The Value of Unproductivity

Mar 29, 2021 12:01:34 PM Sarah Rymer

Life is full of encounters that mold us and mature us. For me, experiences that have molded me and matured me are often accompanied with humility.

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For example, my wife and I were part of a local church for our first year in the Middle East. At the end of that year, we visited the pastor and thanked him for embracing us with such care and love. He also expressed his gratitude by saying, “Thank you for not doing much.” We were both puzzled for a moment, but it was immediately followed by an explanation that humbled us.

Our passion can cause us to focus more on work rather than people. Some of us, including myself, have the tendency to fix things when we see the need. Local churches had suffered from years of unintended hurt by the expat people who came to offer “help.” After hearing our pastor’s gratitude, I was glad that we tried to stay quiet to learn and observe the church’s culture. Frankly, our quiet observation was mainly the result of feeling overwhelmed with adjusting to a new culture. Nonetheless, this pastor’s comment was a crucial wakeup call that weighed heavily in our hearts. This humbling experience allowed us to have a certain mindset when we relocated to our current country.  

My wife and I serve as teachers at a local private school which was started by a native Christian educator. Our initial meeting with him was interesting. We explained our plan of doing language studies in the capital city for two years and then moving out to the city where the school is located. Half-jokingly, the school director responded with a smile and said, “Thank you, but I don’t trust you.

I thought to myself, “What an expression of honesty to someone who wants to work with his school!” However, I learned that no one moves from the capital to live in this school director's often-overlooked city, not even the local people. The school director had not been able to recruit any expat teachers living in the capital, and he was simply expressing his hopelessness, assuming we would change our minds and not move out to his overlooked city to join his school. Unfortunately, this sad reality caused our relationship to begin with some doubt. We could only ask the school director to have a little faith in our verbal promise of commitment.

Developing real trust and friendship in our relationship with the school director has taken 5 years.

We now enjoy our friendship as trust and understanding for each other continues to grow. Thankfully, I have developed more resilience and flexibility too. The school director knows my genuine heart to love and support him and asks for my advice when making important decisions. He has an open heart and attentive ears to hear my thoughts.

Many of us live in a fast-paced culture in which time is a high-value commodity.

Focusing on efficiency and effectiveness is natural for me. However, I must always remind myself that what I want and desire can be of great hindrance in serving our local partners the way God wants. Being slow and being not-so-productive is okay— in fact, it could be better.

We are in hurry, God is not.



 About the Author: Jae is the IDEAS Director of Project Operations for Jordan and is a licensed professional engineer and a math and science teacher. He speaks Korean, English, and Arabic. Jae and his wife have been IDEAS Associates since 2014 and currently reside in Jordan with their 3-year-old son. Click here to enjoy other blogs by Jae.


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