It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest,
Eating the bread of anxious toil;
For God gives sleep to his beloved.
Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?
Jesus – Matthew 6:26
There’s a remarkable Benedictine retreat center outside the small town of Schuyler, Nebraska. I’m writing this from there while watching the shadows lengthen on this late afternoon in late June. This is a beautiful place and I come here three times a year…partly to address the tyranny of time….and work.
Time and work aren’t the same thing, of course, but they are intimately related with each other. Often they get tied up together in ways that make them difficult to separate.
I’m sure I’m like many of you when I confess that among the attitudes and perspectives I’ve inherited from others are deeply ingrained attitudes about the centrality of work. Mom and Dad….the Protestant church…North American culture (at least the part of it that helped form me) have all conspired to tell me that work is an essential part of who I am….that without work…..maybe I’m nothing and nobody.
Certainly work is a good thing, but I’m pretty sure it’s NOT the only thing…or even the main thing. But there’s something deep within me…an insistent little voice that whispers to the contrary. To put it bluntly…when I’m not working I often feel guilty.
Among the counter-cultural values to which the Gospel of Christ witnesses is an affirmation that being is more important than doing. Few of us would dispute this…but fewer of us have made sufficient peace with this truth that it has clearly and unambiguously come to characterize our living. I know for sure that I’ve not arrived at that place of grace and peace. That’s largely why I spent regular time with a spiritual director and why I leave the office for several days three times a year and pray with a small community of monks in the middle of an eastern Nebraska cornfield. For me, at least, it’s important to regularly face my idolatrous commitment to work and call on God to help me keep it in its proper place.
How is your being/doing balance? Do you play enough to keep work in its rightful place? Is there enough laughter and silliness in your day so that you aren’t overrun by the seriousness of your call? Do you get the right amount of sleep…not too much….not too little? Obviously we are called to be with people….are you sufficiently away from people so that your presence with them is gracious and undivided? What about Sabbath? Does it occupy more than just a symbolic place in your life?
The Apostle once famously asserted, “It is by grace that you are saved, by faith. This is God’s gift and it isn’t a matter of work….lest anyone slip into boasting.”
In a day when church has lost its esteemed place of cultural deference (remember…it’s 2014: Even if your building is on the town square, in terms of influence you’re on some hardly known back road), maybe it’s time for us to take up a few seemingly lost causes and proclaim them as central to the Gospel. Maybe one of those central affirmations should be an ongoing critique of the idolatry of work…and maybe the critique needs to start in our own lives.
With great hope!