I meant to write this post fast on the heels of my last one, but colds and more broken nights got in the way. Things are getting better now, the colds are pretty much gone and the nights are gradually improving. It’s Monday, the start of a new week, and while many of us are thinking of all the things we need to “get done” today and the rest of the week after a (hopefully) restful weekend, I am writing an apology against efficiency. (Maybe “apology” is too formal of a word for this rather informal post, but for lack of a better word…)

Efficiency is a prized skill in the Western world, and in other cultures as well. Think of how many job descriptions require someone who is “able to complete their work punctually and efficiently.” One definition of efficiency is “the accomplishment of or ability to accomplish a job with a minimum expenditure of time and effort.” So basically, it’s how well you can complete a task in the least amount of time possible, with the least amount of effort spent, but still do a good job.

Given the title of this post, it may surprise you that I am a big fan of efficiency. To me, efficiency and productivity go hand in hand. Efficiency gives a nice structure to the day-to-day grind and also helps us achieve long-term goals by chipping away at them bit by bit. How many of us don’t love crossing things off our never-ending to-do lists? And how many things in our lives just wouldn’t function properly if there wasn’t an efficient person, machine, or structure behind them? We all appreciate it when our little worlds operate like clockwork, and get pretty impatient when things go awry.

I spent 30 years trying to live life as efficiently as possible. Then I had a baby. And let me just say, efficiency does not come into play when you are taking care of a baby.

Yes, you can try to establish a routine. Yes, you do have to feed them and change them and put them down for sleep regularly. Yes, there are plenty of books and toys and doo-dads which are supposed to help you help them develop their little fertile minds. But ultimately each day is going to be just that little bit different. What “works” one day could completely fail the next. And if you are a big fan of efficiency like me, it can drive you a little crazy.

The funny thing is, we all start life as babies. Babies are just tiny humans, after all. And humans have unique personalities and temperaments. One day they can be really hungry and want to eat all the time, and the next day perhaps their appetite is not as large. One day they can be happy and content all day, and the next day they just won’t stop fussing.

ImageLet me give you an example from my experience. My son is a catnapper and has been since he was born. Occasionally he will sleep for more than one hour during the day, but it is rare. More often than not his naps are 45 minutes. For weeks and weeks I tried so many different things to get him to sleep longer. Put him to bed later. Put him to bed earlier. Change his diaper right before his nap. Move the feeding time closer to sleep time. Rock him back to sleep. Sometimes some of these things worked, but nothing ever worked consistently.

So I’ve given up the “battle.” If he decides to sleep longer, he will sleep longer. But if not, I have decided to stop fighting it. What I’ve learned as a new parent, is that the least stressful, most enjoyable thing is just to go with the flow. Babies are not machines or spreadsheets. You can’t type in an equation and poof! Magically the desired output will appear. It just does not work that way.

So why have I called this an apology against efficiency? I was struck the other day that we are taught from a young age to be efficient. We get plugged into the structure and routine of our families, we potty train, we learn to do things on our own like eat and tie our shoes. Then we get plugged into school where efficiency means that you are a good student. It’s almost like we are trained out of our baby-ish ways to become gradually more and more efficient, productive adults. And as I said earlier, I think this is mostly a good thing.

But as soon as you have children of your own, all your highfalutin habits and instincts of being efficient are brought down to earth again, and you are training someone else in the same way that you were trained, while having all your presuppositions about what real “productivity” is undermined. And I think this is a great thing to experience.

As humans, we are made in the image of a trinitarian God. Father, Son and Holy Spirit live in constant, perfect communion and trust. Each day I ask God to help me live this kind of relationship with my son. Not the kind that puts “something in” and expects “something out,” but a relationship of mutual trust that rests in the perfect love of God. If I’m putting efficiency above my baby’s need for me to just “be” with him and give him that extra smile, then something has gone very wrong. It’s a daily challenge, this undermining of my instincts. Most days I feel very satisfied if he goes right down to sleep, and then very frustrated if I have to spend extra time calming him down. But as my husband often says, it’s only time. And our time here on earth is meant to live in constant communion with God and each other, not to see how efficiently we can live it out. If life were primarily about efficiency, what kind of life would that be, anyway?