When is it OK to Put Aside Productivity and Go Hands Free?

Once upon a December afternoon, I decided to bake cookies for a party. I could have skipped it; in fact, I nearly talked myself out of it. Baking is not the most efficient use of my time. Nevertheless, I put aside productivity because it felt like Christmas, like celebration.

Choosing Christmas doesn’t come naturally to me. You see, the church I grew up in didn’t believe in celebrating Christmas, supposedly because it was a pagan holiday and a consumerist frenzy.

Looking back, though, I wonder if perhaps the church leaders weren’t really afraid of materialism or paganism. I wonder if they were afraid of what might happen if we were to be still. If we were to make the subversive decision to put aside striving and behold beauty instead.

Time to Put Aside Productivity

As I made the chocolate chunk mocha cookies (with coffee IN the frosting!), I noticed something. In the past, I’ve rushed through recipes, attempting shortcuts. But watching my husband renovate our home this year has been a study in patience. As I worked, I realized that I’d learned from his example. Finally, I was willing to honor each step.

Bootsie the cat, put aside productivityOnce I returned to the computer, Bootsie jumped into my lap. Though I was tempted to nudge her aside and keep working, I decided to take pause instead.

I still had work to do, but I stroked Bootsie’s fur. She purred, and I felt myself relax. For once, the voice that tells me, You have to be productive or else! was silent. All was calm, all was bright.

The Magical Tree

That night, my husband and I put up our first-ever (secondhand) Christmas tree. When we plugged it in, only half the tree lit up. Jonathan said, “The &*%#$ lights don’t work!”

I said, “Honey, it’s okay. It’s magical to me.” It was.

When I looked at the tree, I thought: You are everything I was taught to turn my back on. You are unnecessary, frivolous. And based on this faded price tag I found in your branches, you were expensive too. 

And in my eyes, you are beautiful.

Unnecessary and Beautiful

Christmas tree, put aside productivityOne of the gifts that my childhood church gave me is the ability to recall myriad Biblical passages. As I gazed at our tree, I remembered the story of a woman pouring expensive perfume on Jesus.
I thought about how those present were angry, how they protested: What decadence! What foolishness! In other words, What a Christmas tree!

There’s a time to save our perfume, yet there’s also a time to pour our treasures out. Sometimes unnecessary and excessive is beautiful and right. Pouring out perfume, putting up a Christmas tree … these acts can be wasteful or wondrous, depending on the state of our hearts.

I smiled then, remembering what Jesus said to the critics: “Back off! You’re so busy judging this woman that you don’t see what really happened: she has given me a beautiful gift from the heart. This act of lavish love will be remembered for centuries to come.”

So here’s what I wish for you in the New Year. More than goals achieved or resolutions kept …

I wish for you open hands to receive the gifts that each day brings.


This post was inspired in part by my friend and fellow writer Rachel Macy Stafford, The Hands Free Mama. Rachel’s work focuses on relationships, and ‘letting go to grasp what really matters.’

To support her in the publication of her new book, I’m hosting a giveaway!

To enter, leave a comment sharing your thoughts on these questions: What keeps you from going hands free and enjoying the present moment? Do you struggle to put aside productivity?

One commenter will be chosen at random to receive a copy of Hands Free Mama. A commenter will be chosen at 12p CST on Thursday, January 16.

Update: The winner (selected via Random.org) is commenter #1, Kelly Tyler! Congratulations, and thank you to all who shared from their hearts this week.


Further Reading:

New guest post at The Happiness Project: Before & After: Do A Little Work, Every Single Day

New guest post at GenPink: On Missing Meetings, Hopping Planes, and Choosing Life


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16 thoughts on “When is it OK to Put Aside Productivity and Go Hands Free?

  1. How absolutely beautiful and fitting! At Christmas we remember that God lavishly gave the most exquisite and costly gift to people who couldn’t possibly appreciate its fullness. He is an extravagant God! We just don’t get it sometimes and create silly religions and rules pretending that we have captured Him when we have only caged our own hearts. Thank you for this reminder.

  2. Jeanne says:

    Thank you for this reminder to pause instead of always being productive, or feeling guilty about not being productive.

    And what you wrote introducing Rachel – “The Hands Free Mama. Rachel’s work focuses on relationships, and ‘letting go to grasp what really matters.’” must be God talking to me. I chose my “word” of the year to be “Let Go”. I am too busy interfering or inserting my opinions into other people, even if it is only in my thoughts. I have to STOP! I have to concern myself with Jesus and my relationship with him. Not that I won’t pray for others, but it is a different kind of concern. – – – Its not my job. Its not all about me. Leave it to God who is more than capable.

