Choosing Present Over Productive

Some days I lose focus.

Some days I get goal-oriented and I feel like I’m a failure if I’m not “productive.”

Some days I feel myself wishing I was still working. Because there’s nothing like getting paid to hang out with people and get stuff done.

Some days I just want to run away.

All I can do is run
All I can do is run
All I can do is run
Someone tell me where to
Someone tell me what from
All I can do is run

Relient K

Some days are like that.

But then I’m reminded that it’s important to move forward and not backward.

I’ve been there. I’ve done those things. And I already know that fulfillment isn’t found in working…or in running for that matter.

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Every now and then you pick up a book that really resonates.

“Yes, I’ve been there!”

“I know exactly what that feels like!”

“You put into words what I was thinking but couldn’t describe.”

That was Present Over Perfect for me.

The book is filled with short essays that all point to something larger.

Personally, the main point I took away was this idea of busyness.

Of running from our problems rather than facing them.

Of numbing our pain with activities.

Yes, activity can be an idol.

And it is trickier than most other forms of idolatry because in today’s society busyness is not only expected, it is praised.

Busy people are looked at as important.

Our worth could almost be measured by our productivity.

Author Shauna Niequist invites us to lay down the busyness and take up intentionality.

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Identify Your “Drugs”

I learned a long time ago that if I hustle fast enough, the emptiness will never catch up with me. First I outran it by traveling and dancing and drinking two-for-one whiskey sours at Calypso on State Street in Santa Barbara. Then I outran it by lining up writing deadlines like train tracks and clicking over them one by one. Then I outran it by running laps around the living room, picking up toys and folding blankets, as recently as yesterday.

You can make a drug – a way to anesthetize yourself – out of anything: working out, binge-watching TV, working, having sex, shopping, volunteering, cleaning, dieting. Any of those things can keep you from feeling pain for a while – that’s what drugs do. And, used like a drug, over time, shopping or TV or work or whatever will make you less and less able to connect to the things that matter, like your own heart and the people you love. That’s another thing drugs do: they isolate you.

This was me last summer, when I was battling late-onset postpartum depression.

On the outside, I’m sure I looked like I was fine.

I wasn’t hiding-under-the-sheets-can’t-get-out-of-bed depressed.

I was hyper-productive and running everywhere…literally, running.

Miles and miles a day.

I was so thankful for the double jogger because I ran both my kids to the park, to the library, and to church.

Google maps even captured us running on their street view cam! That’s how often we were out.

But I wasn’t just running for health.

I was running because it felt like a dark cloud was chasing me.

I was terrified that if I stopped, that darkness would catch up.

I had learned to numb the pain with productivity, plans, and endorphins.

But no amount of running could keep it away.

I eventually had to sit still long enough to face my demons head-on.

Most of us have a handful of these drugs, and it’s terrifying to think of living without them. It is terrifying: wildly unprotected, vulnerable, staring out wounds right in the face. But this is where we grow, where we learn, where our lives actually begin to change.

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Say No to Busyness

Niequist invites us all to take a momentary sabbatical.

To stop running at a frantic pace.

To make no our new yes – at least for a season.

Your no doesn’t mean that world will stop spinning.

For many of us, saying no is much harder than saying yes.

Many of us are born people-pleasers. We feel as if our no means we are letting someone down in a huge way.

But sometimes your no can be kind.

Sometimes your no is admitting that you’d be doing something out of obligation. Therefore, you wouldn’t be giving it your best.

I’ve found that I can respect a good no.

To me, it means that the person knows their limits and is very self-aware.

When I’m the one giving the no, I try to be gracious…but not apologetic. There is no need to apologize for having healthy boundaries and knowing your own limits.

Say No to Bitterness

Several years ago, I recognized within myself deep jealousy toward a friend. I picked up on it when I realized my constant refrain about her life was “Must be nice.”

…This is the thing: her life seemed lighter than mine, easier. More free, more crafted to reflect her own preferences and passions. Mine had gotten away from me.

…And in my most ground-down moments, I looked over at my friend’s life and I saw that she was…playing. Sheesh. Connecting. Please. Resting. Come on. Asking for help. What a baby. 

