Be fruitful and minister

Friendly Reminder: A weekly reflection from the Quaker Leadership Center

I recently listened to a podcast in which author Jen Pollock Michael was being interviewed about her book In Good Time. She was talking about the ways we view time and time management and suggested that people of faith should think in terms of “fruitfulness” rather than “productivity.” I haven’t stopped thinking about that quote since I heard it.

These things are on our mind as we begin a new year and look ahead to what 2023 may bring for our life and leadership. The new year may inspire excitement or dread, or maybe it feels like just another turn of the calendar. But I suspect most of us fluctuate between the energy of possibility and the heaviness of responsibility. There is a lot to do! We have to get moving!

So we turn to gurus of time management to help us cram it all into our schedules. We hope a new trick or tip will help us do what feels impossible. I’ve read a number of books on time management and there are a lot of useful insights and tools in them. But there’s something missing. Something we don’t want to face and the gurus don’t want to tell us: We are finite creatures. We can do wonderful things. We are doing beautiful things. But we can’t do everything.

This trouble of facing our limitations is often exacerbated by our failure to lift our work up to the Light for guidance. Thomas Kelly describes our condition when he says: “Much of our acceptance of multitudes of obligations is due to our inability to say No. We calculated that that task had to be done, and we saw no one ready to undertake it. We calculated the need, and then calculated our time and decided maybe we could squeeze it in somewhere. But the decision was a heady decision, not made within the sanctuary of the soul.”

I’m familiar with these feelings; actually, I feel them right now. And I acknowledge the complexity of accepting responsibilities, honoring relationships and taking time to discern. But the invitation to a life of fruitfulness resonates with me.

It seems to me that fruitfulness includes at least three qualities that are missing from our focus on productivity.

1.) Seasons: Seasons are a good and natural part of life. We take things up and lay them down, we work and rest, we embrace rhythms, we plant and harvest. We read the signs of the times and plan accordingly.

2.) Context: Some plants thrive better in our context and ecosystem than others. We can let go of projects and plans that will not thrive in our particular place and time. We can look for what’s alive and growing and nurture it.

3.) Community: We are not alone and we are part of a web of life. We are collaborators in a symbiotic relationship of God, natural processes, and our own agency. It’s not all up to us. We do our part and include our partners. And we trust God’s slow but beautiful work is unfolding in good time.

A friend of mine once said: “The kingdom of God is botanical, not mechanical.” I think he’s right. And I think that’s what makes fruitfulness a better approach than productivity. We are not machines but “plantings of the Lord” (Is. 61:3) for such a time and place as this.

Kelly tells us such a life is possible when we live a life “from the Center.”

“And I find [God] never guides us into an intolerable scramble of panting feverishness. The Cosmic Patience becomes, in part, our patience, for after all God is at work in the world. It is not we alone who are at work in the world, frantically finishing a work to be offered to God.”

In this new year, may you embrace your limits, engage your possibilities and work within the Cosmic Patience of God. However you garden this year, may you be fruitful and minister.