Monthly Archives: October 2012

Fruitfulness vs Productivity

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How much of our day or week is truly fruitful? When I say fruitful, I don’t mean productive. I believe there’s a significant difference but I understand it can be deceptive.

What do you think the difference is?

“We’re living in a culture that measures the value of the human person by degrees of success and productivity….Do we dare to look at weakness as an opportunity to become fruitful? Fruitfulness in the spiritual life is about love and this fruitfulness is very different from success or productivity.” —Henri Nouwen

In my mind fruitful is relational, productive is task orientated. Fruitful is difficult to quantify or box but productive has concrete measurable outcomes. With fruitfulness the impact is deeper, more long-term, bringing something good to a person or situation, positive growth in yourself or others. Fruitfulness often comes from a place of vulnerability and apparent weakness, productivity comes from a place of apparent strength.

Having lived in a London city culture I am used to a society that is productivity obsessed and sometimes blind to fruitfulness. It’s been a real journey for me in recent years, learning to prioritise fruitfulness over productivity. Not that productivity is wrong but it’s only dangerous when it rules us and squashes the fruitfulness out to the edges.

How often do we sacrifice the fruitful for the sake of the productive? Wanting to feel significant by having concrete outputs to show for our investment of time. How often do we allow the urgent to displace the important? Often in my case but I’m learning.

I wonder whether choosing the fruitful and important requires a level of peace with yourself, security, knowing you have nothing to prove.

If we always let busyness, deadlines and projects take priority over people and deep relationships we may look back on life and have some regrets. It’s worth reflecting on what you’d like your life to look like when you look back on it towards its end. (Top regrets of the dying include working too hard. Interesting article on that here)

If we have a choice between putting the extra hours in to get a project or presentation that 5% more perfect and spending time with family, or taking the time to listen to and encourage a colleague who’s struggling… What’s our auto-pilot reaction? What do we want it to be? Which is going to be remembered by others in years to come? Which is going to have the deeper and more lasting impact? Which is more fruitful?

I’ve been so challenged by this recently. I’ve caught myself sometimes rushing to fill my days with stuff that I think will make others think that me being here in Cape Town is ‘worthwhile’; trying to have ‘outputs’ I can talk to people about, that I think will validate me and my presence here. But I know that’s not the point and that’s not how fruitfulness works. I’m learning that my life is more fruitful when I’m not thinking that way and I am feeling increasingly free from those concerns.

I feel that God’s been teaching me that ‘less is more’. Less frantic activity, more fruit. Less in my own strength or wisdom and more in His. Letting go of my own need for validation in other people’s eyes through ‘successful outcomes’ and following the gentle prompting to see what God is up to in people’s lives and in situations and joining in with that Prioritising the relational, deep, long-term stuff that’s where the real fruit is found, even if that doesn’t feel very ‘productive’ or if the fruit is hidden. I’ve been amazed by the privilege of the doors and opportunities God’s opened up for me, and by how fruitful I feel my life is as I step into what he opens up, not what I feel I should do.

A few years ago I went on a retreat and one of the reflections was to draw a tree that represented your life. Afterwards he asked whether there was fruit on the tree. I was distressed to see I’d drawn no fruit on mine and didn’t feel my life was very fruitful. I’ve done the exercise again more recently and could honestly draw fruit on my tree – I really feel something has shifted for me… which really excites me.

I want to share with you a few specific insights I believe God’s been sharing with me on this subject over the past few years… The first is about the picture of a vine, the other two are from stories in the gospels.

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“There is a great difference between successfulness and fruitfulness. Success comes from strength, control, and respectability. A successful person has the energy to create something, to keep control over its development, and to make it available in large quantities. Success brings many rewards and often fame. Fruits, however, come from weakness and vulnerability. And fruits are unique. A child is the fruit conceived in vulnerability, community is the fruit born through shared brokenness, and intimacy is the fruit that grows through touching one another’s wounds. Let’s remind one another that what brings us true joy is not successfulness but fruitfulness.” – Henri Nouwen

 “Do not depend on the hope of results.  You may have to face the fact that your work will be apparently worthless and even achieve no result at all, if not perhaps results opposite to what you expect.  As you get used to this idea, you start more and more to concentrate not on the results but on the value, the rightness, the truth of the work itself.  You gradually struggle less and less for an idea and more and more for specific people.  In the end, it is the reality of personal relationship that saves everything.” – Thomas Merton

How are you?

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How are you?
‘Fine, thanks’
Always ‘fine’.
Never ‘really good’
Even if you are
What if the other person isn’t?
Never ‘not very good’
Even if you are
Fear of making others feel awkward.

Who are you honest with?
Maybe not appropriate with everyone
But do you have some?
Some people you would talk to

If you were full of joy?
Or if you were really struggling?
Or if you were chewing over a tricky issue?

Not just a facebook status
A real depth of conversation
Honest and deep friendships are costly
Vulnerability is a risk
It’s a conscious choice
Letting our guard down
Sharing our weakness as well as our strength
But it’s worth it
Superficiality is cheap
Reality is rich

Dare to be

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Photo: Brett Davies (photosightfaces flickr)

When a new day begins, dare to smile gratefully.

When there is darkness, dare to be the first to shine a light.

When there is injustice, dare to be the first to condemn it.

When something seems difficult, dare to do it anyway.

When life seems to beat you down, dare to fight back.

When there seems to be no hope, dare to find some.

When you’re feeling tired, dare to keep going.

When times are tough, dare to be tougher.

When love hurts you, dare to love again.

When someone is hurting, dare to help them heal.

