WHEN ONE RESTS WHILE DOING HARD WORK by Ken Rickett
“Come unto me ye who are heavy laden, and take my well-fitted yoke upon you, and learn of me, and I will give you rest.”
“Love your neighbor as yourself.”
Labor Day is a day, like Sunday, when one “rests from their labors.” Of course, there are those institutions and persons who must labor anyway because their labor is often of necessity. Hospitals and nursing staff, farmers and the care of their livestock, public safety personnel, etc. are just mere examples of a rather long list of people who work on Sundays and Labor Day.
Part of the issue we face on Labor Day is the cultural understanding of “rest” as “time off”, “a day of leisure”, a “vacation”, or any time away from the jobs from which we earn our income. We who follow Jesus are definitely “missing something” when rest is primarily “a day off from our jobs.” For one, the biblical meaning of “rest” is lost, and secondly, if “rest” is obscured, then so is the meaning of the biblical word “love.”
When Moses received the Ten Commandments, one of which says, “remember the Sabbath, to keep it holy” (ie, a day of rest), work of necessity still had to be done. The sick needed care on the Sabbath, livestock needed fed on the Sabbath, public well-being needed protection on the Sabbath, etc. Back in those days, even a day of rest, the Sabbath, could be interrupted by emergencies, requiring physical work. In other words, the ox can fall into a miry ditch, and hard work must be undertaken quickly to remove the animal from danger. Who hasn’t seen videos of animals trapped in a flood or a deer that has broken through the thin ice over a pond? The animals’ efforts to free themselves from such danger are so quickly tiring; they will perish without help.
Labor Day implies time off from work. What if the biblical understanding of rest did not refer to the absence of physical labor? For me, it is not physical work that makes me “tired to my very bones” or “weary unto the very depths of my soul.” I can work all day in my yard with flowers and lawn upkeep and get quite tired–which is easily fixed by a good meal and a snooze in my recliner. It’s amazing how fast energy is restored!
So, let me talk about some really hard work! For a college midterm, the assignment was to write a paper and hand it in on the due date. I finished my paper a couple of days early. A friend (on the same floor in the dorm in which I was living) had been struggling with his paper, and so I let him read mine. He disappeared briefly–and unknown to me, xeroxed a copy. Imagine the anger when I got a “D” with the notation that 4 or 5 papers were exceptionally similar! Upon confrontation with my friend, he admitted that he had a copy and let “a couple of others see it, too.” Talk about anger and betrayal! Even though I had “said my piece” to him, I had the hard work of letting go and moving on. Every tiny bit of progress was REST. The hardest job, however, was not with the friend, it was restoring a sense of integrity with the professor. The final exam was writing several essays, using creative, colorful language and we had a week to write them. O, how I struggled to get this “job” right, how I worried that my professor’s assumptions would cloud his grading of my papers! I had to find “rest” with every sentence I wrote, that is, I had to feel that I had done my utmost on one sentence before would I even dare write the next sentence. The work of waiting several days to get my grade was tough; my self-talk went haywire, and each time I could calm myself down, it was rest. To my relief, my grade was top-notch, with a notation that said, “a joy to read.” Full rest at last! And a mistake I didn’t allow to happen again!
One needs rest while doing hard work. Run this thinking out. One doesn’t just forgive someone, and it’s over in a second or two. No, forgiveness is hard work. It is hard work to avoid making a situation worse. It is hard work to decide what to say, if anything. It is hard work to get the relationship back to its previous level of trust. Each step forward brings its measure of rest.
One needs rest while doing hard work.Coping with a serious illness of ourselves or our loved ones is hard work, and every tiny bit of acceptance and coping is rest. Grieving is hard work from which we need rest, and every tiny bit of coming to terms with the loss we feel is rest.
One needs rest while doing hard work. The tortuous journey from losing a job to finding another job is hard work, and every bit of relief from the self-denigration or the unfairness of company policies and actions is rest.
Let’s face it. Most of the really hard work we do has very little to do with physical work. The “renewing of our minds” and the softening of hardened hearts is constant work foisted upon us all throughout life, but yoked with Christ, there is rest while doing hard work..
It is when we work the hardest on such life experiences that we who are yoked with Christ, can find rest. Not rest from the cessation of physical labor but rest that comes in the midst of working hard with life itself. Only when we experience rest in the midst of hard work do we find the deeper meaning of being human in the way that God created us. In fact, it is in this hard labor that we “learn of Jesus” who gives rest to those “heavy laden”. Not just any rest, but a rest that results in loving oneself and our neighbor as ourselves.