Work, Rest, Body and Soul
I am pretty conscientious about productivity. I think this all goes back to when I took my first ministry “job” out of college. I was responsible for a K-12 school music program, a couple dozen piano lessons, the church’s worship music, and other things that come with working at a church. School was 5 days a week, and church had 3 services per week—it works out to 6 days of vocational work, plus the non-vocational work of life. I don’t know if I was busier than other people or not, but honestly I find those kinds of comparisons unhelpful. I just know it felt like a lot. My college Daytimer calendar no longer seemed adequate to manage life. Panicked, I called one of my college professors who led me to my first real life planner—a Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People setup. This began my serious relationship with productivity.
My first impulse when I think about time is that “time is running out, so let’s get going.” For whatever reason I gravitate towards the topic of productivity. I’m a sucker for any book, podcast, system, planner or app that has to do with managing time, energy, or resources. I’m also afflicted with preferring my work to be as perfect as possible.
This complicated mixture of circumstances, personality and weakness (that perfectionism thing isn’t good) all leads to a person pretty obsessed with Getting Things Done. Yes, I’ve read that book by David Allen too and a bunch of others. Productivity is good, but it can be a real problem. For instance, I discovered a couple years pre-COVID that I was really having to push myself through my work. “Time to make the donuts” became my mantra. “What happened to my motivation?” I would ask. When COVID came, and created some space in my life that wasn’t there before, I literally felt like I could breathe. Like many people, we took walks. We sat and talked. We actually saw trees, and the sky, and birds.
Slowing down caused me to become aware of things in my heart. When we never rest, we ignore stuff. We shove things down—things like anxiety, worry, anger, frustration, ingratitude. Who has time to deal with that? We just push through. In ignoring all that bad stuff, we also end up rushing past joys & blessings. We just don’t notice them—there’s too much to get done! Any kind of celebration or thanks for God’s good gifts is pretty much limited to our token “Father, thank you for this day and for this food.” Being thankful to God or people can be pretty rare, if we never take time to stop.
How we handle work and rest will have an effect on our bodies and souls. Sorting out the complexity of work, rest, and our hearts is really difficult. There are so many factors that contribute to being too busy, never stopping, and having a restless mind and heart. I’ve often blamed the schedule or the “ministry” of which I am a part. It is necessary to evaluate our jobs and our lifestyles to figure out what is hurting us. But I have to admit this is also a spiritual battle—we all have hearts that are deeply complex and broken (Prov. 20:5). I have discovered this: the way I think about work and rest affects my body and my soul.
When Jesus calls us to himself, isn’t it noteworthy that he calls people who “labor and are heavy laden” and offers them “rest”? We need to figure out what it is in our lives that is crowding out the rest of body and soul that Jesus is calling us to. The Bible is pretty clear that work is a good gift of God and that laziness is sinful. It’s also true that rest, worship, and enjoying God and His gifts are part of God’s design for us. In fact, the very first full day of the very first two human beings on the planet was a day of rest and worship.
During 2020, I really began working on considering the spiritual rhythms and habits of my life that would push me towards God and others in spiritually healthy ways. Things like more regular shorter times of prayer or thanks, setting up boundaries in regards to media input, and working to stop working one day out of seven. This is a work in progress. These practices are not some magic formula that fixes everything. But these rhythms are spiritual disciplines. They come out of principles and wisdom repeated in the Bible time and again (if we would notice). We ignore them to the detriment of our bodies and souls. When God says “Be still,” we need to consider what that means practically in our lives.
Recently the deacons of our church approved an 8 week sabbatical for me. A couple of years ago, they recognized that the rhythm of sabbatical in pastors’ lives would benefit the church, its pastors and their families. After 25 years of church and school ministry, I’m grateful to be able to have this time in the summer to rest and recalibrate. I’m praying that God would use it in my life to deepen my relationship with God and others. I also hope to understand more about the relationship between work and rest and how they affect my body and soul.