Here's something for this Labour Day: A piece Jonathan Foust filed last week in The Atlantic defended senior officials who (gasp) choose to take weekends and holidays. Workaholism, as the article points out, is not actually a good thing, but it's also precisely what success in the Pentagon is predicated upon—not accomplishment, exactly, but what I, in my Wall Street days, used to call "pointless face time": sticking around even when you have nothing to do, writing useless memos, doing busy work.
The article points this out:
Recent research suggests that overworking can have serious effects on one's ability to do one's job. Taking time off, and allowing your brain to do so mething other than work, actually makes you work better. During my unhappy years working for the DOD's intelligence organizations, I lost track of how many senior government people I either worked for or interacted with who were so busy they could never read or think about anything—they had to make decisions, not think about them!
The problem is, everyone is so busy making decisions at the top, and examining the micro-details of probably irrelevant data at the bottom, that there is no room within the organization to take several steps back and ask some basic strategic questions about how the Defense Department is being run. Is it responding to threats in a responsible and proportional way? Are its efforts actually addressing risks and responding to crises, or are they just creating a lot of briefings and wasting money?
This is good stuff, and easily recognizable to some of us who get mired in the details and must step back. And it sounds familiar to those of us who believe in and try to observe the Sabbath.
Yet there's a temptation here for Sabbath observers: the temptation to take a rest on the Sabbath in order to get more done. The purpose of Sabbath is much more about our hearts, as Tim Keller recently pointed out in a very helpful piece:
Thus Sabbath is about more than external rest of the body; it is about inner rest of the soul. We need rest from the anxiety and strain of our overwork, which is really an attempt to justify ourselves—to gain the money or the status or the reputation we think we have to have. Avoiding overwork requires deep rest in Christ's finished work for your salvation (Hebrews 4:1-10). Only then will you be able to "walk away" regularly from your vocational work and rest.
Getting rest, and remembering why we do it, helps us knock over our idols, especially the idol of ourselves. It reminds us the world can run without us. It reminds us who our work is for.