Time Out (by Jerry Schmoyer)
From Mrs. Lettie Cowman’s wonderful book, Springs in the Desert, comes this interesting tale from African colonial history:
In the deep jungles of Africa, a traveler was making a long trek. Coolies had been engaged from a tribe to carry the loads. The first day they marched rapidly and went far. The traveler had high hopes of a speedy journey. But the second morning these jungle tribesmen refused to move. For some strange reason they just sat and rested. On inquiry as to the reason for this strange behavior, the traveler was informed that they had gone too fast the first day, and that they were now waiting for their souls to catch up with their bodies. Then Mrs. Cowman concludes with this penetrating exhortation: This whirling rushing life which so many of us live does for us what that first march did for those poor jungle tribesmen. The difference: they knew what they needed to restore life’s balance; too often we do not.
[Springs in the Valley by Lettie Cowman; pp. 196-197; copyright © 1997 by Holder. Used by permission of Zondervan.]
It is incredible to realize that Lettie Cowman wrote these words almost fifty years ago.
Why we overwork
Unfortunately we as Christians are often the most guilty of overwork. For some reason we often view leisure as superfluous and wasteful. We feel guilty when we aren’t productive. It has a name: workaholism. It is the pain others applaud. It is the cleanest of all addictions. Addiction to work has the same characteristics as addiction to alcohol, drugs, gambling or sex. Work is, for many, their “drug of choice” and they keep their stash handy at all times. On top of that, it is socially acceptable because it makes us seem important, responsible and productive. Really, it is a progressive, fatal disease in which a person is addicted to the process of working.
God designed man to work (Genesis 2:8-15; 3:17-19), but not overwork. Too often we turn to work to find self worth. Work becomes a measure of success: what kind of work and how much work. Men especially tend to value themselves by what they do and they use their work to impress others as well as themselves. That’s why when a man loses his job, is sick for an extended period of time, or retires, he often feels like a failure and without worth.
Another reason we tend to overwork is because we have found it to be a socially acceptable way of numbing ourselves from life’s problems. When busy we don’t have to think about deeper things in our life and family. We don’t have to face emotions in ourselves or others. We don’t have to develop deep relationships and become intimate with others. Work is a protective wall against all those things that we so often avoid.
Too often people turn to work to find self worth. Work becomes a measure of success: what kind of work and how much work. We tend to value themselves by what we do and we use our work to impress others as well as themselves. That’s why when a man loses his job, is sick for an extended period of time, or retires, he often feels like a failure and without worth.
The first and hardest part of the curing this is to admit to the problem. The surface problem, workaholism, must be admitted to. As in any 10-step program, without this happening nothing else can result. But then one must seek out the root problem. WHY do you overwork? Is it because of insecurity? Fear of failure? Being unsure of yourself as a person? Avoiding intimacy with others? Impressing self and others? Escaping facing other problems? Seek your heart carefully to find the root problem. Ask God to search it out for you.
Then second, plan your options to overcome your problem. Don’t replace one addiction for another, as so often happens. Find someone to talk to and hold you accountable. Write down your goals, limits of hours worked, etc. Set your restrictions and stick to them, in your mind as well as in your life. The goal isn’t to fool your family or church into thinking you’re doing better, but to really be free from your addiction so you can serve the Lord and others as you should. Learn to value yourself by standards other than work, such as relationships and spiritual growth.
Third, connect with people you love. Face problems and work them through. Don’t substitute with a hobby, church work, or some similar activity. Remember that it is OK to relax and enjoy life. Jesus would never have been considered a workaholic, and we are to follow His example and be like Him.
- Would your spouse or best friend say you overwork?
- What is your work substituting for in life? What is missing? What are you afraid to face? Why is always being productive in some way so important?
- What is one step you can take today to be more balanced and less addicted to work?
Jerry Schmoyer has been a minister in Pennsylvania for over 25 years and has worked with teenagers for 15 years, ever since I became one myself. He authors the weekly Time Out series here at Life in Student Ministry in hopes to spiritually refresh your soul as you continually pour so much of yourself into students. God bless!
Posted on March 15, 2010