    What keeps me from going ‘hands free’ and enjoying the present moment? I guess it is my to-do list. Either responsibilities I have or those I grab on to even if it isn’t mine (like ordering other peoples lives!).

    • What a great “word” for the year, Jeanne — thank you for sharing it here! I’m definitely still learning how to let go too — here’s to walking that road together.

  3. Randy Beeler says:

    Caroline, I can’t tell you how much both this post and “Please Don’t Go Crazy If I Tell You Truth” speak to me and to so many others. I am 50 years old and have only recently learned the beauty of waiting before doing, speaking before listening, and praying before … well, praying all things I do. Not before. Not after. But waiting and listening to the Christ with me, in my muck. Your holiday baking and Christmas regalia speak a sacramentality freely and breathed into us by God.

    What keeps me from going hands-free and living in this moment? Being what I think I have to be, trying to establish an identity of my own right here in plain sight of the me that God is already happy to dwell with. In _Falling Upward_, Fr. Richard Rohr weaves a portrait of the first half of life–in which we mightily struggle to establish an identity for ourselves. But, after so doing, we learn to “fall upward,” to cease the struggle to make our own identity and instead live in the present moment with who we are. It seems to me that, unlike me, you are getting an advanced start on that second-half-of-life falling upward. May all your falling persist in such grace!

    • Randy, I’m so happy to hear that — what an encouragement to know that the post(s) resonated with you! And Falling Upward sounds fascinating — I’ll have to check it out. Thank you for sharing your story.

  4. Cheryl says:

    What a great story:-). I suppose fear is what would keep me from going ‘hands free’. I tend to push- get as much done as possible instead of trusting God or the universe to let me know what is really important. I think we all want to fulfill our purpose and be responsible and use our talents. Lately I have started walking in the mornings focusing on gratitude and surrending to a higher power, all with deep breaths and a prayer for clarity. It seems to be helping me have more ‘hands free’ moments.

    • So true, Cheryl! I can definitely relate. And I agree – walking mindfully is an excellent, practical way to slow down and focus. The hardest part for me is just getting out the door, but thanks to your comment, I’m going to take a break in half an hour and head out. Thank you! 🙂

  5. Joy Margaret says:

    What keeps me from going hands-free? For me it is easier to do things and accomplish things in order to justify myself. I remember as a kid hearing my dad regularly saying, “What are you going to do today to justify your existence?” I love my dad, but that message is not at all a hands-free message. It is a message that I have struggled with for a long time. Will I be loved if I just am? Or am I treasured, valued and loved because of what I DO? The ability to sit still and behold beauty is something that I work on being able to do. Is it a goal? No, that is the doing in me coming out again. What is the hands-free version of a goal?
    I have always been a care-taker, my whole life. I have a husband, 9 year old twins and a 5 year old kindergartener. My (divorced)parents are getting older and need more support, especially my father who is blind and recently lost his wife after a long battle with cancer.
    My greatest challenge is to feel worthy and loved unconditionally without feeling that is solely based on how many things I can cross off my to-do list, how many great meals I set in front of my family and friends and so much more…I think that I even have caught glimpses of how it feels to have one hand free. Sometimes, it is just about making baby steps in the “right” direction.

    • Joy, that’s beautiful … thank you so much for being courageous and sharing your story here. I can certainly empathize with the need to justify my existence — I’m just beginning to learn a new way. And your words encourage me to keep making my own baby steps. Thank you, sister!

  6. Beautiful Caroline, I love this post! I could relate to it so much. How often do I turn my back on what matters? Too often. But it is in the deliberate pauses that I turn toward what fulfills my heart, mind, & soul. You are a remarkable writer with such deep insight. I am honored to be mentioned in this beautiful post.

    PS I am a cat lover so Bootsie totally stole my heart!

    • Rachel, I’m thrilled to hear that! Thank you. And I will be writing this down and placing it somewhere I can see it often: “It is in the deliberate pauses that I turn toward what fulfills my heart, mind, & soul.” So well said, and so true.

  7. Hi there Caroline. I so resonate with this post. So often I try to cut corners, be frugal, sensible, productive. I’m learning to let go. Thank you!

    • Carly, thank you — I’m glad to share the journey with you. Have just discovered your blog, and am enjoying it tremendously. The “Leaving Church, but Not Really” post definitely resonated with me. Write on, sister!

  8. kris pack says:

    Thank you for this post. Really helps my perspective on Christmas and the commercialism of it – and why not go overboard for Christ? He did for me. – Thanks!

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