Tuesday, September 11, 2012

The Burden of Effectiveness

For much of my working life, I sought to be effective. I read The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People more than once and sought to employ those habits in my own life. They are good habits and I still have the book, unlike many of the books I’ve read over the years. Effectiveness gets things done, and as Stephen Covey pointed out in the book, effectiveness is about getting the right things done. I have observed that many people equate busyness with effectiveness. We tend to value people based on how busy they are. Movers and shakers are approved, while sitters and thinkers are often overlooked.

We need to learn to value waiting, watching and listening. These may appear to be ineffective, especially when the mantra of our society is “don’t just stand there, do something.” But waiting, watching and listening allow us to dig beneath the surface of people and issues, to learn to understand both ourselves and others. These habits cause us to slow down and pay attention, which is not an easy behavior for many of us in our hurry-hurry existence.

Effectiveness becomes a burden when we try to apply it to our relationship with God and with others. Jesus wasn’t about effectiveness. As a group of us discussed healing in Sunday school, one person wondered why Jesus did not heal every leper, wiping out all the leper colonies. That this question was raised shows me that Jesus focused more on relationships than on productivity or effectiveness. He waited, watched and listened. He acted, but he did it within the context of relationship. He talked to people and listened to them. He observed the bent-over woman among all the people coming and going in the Temple (Luke 13:11-13). He felt healing power leave him as a woman in a crowd touched the hem of his robe (Matthew9:20-22). He heard Bartimaeus calling to him even though everyone lining the roadside was cheering for him (Mark 10:46-52).

And after his death, he did not immediately send the apostles out to continue his ministry. He told them to wait. That doesn’t seem very effective. We talk about building on momentum, and certainly Jesus’ resurrection, his appearances to the apostles and others, and his ascension would have been momentum boosters. But Jesus tells them to wait in Jerusalem until they are given heavenly power.

I expect they were motivated and itching to do something. We catch a glimpse of that when Peter decides to go fishing (John 21:3). Jesus shows them the importance of waiting, watching and listening one last time, for even though he modeled such behavior for them in his life on earth, they were not always quick to catch on.

We need to let go of the burden of effectiveness and realize that building relationships with God, with others and even with ourselves is how we learn to love God, love others and love ourselves. Relationships are not built by effectiveness but by paying attention—waiting, watching and listening—so that our action is a loving response, not just “doing something.”

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