Efficiency is a tricky thing. Our market-driven, productivity-obsessed culture holds it as one of the most important virtues (along with autonomy, independence, and originality), and let’s face it: who among us is sitting around with too much free time? Not me, that’s for sure. I have to be efficient just to get the laundry done in between changing diapers, making meals, and wiping snotty noses (thanks, preschool!). If I were more efficient, maybe the living room floor wouldn’t have so many crumbs on it right now.
But it’s easy to fall into the trap of prizing efficiency as the highest good. It’s not. God doesn’t care much about efficiency, and I know this because He Himself is super inefficient.
Don’t believe me? Let’s consider the inefficiency of God.
In the first place: we exist. Creation itself is VASTLY inefficient. God is perfect and perfectly self-sufficient, so why create anything at all? We can add nothing to God’s perfect nature; He didn’t need us. As a Trinity of Persons, he’s even got community baked into his divine nature. All the angels, saints, sinners, and the whole material and immaterial universe: what a waste of time and effort. Very inefficient.
But hey, here we are, and the inefficiency doesn’t stop there! God decided to take millenia to even bring the human race around after kicking things off with a Big Bang–was that really necessary? After Adam and Eve finally show up on the scene, they have their big moment of bringing sin on our poor species, and then God waits ANOTHER few thousand years before sending Jesus Christ to fix things up, the slowpoke.
But beyond just taking his time, God has built inefficiencies into the system. For example, there’s the concept of the intercession of the saints. We Catholics believe that we can pray to our departed brothers and sisters in Christ in Heaven, asking them to intercede for us to the Father, the same way our friends here on earth can pray for us. But here’s the thing: how do the saints hear our prayers?
Well, it’s through the beatific vision. That is, the saints spend their time contemplating and worshiping God, and through this heavenly union with God, they receive information from Him who sees and knows everything.
So this is how it works: we pray to a saint to ask for his prayers. God is the messenger who relays our prayer to that saint. The saint then prays to God for us. And then God responds.
Talk about inefficient! It’s like giving a note addressed to your child, TO that child, to deliver to someone else, who has to give it back to him before he can read it. It’s almost nonsensical.
Actually, it IS nonsensical, until you think about why God might do things this way. It’s because He doesn’t value efficiency in itself. He values love. He values community. He values us, his beloved creation, and so helps us to find ways to depend on each other, to build each other up, and to participate actively and meaningfully in his divine plan of redemption.
Sure, He COULD do lots of things more efficiently, but instead He delights in involving us. He says, “Come join in this wonderful work with me!”
It’s like baking with a small child: you could make the muffins way faster by yourself, but they love scooping the flour and mixing the batter, and they are so proud of the muffins that they truly helped to make. You do it for your love of them. The relationship and the time together are more important than the lost ten minutes and the extra step of wiping down all the sticky surfaces.
Just like the generous Father he is, God chooses extravagant love over efficiency every time.
If our personal pursuit of efficiency comes at the expense of love or our relationships, then it’s not a good thing at all. There have been plenty of villains who were incredibly efficient, but they were still villains. “Getting things done” is only as good as whatever the “things” are.
Sure, sometimes efficiency is good–we are called to be stewards of creation and to use our resources wisely. But in those cases, efficiency is subordinate to a higher priority. Being efficient in our use of paper is in recognition of the importance of forests in our environment. Wasting money might endanger your family’s well-being if that money would be needed for food or rent. Efficiency isn’t an idol being served in these cases; it’s in service to a greater good.
Often the most important forms of love are seemingly inefficient: sweeping the same old kitchen floor over and over again to provide a clean house for your family. Visiting a nursing home. Praying a rosary with your children. Kneeling in front of the Eucharist. Putting your work aside to give a hug and a listening ear to someone who’s upset. The world calls these wastes of time; we know differently.
So if you’re frustrated today because it feels like you can’t get one simple task done around all of the interruptions and questions and snack requests, remember this: as long as you are acting in a spirit of love and service, you are doing your job perfectly. We are here for each other and for God, not for clean floors and big bank accounts. It doesn’t matter how long things take.
In fact, when it comes to love, the longer the better.