Fifth Sunday of Easter, Year B – John 15:1-8
Think about what you do in your daily life that just leaves you exhausted. I am talking about the things that leave you emotionally drained and physically worn out. These are not the kind of things for which sleeping late, taking a day off, or going on vacation are the antidote. It’s about more than just being tired. The constant physical and emotional striving depletes and empties our spirit. You feel your soul drying out even as your tears get closer and closer to overflowing. You do what you’ve got to do but it’s not really what you want to do. You give your time and your effort but not your heart. What are those things for you? What’s number one on your list? What’s number two? What’s number – – let’s not even go to number three. Two is enough. I suspect you understand what I am asking about.
Now think about those things you do that seem effortless. They just flow. You’re in the zone. They are the things in which you totally immerse yourself. You bring all that you are and all that you have. You hold nothing back. You give it your all and you wouldn’t have it any other way. You feel light as a feather. You feel full and complete. You look at the clock and wonder where the time went. You don’t want to stop and when you do you can’t wait until you can start again. This is about wholeheartedness and it’s the antidote to exhaustion.* What are those things for you? What’s number one on your list? What’s number two? Number three? Four? You can’t have too many of those.
So what’s the difference between the things on your two lists? One takes all that we have and we feel exhausted but the other we give all that we have and we feel invigorated. One feels like we’re crashing, the other like we’re soaring. One leaves us feeling wrung out and thankful the day is finally over. The other leaves us feeling, what my mom used to call, “a good tired” and thankful for the day. What’s that about?
As different as those two lists seem they have something in common. You and me. You are what’s common to your two lists even as I am what’s common to mine.
So what if those two lists are two ways of living? What if those two ways of living are two branches in each of our lives? And what if one branch bears fruit and the other leaves us dying on the vine?
As I look at those two lists in my life – and maybe this is true for your life too – I find my first list is about productivity. It’s about my need to do, to accomplish, to meet expectations, to be approved of and liked. It’s about my determination, my work, my effort, my will. It’s mostly about my ego, measuring my worth, and keeping score. I’ve measured productivity with merit badges, trophies, and grades; billable hours and income; check marks on the to do list; degrees, promotions, and positions; and a thousand other ways. They filled my shelves of my life but emptied my heart.
The second list, however, is about my fruitfulness. It’s about a way of being that gives my life meaning. It’s knowing my worth apart from my usefulness. It’s seeing the abundance of life as a quality not a quantity. It’s having values rather than measuring value. It’s discovering and following one’s purpose regardless of anyone else’s approval, recognition, or reward. It’s being comfortable in your own skin. It’s knowing that you belong and have a place. Things just seem to fit together. It’s being connected to and abiding in something greater than ourselves. Maybe instead of fruitfulness a better word for all this is wholeheartedness. Those are the moments when I show up to life with an emphatic and thankful yes.
I wonder if we sometimes let our productivity highjack our fruitfulness and wholeheartedness. We get the job done and we pay our way, but at what cost? What have you lost in your life today by living from a place of productivity rather than wholeheartedness?
I’m not suggesting we ought not be productive. Some things just need to be done. But what if true productivity arises from wholeheartedness and not in opposition to it? What if wholeheartedness and not productivity was our default mode?
I think we all want to live fruitful and wholehearted lives. It’s what we want for ourselves, our children and grandchildren, our friends. Most of us probably struggle to find it. I think that’s, at least in part, why we show up here each Sunday. It’s why we follow Jesus. We see in him what we want for ourselves – wholeheartedness.
And let’s be honest. Jesus wasn’t overly successful, productive, or accomplished. He didn’t work. He depended on benefactors to pay his way. And there’s just not much to go on a resume. Born in Bethlehem. A runaway at twelve. Baptized at thirty. Itinerant rabbi for three years. Dead at thirty-three. Resurrected three days later. What did he really do on a daily basis?
For three years he showed up. He was present. He listened. He loved. He connected with people. He prayed. He was faithful and obedient. He told stories about life and finding meaning. He offered mercy and forgiveness. He shared meals. He was compassionate. He touched the hurting and broken places in people’s lives. He had a vision for a new life and a different way of being in the world. He offered hope. He pointed to a life beyond his own. He helped people connect with themselves, one another, and God. He didn’t do all that much, but he made a huge difference. In short, he was more fruitful than productive.
That’s how I want to live, don’t you? I want my life to matter. I want my life to have meaning. I want to give myself to what is worthwhile. I want to make a difference. I want to give priority to people and relationships. I want be deeply connected. I want to blossom and grow. I want to “be fruitful and multiply” (Genesis 1:28).
And here’s the hard part about that kind of life. It comes only by removing the branches in our life that do not bear fruit and pruning those that do. Either way we’re going to be cut. And I wonder what that means for you today?
Look at your two lists again. What would it take to move more of your life to the second list, to move just one aspect of your life from productivity to wholeheartedness? What in your life today needs to be removed, cut away, released, let go of? And what needs to be pruned, tended, nurtured, and cared for?
*David Whyte, Crossing the Unknown Sea, 132.