In Genesis, God worked for six days and rested on the seventh. He later commands people to do the same. Ideally, we would work and rest in comfortable alternation, leaving us physically healthy, mentally stimulated and spiritually fulfilled. Alas, for most of us, this happens rarely.
For some, the thought of resting from work triggers guilt and anxiety. If we heed the commandment to observe God’s own cycle of work and rest, will we be competitive in today’s economy? Doesn’t it take seven days of work to hold a job, clean, prepare meals, pay bills, and more? Can we take time to rest, and if we do, will it make us more or less productive overall? Will friends or family feel neglected if we take time for ourselves? The fourth commandment does not explain how God will make it all work out for us. It simply tells us to obey.
The story of Mary and Martha is helpful here. Martha works to prepare dinner while Mary sits and listens to Jesus. Martha asks Jesus to rebuke her sister for not helping, but instead Jesus commends Mary. Regrettably, this story has suffered dubious interpretations, with Martha becoming the poster child for all that is wrong with busyness and distraction. Instead, the story must be read against the backdrop of Luke’s gospel, where the work of hospitality (a vital form of generosity in the ancient Near East) is one of the chief signs of the in-breaking of God’s kingdom.
Martha’s generous service is not minimized by Jesus, but her worries show that her service needs to be grounded in Mary’s kind of love for him. By sitting at Jesus’ feet, Mary shows that all our service ought to be grounded in lively personal relationship with him. Following Christ means becoming like Martha and Mary. Rest and work are mutually reinforcing. The proportions may change due to temporary necessities or the changing needs of the seasons of life. However, with God’s help, we can pursue healthy, sustaining rhythms of both work and rest.
Lord, thank you for giving us a rhythm of work and rest. Help me learn how to work with joy and rest in peace. Amen.
For further exploration, read “How Christians Can Experience Deeper Rest.”