Sabbath in the 21st Century Workplace
Growing up, my dad left the house at 7:45 every morning on his way to work as an engineer. He took a lunch break at noon, sometimes coming home to eat lunch or sometimes grabbing a bite at a café. At 5:00, he left the office and was usually home around 5:15. I can probably count on my fingers the number of times he worked in the evenings or on weekends. Whatever was going on, work was generally confined to 8:00-5:00, Monday through Friday.
For many of us, 5:00 is no longer a hard-and-fast boundary between work time and family time. Our culture emphasizes a connection to work even when we’re not physically “at” work. We might check our email during the evening or try to catch up on the weekend. There is a pervasive ideology of busy-ness, where we fill our time with more than we can accomplish in the hours that we have. The result is the balance between work and other activities is harder for us to maintain than it might have been in previous generations.
You might not think God has much to say about when we leave work, but he cares a great deal about how we use our time. When we’re working, God does expect us to work hard (1 Thessalonians 5:14). But he also expects us to rest from that work. It’s really a question of balance.
Our Need for Sabbath
Isn’t it interesting that the first mention of work in the Bible is God resting from His work? Look at Genesis 2:1-3: “By the seventh day, God had finished the work He had been doing; so on the seventh day He rested from all his work.” God didn’t need to rest. He has infinite power, infinite time, infinite ability to get stuff accomplished. He couldn’t have been tired. So why rest? First, God shows us work is temporary. It’s easy to get so caught up in the busy-ness of our world that we lose track of what’s temporary and what’s eternal. Second, God sets an example for us. We don’t have the infinite reserves of energy He has. Taking time off can be beneficial, mentally and physically—God didn’t design your body to work every waking hour.
In 2012, Wright Thompson wrote an article for ESPN the Magazine about a coach who learned the hard way to balance work and non-work time. After the 2009 college football season, Florida coach Urban Meyer retired. He reached a breaking point, losing 35 pounds during the season because of the tremendous pressure of chasing success. His life was out of balance. He spent the next year reflecting on what was important. When Meyer came out of retirement to coach at Ohio State, his family wanted a promise he would maintain the balance they’d found together. So Meyer made a series of promises, some of which included:
“My family will always come first.”
“I will not go more than nine hours a day at the office.”
“I will sleep with my cellphone on silent.”
“I will trust God’s plan and not be overanxious.”
Could you make those same promises?
Time “On the Clock”: The Other Side of Balance
God calls us to a life of balancing work obligations and time away from those obligations. A big part of that is time worshipping Him and time with family and community. But in between those outside-of-work commitments, there’s an important point: God calls us to use our time at work wisely.
Sometimes, it’s daydreaming at your desk, taking a long lunch break, or having someone else clock you in early. Other times, it’s checking personal email accounts, Facebook, or YouTube. There are lots of things we can do in our work time that really have nothing to do with work. If you aren’t paid by the hour, maybe it’s a gray area as to whether those things are really wrong. But if someone was working for you, would you want them distracted at work?
Three Ideas for Maintaining Balance
So how do we maintain balance in our work and non-work time? Here are three steps that may help:
1. When you are worshiping God, serving others, or spending time with your family, be fully present in those activities. Perhaps that means leaving your cell phone in the other room. Maybe it warrants an out-of-office message on your email after hours. Whatever it takes, try to be fully engaged in each activity. There’s plenty of time for work later. Because…
2. When you are at work, shut out distractions. Resist the urge to daydream about an upcoming vacation. Stay off of personal social media. Just like you need to be fully present in other areas of your life during time that is not devoted to work, you need to be focused on work during work time.
3. Make time for relationships. There is more and more of an isolation that comes from busy-ness. How do you push back against that? When that friend comes to talk to you, listen without rushing the conversation. When you focus on relationships at work, you resist the ideology of busy-ness and indifference to others.
I have to admit those steps are still works in progress for me. Where is God calling you to greater balance? Are you a “workaholic,” staying late at the office or constantly tied to your smart phone? Or maybe you need to focus on work more in your job and shut out distractions. How you spend your time matters to God, and He calls you to balance.
Johny Garner has a Ph.D. in communication and is an associate professor at Texas Christian University. He studies organizational communication. Tweet him @johnygarner and visit mondaymorningchristianity.com.
Image courtesy: ©Paige Cody/Unsplash
Publication date: May 11, 2017