BY EMILY O'CONNOR, COMMUNICATIONS INTERN
“Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creation that he had done.” (Genesis 2:3)
“The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.” (Genesis 2:15)
Resting in God’s creation by cultivating His Kingdom on earth is to dwell with the Lord in His original temple. This calling is unchanging.
But brokenness tarnishes the Lord’s creation and our calling. Ironically, overworking and over-resting devastate God’s temple because they don’t fully grasp the implications of this call.
My overwork tendencies peaked during my second year at the Missouri School of Journalism. I reported on the state legislature for a city newspaper, and the fast tempo of the news industry hit me with harsh realities. I felt pressure to push through the pain and exhaustion because I had to keep reporting; I had to keep up with the people around me. If I didn’t meet my editor’s deadline or expectations, I wasn’t good enough.
This toxic combination of internal and external pressures turned my love for storytelling into backbreaking work. By the end of the semester, I hated reporting. I was rethinking my career as a journalist. My relationships were deteriorating, I dreaded going into the newsroom, and my work suffered from my burnout.
This is not what God intended when He called mankind to work, and I felt it in my bones. I couldn’t flourish; I couldn’t be present anymore; I couldn’t pay attention; I couldn’t love my people because there was simply nothing left.
One day that semester, when I thought I was keeping my head above water, my roommate told me I wasn’t myself anymore. And I lost it. I unloaded the pressures I felt on all sides -- my insecurities, my desire to be enough, and the need to keep up with everyone else to be successful. She gently told me that I was already enough. I didn’t have to carry my burdens alone. She invited me into rest.
Maybe you need that invitation, too.
It’s time to revisit our roots and determine the goodness of work, the goodness of true rest, and the richness of dwelling with God when we accept His invitation.
The Goodness of Work
God’s work was creation; He worked for six days to make the universe out of nothing. He acted as a craftsman building a house. On the seventh day, He stepped back from His creation, and seeing that it was good, decided to dwell inside; He rested.
Chris Shore, Grace Church’s executive pastor, identifies work as applying your energy, gifts, and talents to the thing God has given you to do to be productive in the world.
“I think being fruitful is being productive, playing your part in the world to bring about the results that can ultimately improve people’s lives,” Shore said. “That can be through business, through service. Obviously, it doesn’t have to be religiously focused.”
Shore recognized his calling to ministry from a young age, but he spent his first working years in his family business. He watched his grandfather, father, uncles, brothers, and cousins work together in the auto repair shop. He was undaunted by hard work.
“There was a culture of working hard,” Shore said. “You work hard, you work until the job is done, you do it right, you don’t cut corners. Those were all values. The thing is, I don’t know if I ever heard my dad or grandpa say those out loud, but it was just the culture.”
These gritty values taken from a family-owned auto repair shop translated into some of Shore’s main values as a leader of Grace Church.
“Just like in a family business, there’s always more work to do,” Shore said. “You can’t give up when things get tough, and things are tough sometimes.”
Despite the values Shore gleaned from his family’s business, he also saw the consequences of overworking. A store that was open seven days a week, year-round, from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. could have been a contributing factor to his parents’ divorce, Shore said. And this workaholism permeates our culture today.
The goodness in work is that it gives purpose, calling, and identity. But at some point, it’s difficult to disengage.
People desire to be the best, to be excellent, to produce more, and to make more money; they’re addicted to the gain, Shore said. But there are probably internal motivations as well, such as finding a sense of worth based on output rather than an identity as a beloved child of God.
“I see a lot of people who are not good about their day off, they’re not good at their vacation, and they’re not good about exercise,” Shore said. “In the long run, it’s going to affect you physically, emotionally, and, I believe, spiritually.”
Overwork can increase risk of heart attack and stroke, according to a December 2015 article from the Harvard Medical School. This could be due to an increase of the stress hormone, cortisol, or that people who work more generally lead unhealthy lifestyles, with less exercise, worse diets, and a higher consumption of alcohol and tobacco.
And this isn’t just Western culture. Japan has lost so many people to working harsh hours that it created a word for it, karoshi, which means death due to overwork. Families can receive compensation if the cause of death is a fatal occupational disease created by a heavy workload. Last week the New York Times reported on karoshi in Japan.
Shore said he avoids burnout by religiously guarding his rest, unless it’s a crisis, and exercising. This discipline produces health both for Shore and his family.
“I don’t know if it’s a surrender and trust thing, to be able to say, ‘If I don’t do that until tomorrow morning, I think God will be okay with it,’” Shore said.
One of the most underestimated parts of the Sabbath, Shore said, is gathering together to worship. Reorienting a focus on God and building a relationship with Him should be part of our every day, but we can barely make time for it once a week.
“There’s a reason, I believe, that Genesis establishes the rhythm of six days of work and one day of rest, and that Sabbath includes a focus on God,” Shore said. “I think that’s a big part of rest that people overlook.”
