Every good thing becomes a bad thing when it becomes the ultimate thing in our lives. That is true of anything we use to replace God as our supreme treasure. And so, for many, our job becomes that — it becomes the ultimate thing. Career is where so many in this world will turn to find their ultimate identity. We are back one more time with Bruce Hindmarsh, a historian and the James M. Houston Professor of Spiritual Theology at Regent College in Vancouver.
So talk to us about battling this tendency. Work requires much of our lives, and it can claim all of our lives unless we set boundaries. So we have Sabbath — one day of rest each week. It’s built into the created order, and it helps keep labor in its place. In a recent interview, you said something that caught my attention. You said, “Sabbath is not pixie dust you sprinkle over six days of workaholism.” So explain this. How does one day of rest influence how we work Monday to Friday?
I think Sabbath is a reminder that we receive our work as a gift. We tend to see the world as it is so constituted. We are motivated by either fear or greed. It is a sense of scarcity and a sense of anxiety that pervades people’s work. And there are all sorts of things written about the movement towards “total work” and an environment of “total work.”
Entitled to Rest
Sabbath recalls us not that, now that we have done enough work, we are entitled to rest. It reminds us that we actually begin with rest. We begin with what God has done. Sabbath looks back to God’s creation as a good gift from a good God in which it has been given. God has rested from what he has made, and we receive our very life again as a gift. We didn’t have to be here. God made the world for us. God made us for the world, and we receive that as a gift. Therefore we receive work itself as a gift. Work is a response to vocation, to calling. It is a gift.
It is an anticipation of our heavenly rest. It is a reminder that God is at work, God is bringing shalom and we remember that there remains rest for the people of God (Hebrews 4:9), that God’s salvation is already redeeming the broken world. And so we can go into our week without the same sense of work as a matter of anxiety. We can receive our work as actually a gift, a chance to offer up the work of our hands to a good God who has already done everything and gives us the opportunity, then, to share with him in the work of preserving, sustaining, and redeeming the world he has made.
Just Enough Time
Very good. Of course, that reference to “total work” is from Josef Pieper’s book Leisure. So essentially, Bruce, if I understand you, what you’re saying is that one day of rest does not sanctify a week of unhealthy work habits.
Yeah, absolutely. Sabbath is not magic. Sabbath does not sanctify workaholism. There is a difference between feasting and fasting, indulgence and remorse. It is not a matter of, “I live really, really badly, and then I try to do something that makes up for it.” Sabbath is where we live. That is where we live out of. That is our identity. And actually, it should chasten us so that there is a little bit of Sabbath in every day. There is a sense that every day we are able to work out of a different kind of center.
So busyness is moral laziness, frankly. It is a kind of laziness. And we decided many, many years ago, my wife and I, that we would never ever say to anybody “I am busy” or “I am too busy” or “I can’t do that because I am busy” — that this excuse was simply morally lazy and inattentive to people. And it just often makes a statement of self-importance. “I am so important; I am so busy.” But God has given us just enough time to do what we need to do moment by moment to respond to him. And his grace is there; it is eternally present. Every moment is a sacrament where time touches eternity, and there is exactly enough time to do what God has called us to do.