I have been reading a lot about productivity, I even find myself re-reading certain books—like Cal Newport’s Deep Work—as I try to make sure I am spending my time, as Andy Stanley suggests, on items that only I can do. One of the upshots of this has been a more serious consideration of where I do various tasks. I have always been “sort of” aware that my work environment matters, but like many a gent I have been a bit embarrassed to admit that such things matter, like I might not be tough enough if I appreciate certain niceties in my space. I can—of course—produce anywhere, but to be at my best requires certain practices, and I am learning, environments.
For example, Wayne Lee—a pastor in town here—told me when I first started pastoring to be careful to do my personal bible reading and devotions and prayers outside of my office chair. He suggested, in his long fought for intelligence, that I pick a chair or two and use them specifically for praying and other such spiritual disciplines because it is too easy for a minister to slide in these important aspects of ministry and think that merely being a minister makes one spiritual (o, were that that could be so!). I saw the wisdom in this from the get go and have avoided treating my devotional time as preparation for Sunday or any other duties I might have.
I have been working more and more from home of late. One distinct advantage to this practice is that when I am at the church facility I am happier to be interrupted, I am genuinely happy to see folks and have them stop in to chat, they are not interrupting anything I require serious focus to complete (that work is all done in my basement). I think the people I serve have been noticing the difference and more and more of them are stopping by for chats.
On the door of the room I work in there is a funny little sign. It is a nameplate given to me by the kids on the Junior A team I chaplain (Go Caps!). They each have a nameplate above their locker room stall, and they had one made for me “Rev. Chris Clarke.” Open the door and you will notice that the room I work in is fairly large, and mostly empty. For years I have told my wife I would love an empty room, now I basically have one. There is a single bookcase in the room, I am not sure where it came from, the books are mostly given to me by older ministers and the occasional purchase by me, though mostly I buy ebooks these days. I read by the light of a lamp purchased by a guy who used to live in this room and attend our church (a guy with gumption enough to sign up to run the Vancouver marathon with me despite his living in Edmonton these days with its cold winter). It sits on a narrow tiny table that must be made for something but I cannot imagine what (keys and mail???). The table is from my wife’s grandmother, so is the end table my study bibles are on, we got them and other pieces by having the luck of moving in together right when grandma was going in to a home. I write at a desk I designed and had made with money we got when we were wed (we were both entering graduate studies in Montreal and had desks made with repurposed barn wood with much of the money we received that day).
The chair I sit on has a story. I used to own and operate a bookshop that was started by a legendary (in Montreal anyways) bookseller. I never met him, he died 3 years before I got involved. Anyways, I sat in his chair for a long time, I hated it. It was an old wooden thing that could give you splinters and one of the wheels was always falling off…but I owned a bookstore so I was in heaven (and had no money for luxuries like comfy chairs, there were books to buy). A long-standing customer, a medical librarian at McGill had re-finished just such a chair, in honour of Mr. George. Would I mind trading he asked? Heck ya! The first time I stepped into a Presbyterian church who was ushering? Yup the librarian who promptly showed us around and introduced us to some folks. On the back of the chair is a special prayer shawl knit and prayed over by ladies in the congregation I serve. A comfy semi-stylish pad is under me because my wife has style and values my well-being. So that is the chair.
On the wall are three items, two paintings by my mother-in law and a weird mirror made out of an oil drum from my parents. That’s it.
On the floor is my satchel bag, far too luxurious for me but bought by my wife who thinks I am worth it.
Everything about this set up reminds me of folks who are praying for me, who have helped me to be here today, who want the best for me. It may look very simple and empty, but it is full of memories and people and inspiration. Scripture says that we are amidst so great a cloud of witnesses, and I believe it, they are both dead and alive. These give us extra reason not to falter, not to sin, to waste time, or to give in when the going gets tough. They surround me and remind me of my responsibilities, and joys, as I pray and prepare for Sunday after Sunday and meeting after meeting.
My gratitude is huge, my search for productivity continues, but not until I finish this cup of tea brought back from India by a man who single-handedly keeps an orphanage open in India by maintaining a network of donors here in Duncan, from a coffee cup my wife bought me when I finished seminary that says, “In all your ways acknowledge him and he shall direct your paths” (proverbs 3:6) Amen, may it always be so!