Work-Rest Balance


The Word of the Lord spells out the instructions for keeping the Sabbath rather plainly in Deuteronomy. No one is to do any work on that one day of the week. They are to rest from the daily work they participate in and take time to rest. Why is this such a hard command? Shouldnt it be easy to take a break from our obligations? Something that was created so good has been affected by the Fall in such a way that it is very difficult for us to determine what rest looks like.

Throughout my life, the Sabbath is something that has become less-strictly upheld. In my childhood, we werent allowed to go to any restaurants or to do any shopping on Sundays, because that was requiring others to work. The small town I was born in only had a handful of restaurants in general and even fewer of those were open on Sundays.

The model of a day of rest that my parents provided was that we would go to church in the morning, host a bunch of college students for lunch, then nap or read or play outside in the afternoon. Then we had evening church (which was more casual – we were even allowed to wear jeans), and we would run around playing games with the other kids afterward.

Honestly, I think this was a good model for how to spend a day of rest. We worshiped, served, rested, and generally just enjoyed a break from the normal bustle of life.

As I have grown older, keeping the Sabbath has become more and more difficult. It is hard not to think of it in terms of what I can and cannot do, as I would prefer to think of my day of rest as a day when I have freedom to not be concerned with the worries of the other six days of the week. Many Sunday afternoons of my life are now spent at a coffee shop doing some reading.

I actually think that, as a Fellow, Sundays are much less of our day of rest. We are going about the church, doing good things and serving the body, but these are also commitments that we have that require a lot of time and energy. Really I think that Saturdays are my Sabbath now. They provide time when I do not have obligations to fulfill and I can really spend some time doing what I want and what fills me with life.

My Saturdays are an intentional break from the normal things of life, and for me this break and rest often takes on a social form. I think this varies person to person, even within a group what is restful for me may not be restful for another person. I feel most full of life when I am spending time with my host family or wandering around the National Mall with friends or enjoying a college football game. These are life and rest-giving things for me.

They are a break from the good but constant business of my work. Honestly I have grown to realize that this day of rest is something I need. Without it, other parts of my life suffer. A weekend as wonderful as a retreat that is packed full of activities can leave me feeling hurried and a bit restless for the rest of the week.

I have come to realize how incredibly important a day of rest is. God created us in such a way that we need breaks from our omnipresent checklist of obligations. I see this play out dramatically in my life. In a week where I do not get a day or at least a few hours to do activities that are restful to me, this is reflected in the rest of my week. In the same way, though, if I do get that day of rest, the other 6 days of my week are much more enjoyable.

This is evident in my work. In the past, I worked at a restaurant and absolutely loved it. My coworkers were like family, it was a place I liked to be. However, there was a whole month where I was there every single day working except for three days. This started to affect even my sleep, as I began having stress dreams related to my work. While I loved my job there, my body mind and soul could not maintain this lifestyle of no days off.

This lifestyle is a temptation of our society, especially here in Washington, D.C. The culture in this city is to be a workaholic, and it is very easy to drink that Kool-Aid. There are thousands of driven, high school class president types here who set the tone of a lifestyle full of long hours where your work is your life. This work-hard ethic is a good thing. But it is also something that has been affected by the Fall.

I definitely see this in my office here. As an intern, I have a set number of hours that I come in to the office. Even though I have set hours and everyone knows it, I still feel guilty when Im leaving the office before anyone else. The majority, if not all, of my coworkers are in the office for long hours. This is very much a culture in my workplace that I feel bad about breaking, even though it is what I am supposed to do.

Work is a part of life. We were created pre-Fall to be workers advancing the Kingdom. The Fall has warped our idea of work, making it an idol to society. The Creator knows his Creation, though, and knew that we would need to be told to stop and rest in Him for our own well-being. And so our good God gave us the gift of the Sabbath.

image: freeimages/Gerd Marstedt

This entry was posted in Biblical Reflections, Deuteronomy 5, On Vocation, Sabbath and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.