Written by Abby Ciona
After a challenging two years—with Covid-19, struggles with mental health, and finishing a busy first year of university—I was about to go on vacation with my family. But I was anxious I would spend my vacation swamped with guilt.
For the past two years, I had struggled with feelings of uselessness and meaninglessness. Even on days full of fun with friends and family, if I didn’t do something work or school-related, I felt like my day was wasted and I wasn’t doing enough with my life. Couldn’t I do better things with my time, energy, and money than go on vacation?
Of course, productivity is important. Our lives are finite, and we never know what tomorrow might bring, as James 4 reminds us. It’s critical to use wisely the time, gifts, and opportunities that God has given us.
Nevertheless, even a good thing like productivity could potentially be damaging to us. Our world loves productivity: it celebrates busyness and tells us to live life to the fullest and seize the day. Under the surface, though, this hides harmful ideas that could drive us to overwork ourselves or indulge in selfish pleasure in the pursuit of self-fulfillment.
In his book Counterfeit Gods, Timothy Keller described an idol as “anything more important to you than God, anything that absorbs your heart and imagination more than God, anything you seek to give you what only God can give.”
We create idols when we elevate something to become the ultimate purpose of our lives, and I realized that productivity had become an idol to me. I was grounding my identity in how many “important” things I could do. If unsuccessful, I felt like I had failed and my day was worthless. But idols are just as Keller defines them: counterfeit. They are lies that trap our identity in a place that will ultimately disappoint.
It’s humbling and hard to face the idols in our lives, but seeing through their unsatisfying facades sets us free.
I searched for meaning by doing as much as possible in a day, but the Bible doesn’t say we need to be busy to have a good life. It doesn’t say we need fame, marriage, or money. Nothing we can do on our own is enough to satisfy our lives.
I looked for fulfillment in my life through my own productivity, but only Jesus offers us life to the full, as He tells us in John 10. Jesus, the same one who offers us life to the fullest, welcomes us to rest in Him. The truth is that our worth does not lie in what we do but in the worth Jesus has given to us, naming us children of God.
My mind, so stuck in the lies I told myself, protested, “I’m still not doing enough!” But 1 John 3 says that though our hearts often tell us we’re not good enough, God created us and His truth is greater than our lies.
My feelings of not being “enough” remind me of the story in Luke 10 where Jesus visits two sisters, Martha and Mary. Martha was busy with preparations, and she scolded Mary because she thought she wasn’t doing enough to serve Jesus as He visited their home. But Jesus told Martha only one thing was needed—to be present with Him as Mary was. His words reminded Martha it was good to slow down and rest because He is enough.
When I went on that family vacation, I still fought the lies of productivity in my head. We may struggle lifelong with idols such as winning love, gaining comfort, or finding acceptance, but our struggles don’t have to define us. Because of Jesus’ sacrifice and His resurrection, we have purpose and a reason to persevere in Him even through our deepest struggles. “Our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us” (Romans 8:18).
Everything we do for God’s glory has meaning. It is all an opportunity to share the hope and love that we have in Christ through our interactions and attitudes. At work, we can serve others joyfully by doing our best in the job God has allowed us to have. We can attend school in gratitude for the opportunity to grow in knowledge and to learn new things. We can vacation and enjoy the change of pace to spend time with friends and family, to reconnect with God, and to refresh ourselves so we are re-energized to continue serving when our break is done.
When we surrender all to Jesus and humbly, faithfully obey in the everyday, we will see that He delights in every aspect of our lives—even in our rest.