"I will give you rest"

Talking with a friend the other day, about work and overwork, brought to light another reason for workaholism. And now that I think of it, I have seen it before, mostly among young middle-class Christians.


But not so much the traditional kind doled out by stuffy religious institutions (that's going out of style). Now it appears as a justice-minded concern for the less fortunate. Perhaps mixed with political or economic activism. But the main idea is that the poor and underclasses are bearing the world's burden of hard physical work, the "sweat of the brow" that was the curse after Eden, and the wealthier people of the world are getting off too easy. Shirking their curse by shifting it to those less fortunate, who bear it for them for minimum wage (or less). Hence the guilt.

And the response is sometimes the attempt to take the physical weight of our own life back, to work hard (in soup kitchens or mission projects or communal farms) and sweat and feel the burden that is part of living as a sinful person in this world. So that no one else has to bear it for us, and perhaps to just honestly accept what we deserve.

I don't want to get into a long discussion here about what is true and what isn't true in this way of thinking. Just point out that Jesus made it pretty clear that we couldn't bear our own curse, much less bear it for anyone else. Attempts to assuage our guilt through hard work will not succeed. And it will certainly not lead to the incredible freedom of the kingdom of God that Jesus announced.

That's the other radical message of "Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." We don't find rest by taking on more work, trying to carry our own weight, bear our own curse so no one has to do it for us. Someone else does have to bear our curse and our burden for us (and for every person). "Come to me... I will give you rest." We only find rest when we are ready to receive it as a gift—and then work can become the free, unpressured expression of love that God meant it to be.

But perhaps some people have to reach utter exhaustion before they are ready.