There is, in my experience, a happy and healthy form of exhaustion and a deeply unhappy and unhealthy one too.  That healthy form of exhaustion comes at the end of serious hard work, or exhaustion. It is that feeling when you know that you have put the time and effort in, that you have achieved something and now you can relax and rest.

The unhealthy form tends to include both a feeling of weariness but also a continued unsettlement, a lack of satisfaction and enjoyment.  It is accompanied by what we call restlessness. That word is itself fascinating because it describes not a lack of rest but the inability to settle and rest. I believe that we are a restless society. So many of us are weary, we lack energy to keep going but we are also unable to settle, relax and get proper rest, a proper day off, a proper holiday, a proper night’s sleep.

Now, when we seek to help each other get better rest and relaxation, we tend to start by talking about tips for relaxing and sleeping better. However, I wonder if we need to start somewhere different. Instead of looking at how to get people to relax, we should look at how we can do better at working.

Go back to the Ten Commandments and you will find these words:

“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labour, and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. 11 For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore, the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.”[1]

In this commandment, we are instructed to take one day in seven to rest, but we are also told to work the other six days.  That’s the bit of the commandment that is often forgotten.  Yet, rest only makes sense in the context of work. This means that if we are to help each other with rest, then we need to think about how we help them to enjoy the goodness of work.  Work is meant to be a good gift from God and yet it so often does not feel like that.

There are a couple of reasons for this. The first is The Fall. One of the consequences of Adam and Eve’s sin is the curse on the earth meaning that Adam and Eve’s role in subduing and filling the earth becomes difficult. To Eve God says,

“I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing;
    in pain you shall bring forth children.[2]

Then to  Adam God says:

“Cursed is the ground because of you;
    in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life;
18 thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you;
    and you shall eat the plants of the field.
19 By the sweat of your face
    you shall eat bread.”[3]

However, the other reason is to do with our attitude to work. We see it as a necessary evil. Individually, we see work as something to get through instead of something to enjoy. Corporately as a society together we see it in the same way. Labour is an unwelcome cost in the process and so employers focus on efficiency, how few people can they employ and how much can they get out of them. The problem is that efficiency is not the same as long term effectiveness and fruitfulness.

If all we care about work is how efficiently we can do things then we are likely to think in terms of compliance with minimal standards when it comes to working conditions. The law sets certain standards about how employees should be treated in terms of workplace conditions, pay and working hours. However, complying with those things is not the same as having an aspiration to create the best workplace environment and provide the best terms and conditions.

So, our starting point has to be about how we think about work. In our next post I will suggest some ways in which we can do better at thinking and talking about work as Christians. I will then move on to some of the practicalities of making work better.

[1] Exodus 20:8-11.

[2] Genesis 1:16

[3] Genesis 3:17b -19a

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