Ancient Wisdom for Modern Times: work and rest

Ancient Wisdom for Modern Times explores ideas and principles found in the Christian faith and applies them to our everyday lives.

One of the apparent markers of emerging from the chrysalis of childhood and into functioning as a fully-fledged adult is the mastery of the work/life balance. Dedicating enough time to work without it taking over your life and, once work has ceased, having enough ‘life’ so work is not the be all and end all. But what if this distinction misses the mark?

Where our differentiation of time into ‘work’ and ‘life’ falls short is that it makes a category error. We categorise our degrees and part time jobs as ‘work’ and everything else as ‘life’. But so much of our ‘life’ time is spent working. Going shopping, cooking, washing up, cleaning, and doing the laundry all fall into the ‘life’ category but they are all ‘work’.

Also, given the nature of student life and the current pandemic, the demarcation between work and life is not that straightforward. The place where you eat, sleep, and socialise is the place where you work as well. If your compulsory contact hours are on the lower end of the scale, when you work is very much up to you as well. The place and time of ‘work’ colonises the place and time of ‘life’.

Combine all of these with a fear of failure driven by an expensive degree, parental expectations, and an uncertain job market, and the net result is that ‘work’ seems to occupy every waking hour. We say no to social events because we have essays due but then sit at home watching Netflix because we need a break. Though our need to relax is one we indulge, the spectre of work means it is never as relaxing as we would like. The need to work overrides our need for a ‘life’; our need for a ‘life’ interferes with our need to work. It would seem much of our time is spent either working or sitting at home (our place of work) feeling guilty about the fact we are not working.

The Bible has something to say to our overworked and weary bodies. It does not talk so much about a work/life balance as much it does a work/rest balance. In Christian thinking, rest is more than just the cessation of work. Work is exerting, challenging, and draining. Rest is recuperating, rejuvenating, and reenergising. Whereas cleaning the bathroom counts as ‘life’ in the work/life balance it counts (as it should) as ‘work’ in the work/rest balance.

Without rest, we get caught in a negative feedback loop where we work longer in attempt to get our work done but, as we are not well rested, we work inefficiently and fall behind so we work longer to get the work done and so on. Numerous studies show that well-rested workers are more productive and, most crucially, happier. Just working more is not the solution for our over-caffeinated consciences, rest is.

This is especially true during Covid-19 times. As each further lockdown and the overwhelming sense of uncertainty drains our energy and emotional resilience, our capacity to work is diminished. Ploughing on through without recharging our batteries is a recipe for disaster.

The Bible does not challenge us to ask, ‘how is my work/life balance?’ but ‘am I well rested?’ Resting does not stop at downing tools but extends to doing things you find enjoyable and life-giving without worrying about your next assignment; safe in the knowledge that resting will make time spent working more productive and will ultimately make us more content.

In amongst the spiral of work, loneliness, and poor mental health, perhaps taking heed of the Bible’s call to rest would do us some good. Despite knowing nothing of our 21st century life, it still has wisdom to share with us.



Image: Wendy van Zyl via Pexels

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