Restless (part 1)

Photo by Michael LorenzoOn the Sunday before Christmas, I reflected briefly on what it might mean to enjoy a bit of Sabbath rest at the sometimes frenetic end of the holiday shopping season.  A few days later, I read these words from a recent book by Andy Crouch, Executive Editor at Christianity Today:

Rest without work is sloth; work without rest is, well, what is the right word? Busyness?  But busyness tends to sound like a good thing.  We have a host of negative words for resting without working, but almost none for working without resting (aside from the recent, ungainly coinage workaholism).  And this lack of a proper name for restless work is a clue to the idolatry that the fourth [commandment] is meant to address.  Sloth, idleness, laziness are indeed failures in our human calling, the failure to take up our image-bearing responsibility to make something of the world.  But busyness and restlessness are the deeper temptations.  Busy, restless, sabbath-less people are idolaters.

Wait: idolaters?  Perhaps that sounds a bit harsh.  After all, if we’re overly busy, it’s because we have responsibilities, right?  It’s not like we’re spreading death and destruction.

But on this, the first Sunday of the year, it might be worthwhile reflecting on whether or not Andy Crouch is right.

His words come in the context of an analysis of power, a concept needing rehabilitation among Christians.  Power gets bad press because we tend to think of its negative uses; but as Crouch insists, true power participates in God’s creative work and promotes flourishing.

Power becomes idolatrous when the ultimate goals of our work have little to do with the Creator or the flourishing of a good creation.  For example, he argues, many of us follow the false gods of “relentless productivity” and “self-sufficiency.”  Restless busyness tempts with the promise of accomplishing something meaningful, of making a contribution to…what?  The enjoyment of life as God created it to be?  Or is it that we need somehow to constantly add to our sense of mastery or control?

Truth be told, I am never quite finished proving my competence to myself.  I am a person of privilege and status who nevertheless feels the need to use power to bolster my sense of significance and security.  That way lies idolatry, and the question of Sabbath is whether I can let go of the anxious need to burnish my image, and instead bear the image of a gracious God who rested from the work of creation and in turn gives the gift of rest.

I wonder, though, if Sabbath means the same thing to those who feel comparatively powerless.  “Productivity” and “self-sufficiency” are typical idols for those who think they possess the power to achieve them.  But what of those compelled to do work that demands much and returns little beyond mere survival, people for whom “flourishing” may sound like a distant dream?

More on that in the next post.