Sometimes I Pray for the Grace of Being Less Productive

"Jesus" an artist's rendering created by the author.

If you’re like me, you’re the kind of person who likes to be productive. Maybe you get up early to exercise, or you always finish your check list before leaving the office. Maybe you use those few moments of downtime to answer emails or respond to texts from friends and co-workers. If you are like me, you are addicted to numbers and stats. Can I get a few more steps in on my fitbit? Can I work in a couple more minutes of studying? If this sounds self-congratulatory, I assure you it is not. It’s disorienting! I’d love to be able to enjoy myself, to be a little less productive without the accompanying feelings of guilt. I think it’s that guilt that turns my day into a checklist, where it’s hard to see how grace is working.

During this last holiday break, I was bouncing off the walls of my bedroom. I twisted the swivel of my chair. I rapped my fingers against the desk. Even when I prayed, I found it difficult to enter into the experience of prayer. God may have been there, but only in a very abstract way. But I continued to pray, especially with hands. I blessed myself. I folded my hands together. I raised them to the sky. I filled them with prayer beads. And, eventually, I filled them. I took out some colored pencils and a sketchpad. Then, for the first time during my break, I was able to concentrate on something. I began sketching a chubby leg, two hands hovering above a halo. This was the infant Jesus that would become the object of my prayer over the Christmas season. I would go on to hold that child and nurse him and rock him to sleep. It was a powerful and intimate connection with God. This connection came through drawing, sketching, coloring.

“Agony in the Garden” created by the author.

If you looked at my highschool notebooks you may have found a few words surrounded by patterns of diamonds and swirls. There were those letter S’s that you make by connecting six lines. I would draw eyes and faces. Hands and stick figures. I loved drawing. I loved art, but I wouldn’t consider myself an artist. Yet, I found it relaxing, calming even. However, when I graduated I seldom gave my time to sketch. I became superserious, actually. The first time I saw an adult coloring book at the local book store, I was more than a little judgemental. “Don’t the people that buy those have something better to do?”

“Pilgrim” created by the author.

Looking at these sketches I created over the winter break reminds me of how judgmental my mind had become. I liked the idea of creating art. However, for me, the creative process had to be purposeful. If I was going to create something, it had better be good. Prayer is hard for me, still. I like to find my connection to God in action, in what I’m doing. When people say, “My work is my prayer,” that resonates with me. However, I also know there is a hidden danger in this way of thinking. If we are only good when we are being productive, what happens to us when we can no longer work either because we get sick, or grow old, or suffer an accident. These thoughts entered my mind as I continued to spend my winter break creating. I collaged images out of The New Yorker. Surely, no one would pay for this thing I had created. However, I looked at my first completed project. It was good.

It was good just to be creating the art. I had shifted from being focused on the results to being focused on the process. This is why I need sketching, whether it develops into a larger project or just stays on the side of the minutes to a meeting. Sketching gives me a chance to just be, even for seconds at a time. It’s why I like walking and why I sometimes spend the whole afternoon walking down a neighborhood street I’ve never been down before. It’s possible and perhaps probable that God will be just down that street.

It’s my hope that everyone could find this kind of solace in their daily activities. Maybe it’s when you rearrange your magazines. For my sister, I think it’s sweeping the floor. Small activities of grace, in which we find the whole universe and, also, God.

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