The following is adapted from my latest book, Simplified Organization: Learn to Love What Must Be Done.

If you browse social media or even the latest books on organizing or homemaking, the primary image of the home is a place of retreat and refuge. The world is where the action is, where the paycheck comes from, and where we go out and get dirty.

The home, in this view, is where we return to get cleaned up and rest. However, this view of the household is a post-industrial ideal.

The home, biblically and historically, is not primarily a place for hygge, for coziness, for retreat. The home is where the primary action of culture happens; so much action happens here that it spills out into the wider world. A man and a woman come together to form a new household, and their union produces children, the most valuable asset of any society.

Homemaking is not about financial profit, but it is a way of turning profit on the talents, resources, and situation God has given us – including our children.

Children are not the accessories of a picture-perfect lifestyle, given to us so we can take cute photos. Children are future men and women. Children are our connection to and investment in the future. Without children, a society has no future.

Therefore, raising children is one of the most productive things we can do. It’s also one of the least efficient things we can do—and therein lies the struggle.

A different kind of productivity

The world’s version of productivity looks like putting in the minimum amount of effort possible while still getting a worthwhile return. Productivity tips and tricks generally revolve around minimizing effort while still getting results.

That might be a great model for factories, but factories are bad analogies for people and life. The principles don’t cross over.

When we look at biblical analogies for effort and productivity, we see not only imagery of fruitfulness, but also of athletics. Here is one arena the world still understands and honors. Top athletes are obsessive.

Every day doesn’t win them a gold medal—the gold medal lies at the end of the race. Before the race comes grueling, repetitive training that the athlete invests in because of the medal set before him. He disciplines his body. Everything he eats, does, and thinks supports his mission.

The apostle Paul speaks this way of the Christian life: “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it” (1 Cor. 9:24). We’re not called to be slacker Christians, putting in just enough effort to get us to the finish line someday.

We are called to be a visible, bright, shining light on a hill that non-Christians can’t help but notice and credit to God (Matt. 5:16).

God saves us by Christ alone. Only Christ’s work imputed to us makes us right with God. Yet after we are saved, after God has renewed our heart, He calls us to strenuous effort for Him; He makes us His slaves for righteousness now that we are no longer slaves to sin (Rom. 6:19).

As Philippians 2:12–13 tells us, “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”

Homes have a mission

Productivity, work, and effort are not optional for Christians, but rather commanded. A productive Christian household is a household on mission for the kingdom, an outpost of the gospel, even in details like cleaning the bathroom and doing the laundry.

God created the family to be the base unit of society, not just for the propagation of the human race but for the sanctification of every member.

It is primarily through our familial bonds that we are transformed and sanctified. As Hermann Bavinck writes in The Christian Family, “The family is the school of life, because it is the fountain and hearth of life.” He goes on to say, “The family transforms ambition into service, miserliness into munificence, the weak into strong, cowards into heroes, coarse fathers into mild lambs, tenderhearted mothers into ferocious lionesses. Imagine there were no marriage and family; humanity would, to use Calvin’s crass expression, turn into a pigsty.”

Our productivity and dedication—our diligence—intensifies when we realize that we are not mere cooks and janitors cleaning up after people because somebody had to be stuck with that job. When we understand that our role within our families is raising immortal souls to glorify their Creator forever, weaving the fabric of society and becoming more like our Savior as we do, it makes sense that we’re called to work hard.

A productive day is one wherein we respond in trust, with steadfastness and faithfulness, to the circumstances God sends us. That is how He produces in us the fruit of His Spirit, which is the productivity He desires. Our productivity, our fruitfulness in our homes, is not about measurable successes.

We can find joy and satisfaction in each cup of cold water given, each face washed and kissed, each meal set on the table, each sweeping of the floor, because these are our deposits in the investment of building God’s kingdom through the care of His people.

When we are in the thick of the season where our primary good works revolve around raising children, it can feel like everything we do is too little and too mundane to be significant. Yet remember that Christ said, “As you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.”

Our own children are not excluded from this. It’s easy to feel like they are getting in the way of what we are trying to do, but they are what we are trying to do.

Our metaphors of productivity

We have to watch our story, our metaphor, of productivity. Productivity and organization techniques aren’t upgrades to our engines or accelerators on the track of life. We aren’t like machines; we are like trees in God’s orchard. All our lives, we are watered and pruned by God.

We never get to a point when we no longer need to bring in new nutrients, to be watered by the Word and sacraments, to be pruned and shaped by trial and testing for the purpose of bringing more and better glory to God in our fruitful obedience. All our lives, we go through season after season of visibly ripening fruit and dormancy.

We need to be well-watered trees producing abundant crops in God’s timing, not our own. He is the Lord of the harvest. We tend to think of productivity as the ability to be laser-focused with high-achievement outcomes.

Fruitfulness shifts the imagery and, therefore, the expectation. A fruitful tree is messy. In every direction, branches reach outward. A fruitful tree is stationary yet exhibits growth and movement.

Typical modern productivity imagery feels more like a freight train, powering forward unilaterally; productivity is the speed at which the train is able to reach its destination. Fruit, on the other hand, is seasonal.

Fruitfulness has no destination. It will stop only at death. Fruit trees require continual sunshine, pruning, fertilizer, water, and growth. It is the same with us.

When we adopt fruitfulness as our metaphor for productivity, it realigns not only our motivation, but also our attitudes. Not every piece of fruit on a tree has to be amazing for the tree to be productive and plentiful. Even some of the good fruit falls to the ground, yet this is one way God provides food for the birds and other creatures we never see.

When we are fruitful trees, we don’t have to be the harvester and warehouser and chef, concerned about how the fruit is used after it is produced. We aren’t more fruitful if more of our fruit is used to make pies than juice. God is the harvester, field manager, and chef. We can be joyfully abundant because the work comes from God, we get to direct it back to God, and He manages the results.

Feeling productive while being productive comes when we focus on our current season, on the needs in front of us, on the next small task rather than a grand scheme or a lifetime mission. Our productivity doesn’t have to be measurable to be appreciated or significant.

Fruitfulness is a metaphor we as women can particularly embrace and embody because fruit is female. Fruitfulness is our design feature.

Fruitfulness is a perfect metaphor for productivity because what God is working in us is a harvest of the fruits of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. These fruits are never abstract or theoretical. Each smile at a child, each mess cleaned up, each squabble adjudicated counts as a fruitful step on our path of sanctification.

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