Redemptive Inefficiency and Tea

Some friends of mine run a great non-profit in Austin, Texas, working with post-traditional students to earn a college degree. They wrote an article that’s been rattling around in my brain for a while now, not only because it so accurately describes them and the work they do, but especially because of this quote:

We get less done to be sure, but being redemptively inefficient is the sort of people we hope to be.

That phrase, redemptively inefficient, that’s what won’t leave me. and I was reminded of it last night when I ran across an op-ed from last November:

That’s what Socrates (or Thamus) means when he deprecates the written word: It gives us an out. It creates the illusion that we can remain informed, and connected, even as we are spared the burdens of attentiveness, presence of mind and memory. That may seem quaint today. But how many of our personal, professional or national problems might be solved if we desisted from depending on shortcuts?

Stephens is challenging the inherent goodness (or at least neutrality) we place on technology that makes us more connected, more effective, more efficient. But at what cost?

My days right now consist of mainly two things: books and coffees. Either I’m in the library reading (and writing), or I’m meeting up with people for chats over coffee. As an undergraduate student, I was always seeking the efficiency route. Could I split work between classmates, or read a summary of the book? I’d do it. I figured I would actually do my learning in the lectures, so any outside work is just a have-to-do activity. But in studying the Bible, I have found those shortcuts aren’t actually teaching me much. My preference might be for the a commentary or devotional that synthesizes things for me— and those can be helpful resources. But there’s something redemptively inefficient about taking a Bible without notes or aids and studying it on my own first. Plenty of those aids are written by very wise, godly people, some of who I have even had the chance to know personally. But they’re not the inspired Word of God— they’re words about the Word. It takes more time. It means I work on essays for twice as long as I potentially would have to if I went to the commentaries first. But in that inefficiency, I find God’s self-revelation, his redemptive plan for the world. And it’s worth the time I don’t want to spend.

Chats over coffee take up the majority of my outside-the-library time these days. When I meet up with students I look after at church, I have had to learn (the hard way!) that I usually can’t schedule them back-to-back. For some people, I think this works. They are good at sticking to a routinized schedule, spending 10 minutes chatting, 45 minutes in Scripture, and 5 minutes praying. An hour, in and out. Or, 10 minutes chat, 15 minutes describing their problem, 25 minutes working through the problem together, 10 minutes prayer. I used to schedule things like that. I’d order a flat white, and by the time I reached the bottom of it, it was pretty much times up. But what I’ve found more with the girls I meet with is that sometimes, inefficiency is what they need. They need someone to listen to them. People are people— we all crave being seen, known, and loved. And all those things are inefficient. So I’ve started to do something else: I order a pot of tea. Not only is it usually cheaper (always a win on a ministry budget), but it gives me time. You have to wait for the tea to actually brew once the pot is on your table. You have to wait for it to cool to a drinkable temperature. And once you finish a cup, you’ve got more to go.

It’s easy to like a person’s Facebook post or write “praying!!” in a text reply to a prayer request. It’s hard to sit with someone in their pain, knowing you can’t take it away. It’s quick to retweet a quote or article on Twitter that resonates with someone. It’s slow to spend weeks, months, years intentionally investing in relationships and getting to know someone’s heart. It’s efficient to send a heart emoji in reply to someone’s Instagram stories; it’s inefficient to demonstrate real love to someone day in, day out, especially when love ebbes and flows.

The harder thing is worth it. The additional time I spend wrestling with Scripture is worthwhile for my spiritual growth. Getting the pot of tea instead of a flat white is worth it with a girl who is wrestling with the issues of life and need someone to see and know and love her. Those things need nothing but time. Redemptively inefficient time. And usually a pot of tea.