As human beings, we’re often really bad at picking up signals. The stereotype is this is a guy thing, where men can’t recognize even the most obvious hints, but I think it goes beyond just men. We’re all pretty bad at taking the hint and following it.
History is full of examples supporting this, and even our daily lives reveal the issue. We see this particularly in regards to our current culture and the idea of rest. Our society so strongly promotes nonstop work and effort, a powerful drive to achieve something great to attain fame, fortune, success or whatever else it is you seek. Rest is for the lazy, the week, those lacking passion.
Often we don’t even think about it in such harsh terms. We don’t consciously look down on rest; we just don’t allow it for ourselves. Sometimes this is our own personal choice based on our drive. Other times it’s more of a passive choice that comes in a chosen profession that demands far more than a healthy amount of time and commitment. Either way, we push through because we have goals to achieve and we enjoy the chase. What we neglect to notice is the price we pay.
This realization hit me about six weeks ago. My job required consistent work schedules spanning 60 hours or more per week covering all seven days. From September through May, the number of days with which I could fully disengage and not have some sort of responsibility to be at work or conduct work from home rested probably in the single digits. I regularly joked that I would lose track of which day it was because I would have something like 30 consecutive days spending at least some time at the office. And I just shrugged it off as the price of doing something I enjoyed.
But more recently I felt the toll it had taken. When my uncle passed away suddenly in an accident, my work requirements prevented me from being with my family. Back-to-back work weeks of approximately 80 hours followed the night I received the news of his passing. I had to be there; there was nothing I could do. Even when I finally could make it up to be with family for the funeral on a Sunday afternoon, I had to come straight from setting up for a baseball game and ensuring everything could run smoothly without me there. Following the funeral my family gathered together with close friends for dinner and fellowship; I sat in the corner of a room upstairs because I had two hours of work that could not wait.
Needless to say, that was an emotionally draining day (and two weeks). But sure enough the next day again started the seven-day work week cycle. No time to rest; no time to recover. And it wasn’t until then I remembered something so simple and so obvious, something I’d learned time and again growing up in Sunday School: “By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. And God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done” (Genesis 2:2-3, NIV).
Mind blown. It finally hit me the importance of rest. Not long after that I saw a blog post from stewardship.com on that subject: “We’re created in the image of God – and He intentionally designed and practiced rest. There’s a reason He took a break from work and made that rest day holy. He knew rest mattered; it provided a chance to enjoy creation. That’s why He created the Sabbath. Taking our foot off the gas pedal gives us a chance to clear our heads and concentrate on what truly matters: Him.”
This moment of clarity also brought to mind Jesus’ words in Mark 2:27: “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” We have a day each week in our calendars designed to give us rest. While some celebrate that on Sunday, others Saturday, and still others who have less conventional work schedules on any other day they choose, it’s vital to our continued strength and sanity.
It’s not healthy to lose track of the days in the week because you never get rest. It’s not healthy to miss some of the most important and meaningful family fellowship time because work can’t wait. It’s not healthy to keep pushing and pushing on a schedule that is breaking you down emotionally and physically.
We miss out on the subtle signs until they’re not so subtle anymore. Somehow I’d never made the connection of the importance of regular rest despite knowing the story of God resting all my life. My job was truly of the nature where I was never “off the clock.” So much had to be done at the most random hours and from the most random locations, I could never just “leave work and go home.” My work was at home, and everywhere else. It literally ruled my life, with everything else coming in a distant second, even if that was never my desire or intention.
While I will always have a work ethic that strives be the best I can and provide above-and-beyond-caliber production to my employers, going forward I will remember Genesis 2:2-3. And the truth is rest makes us far more efficient in our work, as it allows us to recover and prepare for the next work cycle. But in our culture today it is so easy to lose sight of this and feel like rest is a luxury we can’t afford. It may seem that way for a while, but eventually it catches up.
See the signals; don’t ignore them. What do we truly accomplish if we work so hard to achieve something we never have a chance to appreciate what we’ve achieved? God saw that his creation was good, and he took the time to enjoy it. It’s time we do the same.