Our Relationship with Work

Can we be free of the rat race?

“Hey, how are you doing?”

“I’m doing okay, just really busy.”

Sound familiar? I can’t count how many conversations I’ve had along those lines. Greek Life is a work hard/play hard culture made for overachievers. Greeks have a tendency to knowingly bite off more than we can chew, and push through it anyways. Having a strong work ethic certainly isn’t a bad thing, and when viewed correctly, work is pleasing to God and part of what we are created to be.

Yet there is a danger when we allow our work to define us. What is your identity? If you had to describe yourself in one sentence, what would that sentence be? When I was in college, being president of my fraternity was a huge part of my identity for that year. For many people, we identify ourselves by the titles and positions we have: Recruitment Chair, Corporate Intern, RA, Associated Students Senator etc.

Working & Resting

Interestingly, one of the best ways God has shaped my view on work has been through the spiritual discipline of taking a Sabbath: setting aside a day to rest from work.

The practice of Sabbath goes back to the Creation story in Genesis, where God rests on the 7th day, not because he is tired and needs to rest, but to set an example for his people. The Hebrew word for Sabbath (sabbat) is from the root word meaning “to cease or desist.” The practice of taking a day off from work every seven days is a practice unique to Judaism in the ancient world.

The Heart of Rest

How do you do this as a busy Greek student? What if you are scheduled to work on Sunday? Is that a violation of keeping the Sabbath holy? Is it realistic to expect to get all homework done on Saturday so that Sunday can be a day of rest?

Those are good questions, and worth praying over. However, I think we can find some guidance from a simple but profound statement from Jesus:

“The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” (Mark 2:27, NIV)

Another translation reads:

“The Sabbath was made to meet the needs of people, and not people to meet the requirements of the Sabbath.” (NLT)

Taking a Sabbath is not a box we need to check on our religious to-do list, but rather a gift from the God who created us and knows what we need. As human beings we are obviously not God- we will get tired, especially when we are working hard (like Greeks tend to do).

Have you ever gotten burned out of something, like a job or your position in your chapter? A mentor of mine told me that burn-out is a consequence of not resting enough, and I think those are wise words. When we rest from work we show that we control our work; our work doesn’t control us. We are not defined by our work, and taking a Sabbath is a tangible way to show that.

Let’s be honest: there are always more things on your to-do list than you will be able to do. You can always study more, give more time to your chapter, work a little harder on that project, and sometimes pick up extra hours or shifts to make more money. It’s easy for your relationship with God to become just another checkbox on your to-do list. So how does the way you spend your time reflect your priorities? If faith is an important part of your life, does your relationship with God reflect that?

This is the beauty of a Sabbath: it becomes a built-in time in our week to say no to work and yes to God. Putting aside our to-do lists and resting in the presence of God is a tangible act of faith.

The How-To of Rest

Enough theory though, let’s get practical: doing this can be tough!

When I was a junior leading a Bible study in my fraternity, all student leaders in InterVarsity were strongly encouraged to take weekly Sabbaths. That was a scary thought! How was I going to have time to do that as a Greek? I wound up compromising with a half-day Sabbath, where I would go to classes on Friday morning, but once class ended for the day I would rest instead of working (school, fraternity positions, job etc). It was amazing! Taking a (partial) Sabbath ensured I had a proper relationship with work, where I controlled it instead of it controlling me. By not working 24/7 I was able to remember that my identity was not found in my positions or titles, but as a son of God.

What does a Sabbath look like? What do you do on a day of rest? There’s not one recipe but I’d recommend asking God and a mentor what that could look like for you. Resting doesn’t have to mean doing nothing, and doing nothing isn’t necessarily restful. Among other things, I would use my Friday afternoons and evenings to take a nap, pray and read the Bible, exercise, and/or invest in relationships with other people (getting dinner, hanging out with friends, going to a party etc.).

Think about what would be restful for you. It might look different from what worked for me. Remember, Jesus says the Sabbath was made to meet the needs of people. What needs do you have, and how can taking a Sabbath help meet them?

After all, God is the Founder and CEO of the Universe. He might know a thing or two about work.

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RJ is a Pi Kappa Alpha alum from University of the Pacific where he led a Greek IV Bible study for 2.5 years as a student and served as a Greek IV staff member for three years after graduating. He now works for the City of Stockton, CA.

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