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Work hard and rest easy

February 11, 2020 by Eric Stillman 0 comments

During January and February, I will be using this space to interact with the ideas put forward in David Zahl’s book Seculosity: How career, parenting, technology, food, politics, and romance became our new religion and what to do about it. Chapter 5 is entitled “The seculosity of work.”

I think that one of the most humorous things in the Bible is that the all-powerful, holy and mighty God of the universe, after creating the world, rested on day seven. Was He really worn out from shaping all those llamas and aardvarks and mountains and stars and oceans? Or was there another reason behind that act?

God references this very act of resting on the seventh day in the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20, when he commands the Israelites to rest from their labor every seventh day as a Sabbath day to the Lord. God tells them that His purpose in resting on day seven was not because He was tired, but to set an example for them to follow. I find it incredible that among God’s top directives for us is the rule of rest – take a break, for God’s sake. You would think that would be an easy one for us to follow, no?

Despite this benevolent command, it has become increasingly clear that we live in a world that makes it hard to stop working. Yes, this is partly due to the fact that technology has blurred the lines between work and home, making us accessible to our bosses or clients or the demands of our job wherever we go. But there is also something deeper going on for many of us. As David Zahl points out in Seculosity, Americans are the world leaders in untaken vacation days, a dubious honor if there ever was one. In fact, I would bet that most of us have experienced that coworker (or been that coworker) who comes in bravely to work despite having an obvious cold or flu-like symptoms. We simply have a hard time taking that much-needed break.

So what is really going on?

One reason for our national workaholism is that we have located our self-worth, our “enoughness,” in what we produce. We belong to the cult of productivity, worshiping the god of success. Too many of us find our identity in what we do for a living, looking to results and reviews and promotions to justify our existence. As a result, we anxiously climb the ladder, chasing the ever-rising bar of success, much like a religious person who believes that he must earn his way to heaven by his good works.

The truth is that God gave us the Sabbath to remind us that we are not God, nor will we ever find our salvation in what we do. When we stop and rest in His love and grace, we are reminded that we are enough not because of what we have produced, but because in our failure, He found us worth enough to die for. Trusting in His approval of me frees me from the need to gain my ultimate approval from my boss, my clients, or the watching crowd. When I know that I already have the love and acceptance that my soul needs, then I can work hard (and rest well) – not to earn my self-worth, but to honor the true Boss who has declared me to be worthy enough to die for.

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