Activity or Achievement?

By Jean Boonstra

On Sundays after my morning walk, I walk into the garage through the side door before anything—or anyone—inside the house can grab my attention. I put on my gardening gloves, grab a few tools and head out into the front yard.

About the Author

Jean Boonstra is the Associate Speaker for the Voice of Prophecy. She is the author of several books, including eight in the Adventist Girl series.

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I tackle the flower beds that line the driveway, pulling up weeds and trimming dead leaves and flowers. I then move, systematically, to the flower beds lining the front walk. I give the flower beds on the south side of the lawn some extra careful attention since they border our neighbor's pristine green grassy lawn. I spend the better part of an hour in the front, before moving to the back yard. I'm far less thorough back there. I usually assess the area of greatest need, tackle it and head back inside knowing the back yard really deserves a dedicated day of my time. Maybe one day, it'll get it. 

I love this routine, and from my description you might imagine that I really love gardening. Perhaps if I told you this was my daily routine and not just my weekly, you might believe that I'm quite a proficient gardener. The truth is I love the look of a clean and tidy front flower bed, but I don't love much about gardening and I am proficient at almost nothing plant or flower-related.

If you walked past my house this past Sunday while I was in the midst of filling the green bin with weeds, you would have observed me working quickly and enthusiastically. You easily could've mistaken all of this energy and enthusiasm for proficiency and you would've been greatly mistaken. I was not born with a green thumb, and every time I invest the time to learn the native plants and watering habits of my home, we seem to move. As the family uproots, my limited local horticultural knowledge is uprooted with it.

A few weeks ago, a friend with a green thumb walked me through our yard. I honestly didn't know if some of the green masses taking over the south corner of the back yard were weeds or flowers. I learned that the lovely, flowering plants that grow tall enough to push past the top of the back fence are hollyhocks. The jumbled mass of green that I'd nearly uprooted a couple Sundays earlier is a Shasta daisy plant! The low-growing leathery-leafed plant taking over the corner outside the kitchen window is not a weed either, but it is lamb's ear. Pervasive, but pretty. And the purple-flowered plant that grows like a weed next to the electric box in the front yard—a favorite of seemingly every bee in the neighborhood—has a name: Russian sage. And the plants that seem to grow effortlessly in my Colorado yard are called hostas. 

My enthusiasm in the garden reminds me of a favorite quote, one I see pop up in my social media feeds frequently: "Don't mistake activity with achievement," a quote by John Wooden, a renowned basketball player and coach. How appropriate this is to my gardening! Does it apply to other parts of my life, like my work?

If you stopped by our VOP headquarters for a tour on any given weekday, you'd likely not find me in my office. Oh, the door might be open, the lights on and papers strewn across my desk, but more likely than not, I'd be somewhere else in the building. The studio? That's a good guess, but it is much more likely that I'd be in the conference room sitting in a meeting. Like many organizations, we spend a lot of our days in meetings. A few on our team thrive on meetings, but I am not one of them. I know that they are necessary for planning, for putting multiple department heads together for collaboration on projects and for keeping tabs on deadlines my marketing team is responsible for. These are all important parts of how any organization runs, but so often these meetings feel like Wooden's description of activity without achievement.

This doesn't just happen in the garden or around the conference table. I've known many colleagues over the years and at various institutions who appear to always be just returning from, or just about to leave on, a trip. These individuals often live with their suitcases half-packed and they don't dislike it. They thrive on it. In one big building in Maryland that I worked out of for a couple of years, I perceived an unspoken competition. It was as if the more overseas trips a person took in a year, the more they were accomplishing for the work of spreading the Gospel. In a few cases, this friendly, unspoken competition felt again like a case of activity without achievement.

Activity for the sake of action is not God's plan for us. Bumbling and stumbling through the garden, I can easily pull a few daisies along with the weeds. Slowing down and letting someone more knowledgeable educate and guide me, I am a much more productive gardener. When I slow down and listen to and for His voice, I am much better able to distinguish the weeds and blooms in the rest of my life, too. Ultimately this makes me a much more productive worker for the Kingdom, even around the conference table!