When another is lost, dare to help them find the way.

When a friend falls, dare to be the first to extend a hand.

When you cross paths with another, dare to make them smile.

When you feel great, dare to help someone else feel great too.

When the day has ended, dare to feel as you’ve done your best.

Dare to be the best you can

– At all times, Dare to Be!

Author – Steve Maraboli

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This is a fantastic and moving story, well worth reading, and being challenged. It’s from the blog ‘morningstoryanddilbert’

Morning Story and Dilbert

Dilbert

We were the only family with children in the restaurant. I sat Erik in a high chair and noticed everyone was quietly eating and talking. Suddenly, Erik squealed with glee and said, “Hi there.” He pounded his fat baby hands on the high-chair tray. His eyes were wide with excitement and his mouth was bared in a toothless grin. He then, wriggled and giggled with merriment.

I looked around and saw the source of his merriment. It was a man with a tattered rag of a coat; dirty, greasy and worn. His pants were baggy with a zipper at half-mast and his toes poked out of would-be shoes. His shirt was dirty and his hair was uncombed and unwashed. His whiskers were too short to be called a beard and his nose was so varicose it looked like a road map.

We were too far from him to smell, but…

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South Africa: Colour and Hope

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Rambling with a Cantankerous Old Mule

South Africa

The rainbow nation

Black and white in living colour

At war with itself

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A democracy. A country I’ve called home most of my life.  A diverse nation of more than 50-million. Multicultural. Multiracial. Distinctive cuisines. Lush, tropical coastland; verdant bushveld; jagged mountains; virgin beaches; abundant wildlife. Mineral-rich.  Eleven official languages: Afrikaans, English, Ndebele, Northern Sotho, Sotho, Swazi, Tswana, Tsonga, Venda, Xhosa and Zulu. Warm. Colourful. Hope-filled. “The rainbow people of God.”

And yet. Tragically, sadly, it’s tearing itself apart. From the inside out:

Gross corruption and irregularities at government level. An education system in turmoil. Self-seeking politicians. Income-equality rising. Increased lawlessness. Violent strikes. 24.9% unemployment rate. 5-million to 8-million illegal immigrants. One quarter of the adult population and around 40% of the children on anti-retroviral drugs. An estimated 885,000 orphans. Over 1300 rhinos lost to poaching in three years. And the list goes on.

But.

As emeritus Archbishop…

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Precious children need commitment

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This gorgeous babe was featured on a South African photographer’s blog I follow and enjoy. It reminded me of the beautiful children I met last Tuesday at Footprints orphanage in Jo’burg.

I was visiting some friends, Colin and Kate, who are from Ireland but who are feeling called to an international ministry with orphans. Years ago I visited them and their church with my old boss and his wife, we were doing a training weekend with their church and I stayed in their home. I remember a very significant prayer time with them during which we felt God was strongly speaking about a ministry to orphans, potentially in Africa (which was much more specific and ‘directional’ than we would normally share in a prayer time). At the time they were fostering kids and were at the very early stages of thinking about travelling outside Ireland to work with kids, but we didn’t know that at the time. And now here they are – they have been volunteering at this place for 3 months. Kate produced the pieces of paper from that prayer time from her bible and I recognised my own writing. An incredible and humbling moment, that God had used me as part of their journey. It was precious to be with them for the day and to have an opportunity to have a significant conversation and time of prayer with another volunteer there, after which God brought an incredible answer to prayer to her that very afternoon, which she rushed to tell us with great excitement.

The place is built and developed with such love and care; started and run by one woman, Yolanda, and her two daughters, plus other volunteers. The kids are totally delightful, each so beautiful, with warm smiles. Pre-schoolers colouring-in diligently and then later shovelling sand from the sand pit down their t-shirts to make themselves look pregnant to roars of laughter from the others. Toddlers tucking in to milk bottles and strawberries donated by Woolies, what a treat! Older kids coming home from school for homework and fun and games. Each one has come from incredibly tough backgrounds, some found abandoned on rubbish dumps. But here they are precious. Here they are loved. Yolanda and her daughters are incredible in their commitment, love and perseverance but they need others here who are similar in their heart and commitment.

The orphanage has good connections with a couple of organisations that send short-term teams but what they desperately need, what the children need, is committed, long-term volunteers. If you know of anyone who might be interested, do contact them. They would particularly love someone to teach pre-school and maybe even primary at the site and also someone who can help in the overall management of the place. But really anyone who loves children would probably be welcome there.

It’s relatively easy to go somewhere like this for a few weeks. For the experience. To say, ‘I’ve worked in an orphanage in Africa’. Play games, take photos on phones. But the kids deserve so much more. They need commitment, committed love, people who will be in their lives a while. Giving security. Building trust. After what the kids have gone through that’s what they really need.

Footprints orphanage: http://www.footprintsplay.co.za

Photo credit: http://roobo69.wordpress.com/2012/10/12/weekly-photo-challenge-big/

Know your passions and pursue them

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I am a great believer in knowing what you are passionate about and pursuing it. A little time reflecting on that can mean we don’t get too far off track in our lives… and we are able to make the most of the days we have. 

Do you know what you are passionate about?

When do you feel truely alive, in the flow, flying?

Do you make time for those things?

What changes would you need to make to give them space?

How could you share them with others?

What do you remember doing in childhood/ teenage years that was enjoyable/ satisfying/ fulfilling. Are there any common threads?

Are those things reflected in your adult life? If not, would you like them to be? What steps can you take to make it happen?

What do you wish to be remembered for?

What would your life look like if it turned out well?

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