I value productivity.
It’s taken me 32 years of my life to admit this, but I think I have a productivity problem.
Of course, this rather industrial but inconvenient trait borne largely out of my cultural background stands in dramatic contrast to Ugandan culture, which is fiercely anti-productive, you might say.
I think I may have accidentally inherited the trait from my mother, after watching her throughout my childhood in a flurry of activity, ticking off as many to-do lists as possible, working furiously on impressive projects, engaging us in different children’s games and fun, serving friends and strangers…
I know a lot of women – particularly mothers – like this. Women who never sit still. Who never rest. Who seem to be always on the treadmill. For many of them, I think there is perhaps no other option. Perhaps they need that job to simply get by, or they don’t have family support, or people to help them with cooking, or supportive husbands, or child care, or other much-needed help. There is simply much to be done (especially when children are little) and someone needs to just knuckle down and do the work.
As much as my own lack of rest has in the past few years stemmed significantly from living in a mad house full of 3 energetic, determined little people (where on earth did they get those qualities from?!?!), some of it comes from a much deeper place. Like many of us, a sophisticated smoke screen of productivity covers my feeble attempts at negotiating my self-worth. It is a belief system that associates worthiness with performance and doing; so etched in the recesses of my mind that it has become my taken-for-granted truth.
It’s a belief that drives me to make sure I get my to-do list ticked, to sometimes judge those who embrace rest as part of their lifestyle, to shrink with guilt or frustration when I need to choose rest myself, and detests admitting my own limitation. Now, obviously this not-so-healthy attribute has served me in some ways to this point – my determination to achieve has certainly contributed towards Maranatha Health growing into what it is today.
But over the past year, I have become extremely enamoured with the work of Brene Brown, thanks to my good friend Anna. Many of you would’ve heard of Brene before – she is a well-known researcher on vulnerability, shame and as she calls it ‘whole-hearted living’. Brene’s concept of wholeheartedness is about engaging in our lives ‘from a place of worthiness’.
Brene defines this in many ways, but one of the definitions that resonates so much with my own spirit is: ‘Cultivating the courage, compassion and connection to wake up in the morning and think “no matter what gets done and how much is left undone, I am enough”.’
Every time I read that, I sigh.
I am a long way from that. A long winding road, maybe a couple of mountains to scale, a rushing river to traverse, perhaps even some kind of medieval army to defeat… that is probably my current distance away from that quote.
Little by little as I read Brene’s work, and reflect, and pray, and dig deeper into why the expectations I have of myself exist and permeate my decisions – I have begun to notice how heroically our society values tired people. We wear our exhaustion like a badge of honour. Rest, and play, and simply getting enough sleep, and having leisure time, and working less – those things are often looked down upon with eye rolls and remarks about hardening up. They are not aspired to or celebrated.
I know. It is changing. At least in theory. People are writing and talking about this. This blog is certainly not original. There are so many blogs and books and permission-giving mother sites telling us that we need our tribe of women around, to slow down, to chill out on our own expectations. It takes a village to raise a child, etc
The translations of these discussions into practical support and rest and women actually letting go of trying to ‘do it all’ seems to be missing much of the time. It’s not there. I wonder if the authenticity necessary for this change feels so out-of-reach for many women who still remain silenced by our culture’s drive for productivity.
If people do find ways to rest, if they let go of productivity for a moment, if they do access support so they can slow down, it is admitted only in hushed discussions between ‘safe’ friends behind carefully closed doors.
Why? Because of judgement, I think.
Which is why I am relieved to be living in Uganda, at this moment, as I try to learn about the value of rest. And play. And un-productivity.
Because here, in this area of life, my only critic is myself. I have no other voices to silence.
Just many, many women around me who love to sneak in a midday nap. Who aren’t obsessed with ‘having it all’. Who aren’t often with their children 24/7. Who proudly prioritise having ‘help’ at home and see it as essential – whether it be their cousins’ daughter or a girl from their village who needs a job or their sister. Who ‘sleep when the baby sleeps’. Like, really.
But for me from the West, actually stopping and letting go of productivity: of valuing time unfolding and ordinary moments and play and dance and connection and simply being still…
This is harder.
But this cautious attempt at something as simple as rest –without the guilt and justifications – feels extraordinary. It feels abnormal, un-habitual, and clunky.
Trying to value all the moments of quiet that come my way and live for these has exposed my worship of the productivity gods. It’s difficult trying to escape from their clutches after sacrificing at the altar for so long.
I was reflecting recently how much Jesus prioritised rest. Here’s someone whose days are numbered, who spends his time campaigning for the poor and down-trodden, advocating for this up-side down kingdom where ‘even the least of these’ has a place at the table, and is flocked by crowds of people even when he went for a little walk. And yet the rhythm of his life’s story, told in the Gospels, gives so much emphasis and space for him to rest. Sometimes he would spend whole days by himself. Praying. Resting. Being still. It even mentions him sleeping on quite a few occasions.
My attempts at rest though remind me of the way my twins learnt to walk in the past year. They were at first extremely cautious, frustrated and awkward. But with every step that ‘worked’ they became more confident, more energised, more ready to try this new and empowering thing. Now they are running. I want to run too.
In Uganda, we have a nanny – Violet is her name – who is here 9-5 Monday to Friday. One of us (Michael or I) is always here with her and the kids. We spend our days together – tag teaming cooking and skun knees and dishes and nappy changes and overtired kids and outings with no prams and make believe fun and the general insanity of 3 young children. And when we have a chance, we give each other a break. The situation still comes with frustration at times and feels in some ways a poor substitute for family and playgroups and playgrounds and all the ways raising children in your own culture feels easier…but in general, Violet is an absolute life-saver, a good friend who has become a part of our family for this time.
In one of the most encouraging conversations I have had on this topic, I was sharing with Violet the other day how in Australia it would be impossible to afford this kind of support at home. I also explained that in Australia, it would be difficult to admit that I had a nanny, fulltime. I would be embarrassed. She looked at me in confusion: “But why would you want to do all this alone? When would you rest? That would just be stressful! And lonely!”
Yes it would.