shabbat and work

Heather has decided to try to observe a form of shabbat on Saturdays:

I will do no work on a Saturday unless it springs from me so naturally that it's like play. I will plan nothing on a Saturday except visits and outings I can look forward to. If for any reason I have to make an exception, I will then rest on Sunday.
I like that. As a day of rest and reflection on the week's activity...

...and also as a model for work every day of the week. Our work should be free, joyful, creative--like play. A gift from God that we all need and desire.

But our understanding and experience of work is usually terribly degraded because of what we are taught and shown in our society, and unfortunately this is also often reinforced in our churches. I wrote about some of my struggles with this in an old journal:
Yesterday afternoon was grueling. Harsh sun, highway construction, and nothing for miles. I had to push beyond 25 miles just to find a place to sleep. Then up and walking again till I found this place, just after sunrise.

It's a large lake, hidden above the highway. Trees completely encircle it, and it stretches out fingers beyond where I can see. A frog twangs its throat nearby, sounding like a cheap banjo. Fish leap with mysterious purpose, then fall, making rings on the water's perfect surface. A black-headed bird, which seems designed for fishing, watches. And a soft mist rises from the lake, moving like it has intelligence; I recall "The spirit of God moved over the face of the waters." The beginning.

I was thinking about Genesis this morning. Last Sunday, the Sunday school guide they handed out focused on the Fall and made some comment like "Because of sin, our work is stressful." A reference to Genesis 3.17-19, apparently. The curse on Adam: "By the sweat of your brow..." I've wondered a lot about that curse--what does it mean? Is it the source of our stress over work? Any loopholes? But I think the Sunday school book has missed the truth and may be absolutely false if taken at face value. My sore feet, that's a result of sin. Laboring under the hot sun, fatigue, muscle aches, shivering at night, I can accept all these as part of the curse. But these are not the primary stresses of work. People often choose all these things as an acceptable part of play: camping, mountain climbing, hiking, etc. This "sweat of the brow" is painful, but it can still be satisfying and healthy, a little rest wipes it all away. The stress we usually experience with work, however, is different. It is pure negative, draining, and a vacation doesn't make it disappear. When we come back, it's right there again, devouring us. It is not from God, even as a curse.

I believe the stress we usually experience at work is not because of Adam's sin, but because of our own. We feel the pressure to succeed at work for various reasons (survival, respect, wealth, security, etc.)--most of which are lies. But the stress comes when we start adapting ourselves to worldly methods and standards for success. We set love aside to "do business." We don't give freely, we sell ourselves; we don't put others first, we promote ourselves; we don't turn the other cheek, we fight for "our rights." We make sinful choices and our work becomes sin. That's the source of the horrible stress--not Adam, not God. And this ugly compromise with (surrender to) the world we call 'work'; and we have the nerve to quote Paul and say "Those who don't 'work' should not eat." What a twisted perversion of work and God's word! Work is one thing, selling ourselves to the world and its Prince is another.

I accept "the sweat of your brow." It means sore feet, but it's a soreness that need not disturb the peace of the soul. It's a good soreness, a merciful soreness. Because it is from God, and everything from God is good and compassionate, even his rebukes. The other, life-sucking stress of work, however, I denounce. We are not victims of it, we are perpetrators of it--on ourselves and on others. It is against Christ and to accept it is to deny the good news of his gospel. The product of a "sinful and adulterous generation," as Jesus used to say. God's idea of work is something else entirely. Like the difference between the roaring of the highway behind me, and the gentle splash of a fish on the lake before me.