing fruit. It's just an over-spiritualized re-invention of the productivity obsession.

Productivity and fruitfulness aren't meant to be an either-or. I argued in the last post that one can have "productivity" without having any fruitfulness. But I don't think that one can have fruitfulness without having productivity*, because fruitfulness is neither an abstract idea nor a pursuit unto itself, but comes as our lives image forth the character of God in all that we do. Fruitfulness can come while productively displaying creativity and integrity and patience... the list goes on.

The testimony of a person who over-emphasizes productivity in the typical American sense might be, "He gets a lot accomplished, but he doesn't have time to truly care about you." The testimony of a person who over-emphasizes productivity in the over-spiritualized sense might be, "He says he cares about you, but he doesn't have time to practically put actions behind the words or to practically fulfill his responsibilities." The testimony is not really any better when it is one of irresponsibility in the name of relationships. In fact, it's probably worse for the hypocrisy.

Proverbs says "A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches" (22:1). One thing I've been thinking about in regards to fruitfulness is that our testimony is far more important than racking up the longest (checked-off) checklist. I think we're fruitful not in people seeing our lives and attributing it to ourselves (much like accomplishments, etc), but in people seeing our lives and attributing it to God. But must someone attribute it to God for us to be truly fruitful? It's important that this happen, yes -- we must guard against thinking that we will honor God without anyone else ever needing to know that he deserves credit, but fruitfulness can't ultimately be judged by others or ourselves. Others might never attribute our lives to God. They might never recognize that God has changed our priorities and our lives.

This is tough, because we want to see results. More than tough, it's part of our problem, because we want a way to deem ourselves worthy. But it is no better to replace "Look how productive I've been!" with "Look how fruitful I've been!" as the boast we want to make. It's not a matter of switching priorities from short-term "to-dos" to long-term relationships -- still with our eyes and hearts set on this life. If fruitfulness is judged by God from an eternal perspective (and everything that matters is), and if we can’t produce it, then we have no boast in ourselves.

So life gets tricky, because it's not a matter simply of choosing to spend time with the family instead of working on my checklist. This makes me desperate for God, because my choosing certain priorities for my time doesn't guarantee productivity or fruitfulness.

I want to be productive, but in a way that shows that my treasure is in heaven, not on earth. I want to be fruitful, but in a way that my fruitfulness is not the focus. I want to have a good name, but in a way that my name is not on people's lips, but rather "the name that is above every name" (Phil. 2:9).

The Gospel of Jesus Christ saves me not only from God's wrath, but also from a wasted life -- and not only from a wasted life, but also from having to make myself good enough to be able to stop wasting it.

*in a Biblical sense, not according to the world's expectations



Productivity and Fruitfulness

Our culture talks a lot about productivity. We Christians do too -- at least, I do. Let me give a recent personal example: I wasn't as productive over Christmas break as I had planned to be. True statement. Disappointing, too, considering I have had to play some catch-up since then. So yes, it's disappointing in a sense, yet I don't regret the way I spent my time over break. Why? As I've jokingly told some people over the last week, I suppose that to be more productive I should've spent less time with family and friends. (After all, it's only Christmastime.)

Bottom line: yes, the way I chose to spend my time was less productive than it could've been. But was it less fruitful?

I've been starting to ponder the difference between productivity and fruitfulness. Have you ever noticed that the Bible talks a whole lot more about one than the other? But wait, maybe that's just due to the translators' choice for English wording. I don't have the academic credentials to definitively state otherwise, but I don't think the difference is that simple for one reason: the English words aren't considered to be synonymous, and translators pick up on such things.

I think the difference is more than just semantics.

Trying to measure the effects of our choices is difficult, in some ways even impossible. But here's my thought: we view productivity as generally measurable, while fruitfulness often isn't (not in the short term, anyway). Because of this, I think the American tendency to strive for measurable results pushes us as Christians to give more thought and effort to our productivity than to our fruitfulness.

Am I saying that productivity is bad? Or that I will never again plan out ways to be productive? No and no. Productivity is good. But I think that if it's not sought in tandem with fruitfulness, it becomes ultimately worthless.

Unless you're in a planning meeting, simply spending time with people -- accomplishing nothing in particular -- is not done to be productive. (Either that, or relationships are viewed for their business potential in some kind of what-will-I-be-able-to-get-out-of-this-person-later attitude.) But I think that fruitfulness comes by investing in relationships. That's why I don't regret bumping my to-dos down the priority list to spend extra time with family and friends over the past month.

As an extreme example, think of a workaholic. Would you call him productive? Probably. (Look at all of the results he gets in his job!) Would you call him fruitful? No. His life and priorities are totally out balance. He is totally neglecting relationships -- with God and with everyone else.

We've all heard the old saying that no one says on his deathbed, "I wish I'd spent more time at the office." The idea isn't that a person realizes that he was unproductive. Looking at his life as a tree, perhaps the tree has grown large and can be seen from afar. Not only that, but the lawn around it has been carefully manicured, and a fence has been built around it to keep out intruders. But as one looks at the tree, it becomes clear that the tree itself is barren. Completely. It's impressive, it's noticeable, but the few pieces of fruit that once hung from its branches long ago shriveled and fell to the ground from neglect. That is what we might call a very productive, completely unfruitful life. Too easily, it's the American life -- not just for "them" but for us too.



¿Se Habla Español?

So I received a piece of paper in the mail notifying me that I have indeed fulfilled all of the requirements for the Spanish minor I applied for. Good thing. At three years removed from my last Spanish class, I'm not about to sign up for a 400-level course on advanced composition.