Recently my daughter-in-law invited me to be present during the labor and delivery of our first grandchild. Her mother, my son and I made quite a “labor team” as we worked together to rub her back, take walks, play games, get her food and encourage her with our words during those long almost 24 hours before OUR precious baby boy was born. While she labored the hardest, it was a communal effort and we feel a sense of ownership of the baby that was born. In the weeks following his birth, it continued to be a communal effort as we made meals, rocked the baby, did laundry, and cleaned house.
One of the definitions of labor on dictionary.com is: productive activity, especially for the sake of economic gain.Who defines productivity? As I look around at laborers where I live in Costa Rica, my task-oriented way of thinking wonders if there is really any productive activity going on when it takes 10 men to do a little road patch job. Couldn’t the job be done more efficiently with just two people? Or is it really productive for the pharmacist to ooh over the couple and their baby who entered into the store when I was waiting in line to buy my medicine? Why does it take 20 men with weed whackers, machetes and rakes to tidy up the small median strip between lanes of traffic? Would it not be more productive to split up the team and have them working all around the city?
As I ponder these idiosyncrasies of Costa Rican life, I am reminded of the old joke from my childhood: “How many ______________ (ethnic group of your choice) does it take to change a light bulb? Ten. One to screw in the lightbulb and nine to hold the ladder.” When I was a kid, we used to laugh at the absurd inefficiency painted by this scene.
But being in a relational country for 26 years has softened me. I see the value of community. Which is a more productive activity, getting a task done quickly or sharing together with others while doing the task even if it takes longer? I guess it depends on how you define productivity. I remember the first time I was invited to join a Costa Rican family for their annual Christmas tamale making. As we stood around a table laden with bowls of rice, pork, carrots, peas and sweet red pepper, I was amazed at the picture of inefficiency as each person grabbed one of every item to press into their tamale dough. Trying to be more productive I explained, “We need an assembly line. I do the rice, you do the carrots, and we slide the tamale dough (sitting on its banana leaf wrapper) along down the line.” Somehow as the yearly tradition has gone on, my suggestions never seemed to stick. Even though it takes all day to make tamales, we catch up on each other’s lives.
Perhaps we could think about another saying. How many _________ does it take to raise a child? Why, a whole village of course! As we do things in community, just like laboring with and for my daughter-in-law, we each have a vital part. We form bonds. We support each other. We connect in a deep way. And in the end, we have ownership. Together we have birthed or raised a child. Together we have made 300 tamales. And we grew closer in the process.
After so many years here I have learned to relish the “inefficiency” that converts into the “productive activity” that allows me to connect with this community I live in. Last week I felt a sense of gratitude for being “known,” as the secretary and the doctora in the neighborhood lab squealed with delight at the videos of my grandson. In their mind it was just yesterday when they were drawing blood from my son’s little boy arm. Building on a community of relationships also worked to my advantage when our mechanic made space for me right away the morning my radiator blew as I was preparing for a beach trip while my husband was out of the country.
In the inefficiency of a relational culture, I have become known. I have a place here. Even as a foreigner, I belong. The 10 men that work together patching the road or the 20 gardeners on the median strip are helping each other more than just physically. They are a community working together emotionally. That is how I would define productive activity.
Looking at this from the perspective of my relationship with God, I wonder, am I so busy laboring for Him that I forget that we are in a relationship? Do I spend time with Him each day or am I too busy in “productive activity” for the kingdom instead? As I have gotten older, I have realized the value of sitting and resting with God. I want to know Him more and be known by Him. The days and weeks that I don’t jam my schedule full of activities, and I allow myself to savor a cup of tea while I talk to Him on my back porch, I feel the peace of connecting. And in the end, I don’t seem to lose anything at all as I am more productive when I follow His leading.
How would your life change if you looked at productive activity in more of a relational than a task-oriented way?
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