Work is good, but it needs to be balanced by rest so that we can more closely imitate our Creator.
Recent studies claim that the average work week is gradually increasing, with more and more people working an average of 50 hours a week. What isn’t readily recorded is the recent rise in stay-at-home jobs, where the line is often blurred between work and family life.
Furthermore, in many parts of the world Sunday is no longer a day of rest, and is simply included in the work week in order to get certain projects completed. As a result, the concept of rest is slowly disappearing from many people’s lives.
In response, Jesus would say, “from the beginning it was not so” (Matthew 19:8).
St. John Paul II wrote in his encyclical Laborem Exercens how we need to look at the book of Genesis to understand the dignity of our work, as well as our inherent need to rest.
This description of creation, which we find in the very first chapter of the Book of Genesis, is also in a sense the first “gospel of work.” For it shows what the dignity of work consists of: it teaches that man ought to imitate God, his Creator, in working, because man alone has the unique characteristic of likeness to God. Man ought to imitate God both in working and also in resting, since God himself wished to present his own creative activity under the form of work and rest.
God clearly shows us through his creative activity that human were not designed to lead lives of constant work. Even our bodies reveal this reality by the fact that it is impossible for a human being to never sleep. If a person never slept, their body would quickly shut down and essentially “force” them to sleep.
John Paul II goes so far as to say that workers have a “right to rest. In the first place this involves a regular weekly rest comprising at least Sunday, and also a longer period of rest, namely the holiday or vacation taken once a year or possibly in several shorter periods during the year.”
Rest must be part of our lives, and our soul needs that rest to not only survive in this world, but also to prepare it for what is to come.
John Paul II explains that “man’s work too not only requires a rest every ‘seventh day,’ but also cannot consist in the mere exercise of human strength in external action; it must leave room for man to prepare himself, by becoming more and more what in the will of God he ought to be, for the ‘rest’ that the Lord reserves for his servants and friends.”
In other words, Heaven is that “eternal rest” that we are destined to enjoy, and in order to prepare our souls for that rest, we must practice it now.
As we go about our daily lives, remember that while work can be important, rest must also be given a primary place in our lives, allowing both our bodies and souls an ability to rest in the peace of Jesus Christ.