For labor day, I thought it would be worth rereading this entry from five years ago:
The report went abroad concerning Jesus; and great multitudes gathered to hear and to be healed of their infirmities. But he withdrew to the wilderness and prayed. (Lk 5.15-16)That last line resonated with me, because I was still tired from clearing brush the day before, hours of hacking with machete and chainsaw. I really don't like the feeling of exhaustion. It makes me feel off-center, confused, unable to focus. And working to exhaustion certainly does not feel like the life of the kingdom of God to me—but is this an unavoidable necessity? Jesus' withdrawing from the demanding crowd gives me hope.
As I wrote not too long ago, there's a heavy emphasis on hard work here. Struggles with the weight of the labor during growing season, but a pride in that struggle, and smiling affirmation for the one who is nodding off at the end of the day because they've worked so hard. Complaints about having so much to do almost seem like boasts about having so much to do. Because there is great social esteem for the hard worker. [It's interesting to note that, since writing this, the hard work culture has largely collapsed here, with several of the hardest workers suffering burnout and leaving.]
It's not only here, of course. I was just reading an article yesterday about a currently popular theologian, and at the end of the article his wife described him as a "workaholic." I think that's supposed to be a negative term (what if she had called him an alcoholic, Heather wondered). But if workaholism is a fault, it's hardly frowned upon in our society. It's much more admired. The hardest workers earn more, get promoted, and are widely admired for their ambition and productivity. They usually end up being the bosses (that's how it's been most places I've worked). People give them more work and more responsibility because they are willing to take it—so we end up with the workaholics setting the work schedule and defining the goals. Which is great for a society that wants to get things done.
But Jesus wasn't like that. And I think we should be especially careful not to follow workaholics as our examples and leaders. The reasons that drive people to work to exhaustion are almost always physical need (and the fear of lack) and personal ambition. Neither of these are good motivations from a spiritual point of view. Jesus taught us not to worry about our physical needs but to trust our Father to provide, and to give up our own ambition, abandoning our own will and embracing the will of God. Jesus preached not hard work, but total dependence on God. Our lives need not rest in our own calloused hands.
While society endlessly praises the hard workers, Jesus withdraws to the wilderness to pray. Or carelessly leaves behind a wildly popular and productive healing ministry to more clearly preach the "good news," a message that society's top hard workers would kill him for: "Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest."