The Protestant work ethic, so ingrained in American culture, has a benefit. It has made us value productivity. Productivity, of course, feels the obvious opposite of lazy, ineffective or sloth. We quote Proverbs “Idle hands are the devil’s workshop” and we keep ourselves busy.
But busy isn’t the same as productive.
The better translation of proverbs is: "An ungodly man digs up evil, And it is on his lips like a burning fire. A perverse man sows strife, And a whisperer separates the best of friends. A violent man entices his neighbor, And leads him in a way that is not good.” (New Revised Standard Version) Notice how the ungodly man isn’t doing nothing, it’s that what he is doing is positively productive.
Being busy in the wrong direction can stir up a lot of trouble, without ever being considered idle, lazy, ineffective or slothful. What we are doing with our time is just, if not more important, than whether we using our time - meaning, being busy isn’t enough, we must be productive in a positive, God-centered direction.
Sometimes that productivity can take the form of a good book, leisure-time with friends or family, or even just quiet time alone, to regroup, re-energize or to contemplate our next move. Sometimes our productivity leads us down paths of clearing out, re-prioritizing and renewing. Sometimes productivity takes the form of many tiny tasks that need to get done coming of the to-do list or maybe a monstrous task that takes all our energy for a long period of time but is important work. Sometimes it can be protests, letter-writing campaigns or phone calls to people in authority to express your prayer-filled hopes and opinions. Sometimes it is in the work of listening, researching, and discerning cautiously.
In fact, productivity can be many things, particularly if we are paying attention to where we are hearing God and moving in that direction.
It is not, however, in the work of digging up evil, in sowing strife or enticing our neighbors into fights and unhelpful disagreements. It is never productive to jump onto email or social media to insult or generalize about other people, particularly ones with whom we don’t agree. It is never productive to close our ears to the concerns of one another, regardless of how we view those concerns at face value. It is never productive to fill our time with disregard for other people, people we know to be our brothers and sisters, through the creation and love of God.
There is a lot going on in the world, our country and our communities. From global concerns, to national issues, to the very local needs of our friends and families, we can’t let our desire to do something get in the way of God’s desire that we love one another. Busying ourselves with the work of furthering our opinion is not as valuable as the productive work of respecting the dignity of every human being. Frankly, true productivity only can come from a place of collaboration, where we see one another as part of the solution rather than part of the problem, where we disagree with open ears and hearts civilly, without name-calling or assuming a vicious will in one another.
Be productive, not busy. Do God’s work, don’t dig up evil. Love God and love one another and let that love carry you further into the fruitful work of God’s reign here in Olney, in America and in the world.