Americans seem to have an obsession with work. A 2001 study conducted by the United Nations International Labor Organization confirms that United States workers put in more hours than any other industrialized nation -- interesting, given that the trend elsewhere is to spend less time on the job.
The research of economist Juliet Schor cites that annual hours on the job across all industries and occupations have been increasing during the last two decades. The average employee is now working an additional 163 hours per year -- the equivalent of an extra month -- with 12 percent of all full-time personnel toiling away 60-plus hours per week.
With developments in our technology, we carry our work with us anywhere -- checking emails in the checkout line, answering phone calls on the golf course, taking working lunches and working vacations. Even our children have harried schedules, squeezing in hours of homework each night between soccer practice and piano lessons.
Our culture assumes that action and accomplishment are most important values. We are seduced by promises of more: more recognition, more money, more satisfaction, more influence, more security -- and we work hard to achieve these things.
The busier we are, the more important we seem to ourselves and, we imagine, to others. In this relentless busyness, we have lost the rhythm between work and rest.
But this incessant busyness is hurting us. Interestingly, the Chinese pictograph for the word “busy” is composed of two characters: “heart” and “killing.” There is some wisdom here.
While hard work is noble, there comes a moment in our striving when our effort actually becomes counterproductive. The quality of our work suffers when we do not take time to rest.
In “Sabbath: Restoring the Sacred Rhythm of Rest,” Wayne Muller tells story of a doctor who told about the effects of exhaustion on the quality of his work:
“I discovered in medical school that if I saw a patient when I was tired or overworked, I would order a lot of tests. I was so exhausted, I couldn’t tell exactly what was going on. I could see the symptoms, but I couldn’t really figure out how it all fit together. I ordered a battery of tests in hopes that they would tell me what I was missing.
But when I rested -- if I got in a nap or went for a quiet walk -- when I saw the next patient I could rely on my intuition and get a pretty accurate reading of what was happening. When I took the time to listen and be present with them and their illness, I was almost always right.”
Even our Creator stopped and rested after six days of creation. And when Jesus found himself overwhelmed by the demands of the crowds and the unending work load, he retreated to spend time alone and with God, and he gained new vision.
It is a principle that the Bible calls Sabbath. Sabbath is not just a good idea -- it is a commandment given by God. Sabbath is not just a day off, or the absence of work. Sabbath is the presence of something that arises when we set aside time to be still and pay attention to what is beautiful, nourishing and true.
This weekend, millions of Americans will celebrate Labor Day by sleeping in, firing up the grill, or taking one last dip in the pool. If you can, take time to rest. Stop your work. Get off of your smartphone. Pay attention to the world around you. Make Sabbath.
There is no better way to celebrate our labors than by stopping to say, as God did at the end of creation, “It is good. It is very good.”
The Rev. Julie Long is associate pastor and minister of children and families at First Baptist Church of Christ in Macon.