The Goodness of Rest
A January 2016 article from Motherboard, a branch of Vice News that covers science and technology, opened with a challenge that “a modern day Genesis would probably look something like this: ‘Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and on the seventh day, God binge-watched Netflix.’”
I don’t think author Meghan Neal was too far off.
I tend to think of rest as vegging on the couch, watching TV for a few hours. But this is not what God intended when He said that He rested on the seventh day of creation.
Tim Ayers, teaching pastor at Grace Church, said there is no evidence that God ever stopped resting from that seventh day, which seems bizarre when we use our definition of rest. But to God, rest means entering His creation, making His house a home. There is still work to be done, but it is a different kind of work.
“When the Jews entered the Promised Land, it was called entering into the rest of God,” Ayers said. “But they had a lot of work to do.”
When we enter God’s rest with Him, we feel relief from the hard labor of figuring out how to please God, how to reach Him, how to have a relationship with Him. All the emptiness and suffering of life without Him ends, and we enter a new dimension of life that is His rest.
Mother Teresa is one of the hardest working humans in history. She devoted herself to caring for the poor, the unloved, the ostracized. She opened clinics and founded international charities. She entered God’s rest by working for His Kingdom. And yet, even Mother Teresa utilized silence and prayer, because our human bodies need that kind of rest, too.
“We need to find God, and He cannot be found in the noise and the restlessness. God is the friend of silence,” Mother Teresa said. “See how nature – trees, flowers, grass – grows in silence; see the stars, the moon, and the sun, how they move in silence… We need silence to be able to touch souls.”
Working for God’s Kingdom means entering His rest, but we understand that humans need to rest mentally and physically. Neurological studies show that our brains thrive on rest, according to an October 2013 article from Scientific American magazine.
“Downtime replenishes the brain’s stores of attention and motivation, encourages productivity and creativity, and is essential to both achieve our highest levels of performance and simply form stable memories in everyday life,” writes author Ferris Jabr.
Downtime affirms our identities and internal code of ethics and cements our memories, Jabr said. Our minds go deeper, introspect, problem solve, develop dreams for the future, and cultivate a sense of self.
A February 2002 study from the Scientific American found that watching TV causes people to feel relaxed and passive; it decreases mental stimulation, which, of course, is the appeal. However, the sense of relaxation immediately ends when the TV turns off. We’re left with the same feelings of passivity and lowered alertness. Ultimately, when we turn off the TV, our moods are about the same or worse than before.
To contrast, reading stimulates the brain in a different way and shows improvements in mood, which is exactly what the brain needs. Matthew Edlund, a rest and regeneration expert at the Center for Circadian Medicine, told Motherboard that the body rebuilds itself best when it varies activities, and we should engage our brains elsewhere when we’re looking to rejuvenate, rather than try to “turn it off.”
The true meaning of rest is akin to a shift of tone or focus in life. It is disengaging from what we do all day, every day and engaging in something different. For some people, this still involves exertion – hiking, climbing a mountain, cycling, running, swimming.
More and more people seek meditation and breathing exercises to find rest.
Shalin Desai, a meditation instructor at Art of Living Indianapolis, first started meditation when he was 16 years old. He realized that when he practiced every day, he was able to focus more. Twenty years later, he travels all over the country teaching meditation workshops.
“It is such a beautiful thing,” Desai said. “I don’t want to keep it to myself.”
In a culture that is driven by the pursuit of happiness, we believe that once we get what we want, we’ll live happily ever after. But it doesn’t always work that way. Desai said it is a skill and an art to keep the mind pleasant, and of course, it takes practice.
“Brushing your teeth is dental hygiene, and showering is bodily hygiene,” Desai said. “Meditation and breathing is mental hygiene. We pay less attention to mental hygiene. We keep running all day and don’t know the toll is takes.”
The Art of Living Indianapolis’ classes center around breathing and meditation techniques.
“All religions and languages and everyone can practice meditation and do breathing,” Desai said. “We all breathe.”
God presented Himself to Moses in Exodus 3 as “YHWH,” which means, “The Lord” in Hebrew. We normally see this name spelled as “Yahweh” for pronunciation’s sake. But to pronounce the original name, “YHWH,” is to breathe. God’s name is breath; His name is life, and His name is rest.
The Bible never tells us that God stopped resting. He shifted His focus from building a house to creating a home. And He has never stopped making His house a home. In fact, He invites us into this rest with Him.
When we meet God where He is working, when we make this creation a dwelling place for God, obeying the command to go out and heal the broken places of the world, we enter God’s rest. God’s rest is only a different kind of work, one with purpose and satisfaction and a greater story.
Entering God’s rest by working to heal the broken places of the world is to dwell with God. But we must hold our human limitations humbly, understanding that we require physical rest and rejuvenation to offer the best of ourselves for His Kingdom.