Work, Work, Work, Work! Is that all there is?

Child's drawing of working parents

My own drawing from about 50 years ago!

I created this post with a brief description of the topic on August 22, 2014, and in spite of being the one I wanted to write next, it sat until September 7, 2015 before I started drafting the post. Why? Other work got in the way!

It’s ironic to complain I was too busy with other work to do the work I really wanted to do, when the bigger issue is that some Christian leaders can be such workaholics that they aren’t living the life they were created to enjoy. It’s easy to be so busy with ministry – what with all that could be done, should be done, ought to be done – that life outside of work becomes only a pale imitation of the rich, satisfying life God meant us to have. This is doubly ironic because the whole point of Christian ministry is to help others enjoy the very life that Christian workaholics miss out on!

My confession

I am the ‘artist’ (I use the word loosely!) who drew the drawing up above about 50 years ago.

I am astonished by this picture. How did a little boy like me get an adult idea like that?

My dad never brought work home. When I drew this picture, my mom had five little kids and she had a housekeeper. So the picture definitely isn’t related to my family! Maybe the teacher read a story to us and we drew a picture of it. I don’t know. But there it is: “Work-work-work-work. That’s all there is!”

Maybe God is using the child me to speak prophetically to the adult me!

I find my work not quite all-consuming, but also never far from my thoughts. If there is one thing I need to guard against, because I have a tendency towards it, it is workaholism.

I’m attracted to my work because:

  • My work is my call and I feel personal responsibility for stewarding it well
  • My job is fun and I really truly enjoy it
  • It adds great significance to my life and is very fulfilling
  • It gives me opportunity to use the gifts God blessed me with

But even so, I must not let work become my master, and neither must you.

The life God gives us

God created opportunity to work before the Fall, so work is actually something that is good. It is not part of the curse! It is a creative outlet for us. It allows us to participate with God in caring for his world. By giving us work to do (when he could it all himself), he shows he respects and even enjoys our ability to work and be creative.

But there is much more to life than our work. Think about it. God could have taken a minimalist approach to creation, putting into his creation only the bare essentials to sustain our lives. God could have created a completely utilitarian world. But then, what would we praise God for? A life of work so that we could live and work?

  • Why did God create colour? Why not just black and white, so that we could navigate without bumping into things?
  • Why did he make flowers and food smell so good? Do we really need the sense of smell? Or taste?
  • Why did God place a sense of rightness in us so that shapes we see in architecture or sculptures are pleasing to us?
  • Why did he give us a competitive spirit so that we enjoy sports? Why does a stretch feel so good?
  • What useful purpose do hobbies serve? And yet, they are so fun to do.
  • Why did God build a sense of fun into us anyway! What practical purpose does humour fill?
  • Why do we have such great appreciation for a good story, or a beautiful view?
  • Why did God make us capable of love, and not just commitment?

The fact is that God put so much extra beyond the necessities into his world and into us, that we could live multiple lifetimes and still not come close to experiencing all the goodness that God has created.

What do we praise God for? Not just for the utilitarian aspects of our world, and not just for the chance to work. We praise God for the many discoveries we make each and every day of the good things he created for us to discover and enjoy. We praise God for the small comforts and the magnificent, breath-taking wonders.

But we’ll never find and enjoy any of these beautiful, and exquisite parts of creation if we are workaholics. And that’s why God created the Sabbath rest. It forces us to slow down. Michael Packer wrote an excellent guest post, presenting a short biblical study of overworking, and some ideas for building Sabbath rest into our lives. I won’t repeat his great ideas here, so be sure to check them out!

We need to learn to do less work than we could, and create margin in our lives so that we have space to enjoy God’s world. God doesn’t want us to just work in his world; he wants us to live in it and enjoy his workmanship. Sabbath rest forces us to create margin. But if we ignore the Sabbath rest, we end up living overloaded lives.

Overload

Dr. Richard Swenson, in Margin: Restoring Emotional, Physical, Financial, and Time Reserves to Overloaded Lives, says that most people today are operating on overload, the disease of our time.

  • Overload is when you haven’t got time to finish the book you’re reading on stress (or in my case, on procrastination – which, by the way, I STILL haven’t read six years after I bought it!!)
  • Overload is when you feel you have given it your all and have no reserve left to draw on.

With our wireless devices, we are always on and always available. We are living in a state of continual stress that was unknown in previous times. Can you identify with overload? If so, it’s time to build margin into your life. Margin is the difference between your maximum ability in an area and the load you are currently bearing in that area. In Margin, Dr. Swenson writes about:

  1. Fourteen ways to restore emotional margin
  2. Twenty-four ways to restore physical margin
  3. Sixteen ways to restore time margin
  4. Sixteen ways to restore financial margin

They are all doable, and I highly recommend the book if you are suffering overload.

Download personal reflection guide

Download personal reflection guide

Living the life God wants you to live

First, get a proper perspective of yourself. You are not your work. You are a multi-faceted person with family, social, vocational, and recreational parts to your life. You are God’s child living in God’s beautiful world, who happens to have been called to do some particular work for God’s kingdom. Stop thinking of yourself as a pastor, executive director, fundraiser or whatever. Your work merely defines one of the many roles you have and is one of the many things that you do.

  • Think about who you are to your family, and who they need you to be for them. Make a list of all your roles in your church, community, etc. and make notes about how you can fulfill them well. Who would you be if you could not be any one of them? Jesus had time to visit people for dinner. He had time to be friends with Lazarus, Mary and Martha. Pursue your call, but don’t forget to live the other parts of your life too.
    • Does your work prevent you from fulfilling your God-designed relationships?
  • Make a list of all the interests and gifts God has given you.
    • While you may not be able to do all of them in every season of life, do you have the time to develop and use some of them?

What feeds your soul?

Feeding your soul is all about restoring yourself to wholeness and well-being. Christian spiritual practices are foundational for feeding your soul because they lead to intimacy with God, and thus meet your deepest needs. You must develop these.

Beyond the spiritual practices, how you feed your particular soul will be quite personal. For some it is surrounding yourself with nature. For others, it’s an inspiring book. You might like to soak in a warm bath, or take a weekend to explore some place you’ve never been before. Some may want to be much more active, hiking or playing baseball. Others may want to be much more communal, having dinner with friends or volunteering with a group.

Whatever you do, it will be something that to you is beauty, something that evokes praise and appreciation for God’s goodness for designing such experiences into your life. It will fill you with wonder and peace. It will leave you uplifted and more resilient.

For me, feeding my soul is about appreciating the beauty of God’s created world, particularly the visual and the aural. It’s about:

  • looking at the stars, flowers, art, and architecture
  • smelling roses, coffee, and morning dew
  • listening to music for lovely tunes, chordal progressions, and various tonalities of sound

Feeding my soul

One of the things I enjoy doing to feed my soul is to play music. I am blessed to have a very nice organ at home and I make good use of it. I find creating music restores my soul, is peaceful and relaxing, and adds beauty to my life. For those who are interested, here are a few videos to enjoy.

A bright, cheery, fun (and fast!) flute piece:

If you like the dramatic, and want  to see some fancy footwork on the pedals throughout the piece, this one is for you:

Here’s a boisterous toe-tapper that reminds me of a sailor’s hornpipe! It’s lively and loud.

And if you’d like something a bit quieter, here are five short flute pieces that are great for settling down and relaxing:

May God bless you and restore your soul, allowing you to experience the fullness of life in Christ, as you faithfully pursue his call through your work!

Please feel free to comment on how you feed your soul.

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