It’s no secret: I’m poor at math. I don’t get very jazzed about number crunching. If I can be suckered into an equation, it’s nearly always a story problem (such as this one). So, when I take on the topic of productivity, allow me to sketch abstractly what could be made a very reliable algorithm (by someone else).
As I process (again) all the questions my high school counselor asked me as a senior – about career and vocation and calling – it seems like I might have moved little from my simplistic 18-year-old goals. In response to the question, “Where will you be in 10 years?” I wrote a paper as a junior. I imagined myself in the middle of Africa, married to a doctor named Mr. Bergenfeld, and answering to “Auntie” from the 405 children at the local orphanage. Yes, I’m sure I wrote 405 – I was ornery like that.
I spent my college years throwing my willingness at wonderful things and learning like my face pressed to fire hydrants. Even as I met with several mentors, it seemed that “my heart” was pointing me in the direction of missions and jungles and poverty and the simple life. This kind of calling seemed exciting, noble even. Me and everyone else on my campus dreamed of making big things happen and being in the thick of it when they do. I wanted dirt on my elbows and a cardboard box to call home. I didn’t want to be stuck in an office talking about change and waiting on red tape and bureaucracies. I wanted in.
That’s what we all said in college. Maybe a few people sheepishly said how most really felt, “I don’t want anything to do with cardboard or 405 orphans. I’ll support whoever does, but give me the office and the red tape. It’ll all work out fine.”
Everyone has their own values that make up their vocational pursuits, but for me, I envisioned myself serving others – doing something in the trenches, rubbing shoulders with folks who have real messes that I could help mend. I envisioned my passionate pursuit of Christ leading me into a simple lifestyle and most likely missionary work overseas. I envisioned purpose coming from 405 orphan children who called me, “Auntie.” I envisioned living in a remote area and tackling daily needs like washing laundry in the river.
Well, here I am almost 10 years out of high school and I’m taking stock on some of those simplistic 18-year-old goals. And here’s a bit of what I found (this is where the mathematician can offer to co-write a book with me on this).
The question of calling and vocation is not as simple as what you’re most passionate about or even what you do best. The question of calling is understanding who God is and then figuring out how you can be most productive in giving Him glory.
We are called – each of us – to know God and to be most productive in giving Him glory.
And this is where I got really confused. I was figuring out my “calling equation” based on the lives of some of my heroes + what I thought was the ultimate act of service + my willingness to spill out joy wherever I went. I thought it could look a lot of ways, but it certainly looked like me being willing to do anything – even hard things outside my gifts and passions.
The problem was that, as I grew to know God better, I started to feel like I wasn’t the most productive. I was doing everything required and meeting the expectations at my jobs, but I always had this itch to read books and talk philosophy and wrestle with the lyrics of songs and dialogue about the cultural implications of our increasingly secular secondary institutions. I wasn’t really ever with dirt on my elbows in the trenches, though I got as close as I could wherever I went. I did always end up creating newsletters and forming committees and counseling colleagues and developing countless proposals for new programs.
There was a knot forming in my gut and I’ve only now just named it: I’m not using my gifts.
Can I survive anywhere? Yes.
Will God allow me the joy that overflows in any situation/vocation/career? Yes.
Do I bring the same amount of glory to God, regardless of vocation? No.
We cannot be “above” or “below” a vocation – we can only be more or less productive. I know of many God-fearing executives or administrators who are not most productive for God’s glory in their position. They were “promoted” to that status because of their work ethic as employee or teacher – because that’s where they were most productive. I also know of high-powered executives who think they can easily translate their business sense into the trenches kind of work, but they become less productive in the process.
At the end of the day, I can give you a physical number to prove my productivity. I can give you students registered, emails sent, orders completed, papers folded, printer crises averted, and invoices sent. I’m strictly talking tangibles (I hope I will always be productive with the conversations and the laughter and the little ways to shine light in dark places).
But, the question is not, “Am I productive with whatever is before me – with energy and joy and a servant heart?” The question is, “As I know God better, am I being most productive in giving Him glory?”
Maybe the reason we keep getting tripped up on this productivity thing is that we don’t hold our vocations to a higher standard. We think we’re off the hook if we’re not “called” into a position at a church.
But, we are all called. Luther said,
“Monastic vows rest on the false assumption that there is a special calling, a vocation, to which superior Christians are invited to observe the counsels of perfection while ordinary Christians fulfil only the commands; but there simply is no special religious vocation since the call of God comes to each at the common tasks.”
We are all called to know God, find out what pleases Him, and delight to please Him together with the Body of Christ. This is not ministry, it’s life. As we walk out our calling, we’ll find that what pleases Him is excellence. Some of us will be excellent at Excel documents and some of us will be excellent at growing bananas and some of us will be excellent at conversation.
I think (mathematician, will you check my work on this?), that if the Body of Christ resolves to know God, find out what please Him and delights to please Him together, we will end up divinely appointed in every vocation, with a productivity that would shock the most lucrative corporation.
This is the importance of being productive.