Niequist tells this story with charm and humor. But I’m sure many of us can relate.

The bitterness bubbles up when someone else is better at doing what we, ourselves, aspire to do.

We have a choice, here, Niequist reminds us.

The bitterness will get us nowhere. That bitterness is pure envy.

It has nothing to do with the other person and everything to do with us.

The best thing to do in these situations is to flip the envy on it’s head and turn it into camaraderie.

If you’re jealous of a friend who seems to have her act together or set good boundaries, don’t stew.

Ask her how she does it. Listen. Learn.

Chances are, once you get deeper, she doesn’t have it together quite as much as it appears on the surface. She’s human too.

Maybe you have strengths that could benefit her too.

It doesn’t have to be a competition.

It can be a collaboration.

My best friends and I know how to respect and admire one another.

There isn’t bitterness.

There is just genuine appreciation and desire to learn from one another.

We all have something to offer and something to gain.

We are self-assured enough to know that we are whole, we are enough, and we are deserving of love.

Something beautiful happens when we run toward the people we admire rather than pushing them away: we actually start to become more like them. 

Say Yes to Community

I recently saw a meme that stated: Adult friendships are all “I miss you! We should get together more.” And then they never do until one of them dies.

Sad because it’s true.

When did friendships become such a low priority?

When did busyness become an excuse to never spend time with the people that supposedly mean the most to us?

Niquist recalls a time she was spending time with some of her oldest, dearest friends. They were connecting, and it came up, like it always did: “we should all get together more.”

It’s just so busy, everyone’s so busy. Kids, you know. School, right? Work is insane. Piano and hockey. In-laws and baby showers and moving houses and book club and who has time?

And then someone buttoned up the conversation like they always do: But what are you going to do?

How often do we throw our hands up and act like we have absolutely no control over our schedules and our lives?

When we built our schedules. We built our lives.

Not everything is within our control, but we also aren’t powerless.

When we take charge of our busy level by using our no, we are freed up to say yes to things that are more important.

We have space in our schedules for things like fresh air and friendship.

When a friend texts “are you free?” we are able to say “sure thing!”

This isn’t a contradiction. This is an intentional choice.

Creating space for community.

Because community doesn’t always happen in the planned events.

Community happens in the “margins.”

In the in-betweens.

In the unplanned days and the spontaneous adventures.

I noticed this happened in my own life when I took a leap of faith and quit my job.

At first I didn’t know what to do with myself.

I was afraid my depression might overtake me.

But in fact, the opposite happened.

Suddenly I was free.

Free to find my own rhythms.

To meet friends for playdates.

To spend a day home with the kids.

To attend Bible study.

To join a homeschool group.

Community was blossoming all around me.

Not because I quit my job, but because I was giving myself margins in which to plant those seeds.

Move forward and not backward. Run toward the margins, for that is where life happens.

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Action shot by my friend Sandy.

Stop Running, Start Living

Okay, so I still like to run.

But I no longer feel like I need to work and run and keep a full schedule in order to feel okay.

I no longer feel like I’m trying to outrun the darkness inside of me.

I no longer feel like I’m “too busy” for nourishing relationships.

I’m no longer afraid of downtime. In fact, I recognize my need for it.

I’m not saying that we should all quit our jobs and start saying no to every commitment and possible stressor.

Sometimes God will call us to be obedient to something we’d rather not do.

And when that happens, I remind myself:

You aren’t called to be everything to everyone. All you’re called to do is be obedient.

I’m confident that once we’ve quieted the unnecessary noise and activities, we’ll be more inclined to hear the Spirit whispering to our hearts.

We don’t have to be busy to be important.

We don’t owe anyone our yes – expect God.

We aren’t obligated to perform or earn anyone’s love.

What does this mean for you? How do these simple truths change the way we live our lives? What activities can we say no to, and who can we give our yes to once we’ve established margins?

One Comment

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  1. That was a powerful article. I have to deal with working so many hours a week and that’s not even getting into my multiple blogging projects. I feel like I never have time for friendship for better or worse. It can be tough because I am productive and I have to work a ton.

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