A couple of weeks ago, my guest on The Habit Podcast was Dr. Kelly Kapic, author of You’re Only Human: How Your Limits Reflect God’s Design and How That’s a Good Thing. I keep thinking about several points Dr. Kapic made in that interview (and in his book).
One of those points is the idea of “productivity shame.” We invent (or buy into) unreasonable expectations of what we ought to be able to accomplish and control. Then we feel shame when we don’t meet our own unreasonable expectations. We feel shame, in other words, when we come up against the reality that we are finite and not gods.
But finitude is not a sin. There’s a reason you rarely achieve superhuman feats: you are human. You are a creature, not the Creator. And the more readily you accept your creatureliness, the more ready you will be be to accept everything else that God gives to his creatures. Kelly Kapic writes,
“Our limitations don’t threaten us, but liberate us to worship God and cherish others.”
Furthermore, Kapic argues that the true basis for humility is not human sinfulness, but human finitude. That’s not to deny human sin and error. I know all about sin and error, and I don’t even have to rely on second-hand information. But, as Kapic argues, even if Adam and Eve had never sinned, they would still need to practice humility. because they were finite creatures. Humility isn’t a matter of beating yourself up for your failures; it’s a matter of receiving joyfully the limits within which you live, learning to be the beneficiary of gifts that are beyond your ability to produce, control, or manipulate.
There are things you can control, of course. You have to tend to the business that is yours to tend to. That’s the big question, it seems to me: What is your business to tend to, your patch of ground to cultivate? Answering that question honestly (and with a clear sense of your own limits) can help relieve productivity shame. It has for me, anyway.
And since a lot of you do creative work, heed these words from Jocelyn Glei, quoted in Kelly Kapic’s book:
“Creative labor has its own pace, and all you can do for the most part is show up and be present, ready to execute if and when the insights come. But how you feel about that work and how you feel about that pace is completely within your control—it is about mindset and expectation.”
Dr. Kapic’s insights generated a lot of great conversation in The Habit Membership forums. As the interlocutors dug deeper, somebody asked, “How do you think God measures an ‘efficient and productive day'”? And then they kept digging deeper, as the members of The Habit tend to do.
I so appreciated the way this writer has been working through Kapic’s ideas:
Since I was a kid I’ve had a tendency to hit creative tasks at a sprint using an “all or nothing” mindset. Then when I didn’t hit my expectations for the day/week/month, I would feel shame, and exhort myself to try harder. That system got results for me though, which is part of why it was so hard to break. But around 2018 I was starting to see that it wasn’t sustainable long term for my health or creative capabilities (I was cruising towards burnout and knew it). Even when I had identified this problem I had trouble shifting away from it, however, because I couldn’t envision a different effective way to do it.Getting sick for a long time in 2020 is finally what broke it for me. I didn’t have the capacity to do a lot of basic tasks then, let alone meet my former efficiency expectations… It was definitely a crash course in finiteness in more ways than one. I’ve struggled with getting work done and with being focused even after getting my health back, and that has been discouraging, but it also means that my former level of drive and shame hasn’t come back, which is a good thing. I don’t have a proper replacement work system for it yet, however. I’m working on building a growth mindset, and being patient but faithful in my work, and I’m slowly making progress.
Sandra Hughes had this to say on the discussion thread:
I’ve really been pondering this question since the podcast and asking myself, “what does God expect for my writing?”I have been considering the parable of the “talents,” and I believe that God expects me to accept and use the measure of talent/time/energy He has given me, and to use the opportunities He sends my way.This takes a lot of pressure off of me, and decreases my fear of the future…Lastly, I believe God wants us to enjoy ourselves. I write, sing, walk, read, work, bake, etc. because it’s what God created me to do, and He gave me those things to be enjoyed. This is like when I put crayons and paper in front of my 4-year-old; I am hoping she will stay busy (and out of trouble), work on her skills, and enjoy emulating God by creating worlds on paper.
All that thinking gave rise to this prayer, which Sandra contributed to the collection of prayers and liturgies we use at the beginning of our “Virtual Writing Rooms” each week:
A Writer’s Prayer By Sandra Rose Hughes
The list of things I am not good at is quite long.
But people tell me that You have given me some ability to write.
Thank you for this gift, Lord.
Let me not hide it under a bushel
Or use it to make others feel small.
But let me share with them generously-
For myself, my family, my community.
Help me to trust in the process,
For you are a God of process,
And you gave me this gift to be used.
Help me to trust You to bring me
The right opportunities in the fullness of time
To offer my work where it might be a blessing.
Help me to do the small tasks I can do today
To practice skills and dream visions
So that I can learn to write something True and to write it well.
I can plant and water, and show up.
But only You can make the harvest grow.
Help me to trust You for the outcome.
Above all, let the words of my mouth and the thoughts on the page
be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my strength, and my redeemer.
Yes and amen.