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All work and no play can dull our walk with God 

ArramOn his return from holiday, Rev Mark Fairweather-Tall reflects on balance between work and rest in the rhythm of life and how this impacts on our spirituality.

I love the first day of a holiday. The preceding days have usually been filled with activity in making sure responsibilities are covered and necessary tasks completed in order to be able to leave it all behind and relax. Alongside this are the preparations for travel if we are going away. It can all seem quite pressured but waking up on the first day of the holiday when time is now your own and the promise of what lies ahead makes it all worthwhile.

I have recently returned from holiday where we were blessed to be able to travel to the West Coast of Scotland. We enjoyed the chance to catch up with family and friends as well as feast our eyes on the beautiful surroundings.  As schools break up in the next few days we will hit the height of the holiday season and amidst the busyness of life, a holiday can be like an oasis in the desert.

According to the Office for National Statistics, full-time workers do an average 39.1 hours of work every week. In fact the average number of hours worked per year has been falling for several decades. The proportion of employees that usually work over 45 hours each week has fallen from 26% in 1997 to under 20% in 2013. However, the paradox is that although average hours worked may be falling, many feel that they are working harder than ever before. It is likely that there are a number of contributory factors to this. For example, the financial pressure on business over recent years means many have experienced restructuring that often leads to increased responsibilities as some jobs are made redundant. Smartphones and tablets means that we check emails far more often with the result that even when we aren’t physically at work we don’t mentally switch off. This can be to the detriment of our health, family life and indeed our spirituality.

Right from the start of Genesis we read of a natural rhythm to life: In six days God created the heavens and the earth, whilst on the seventh day he rested. When God made Adam He placed him in the Garden of Eden to work and take care of it. Eve was created as his helper in this task. Work is a part of God’s perfectly created world. However, we also need rest and the importance of this is clear as provision is made through the 10 Commandments: “Remember the Sabbath Day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labour and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God.” (Exodus 20:8-9)

A ‘sabbath’ day is important in the rhythm of life. It is a time to switch off from daily routine and re-focus on that which is most important. A holiday of a week or two gives greater opportunity for this as well.

In Luke’s gospel there is an account of the encounter between Jesus and two sisters, Mary and Martha. The sisters had very different approaches to having Jesus in their home. Mary sat at the feet of Jesus and listened whilst Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. Martha is frustrated that she is doing all the work and asks Jesus to tell Mary to help out as well. Martha is doing a worthy task but she worries too much about what others are doing. Mary has wisdom in what she is doing in removing herself from the hustle and bustle of daily life to soak up the words of Jesus.

It can be too easy to side with Mary over Martha in this account, but perhaps the truth is that discipleship is about us having a bit of Mary and Martha in us. Martha’s busyness portrays someone serving Jesus. We need to do that. Mary’s choice of sitting at the feet of Jesus to listen to what he is saying is also at the heart of discipleship. We need to do that as well.

There is a rhythm to life. We need to both work and rest. However, perhaps a holiday can be more than simply a rest and provide the opportunity for something quite profound. It can be a time to take stock, to reflect and re-evaluate our calling from God. A step away from busyness and deadlines can enable us to sit at the feet of Jesus and listen to what he is saying. And as we hear his voice, that is a truly refreshing moment to inspire us in days ahead as the rhythm of life swings back to work.  

Pictured above: one of Mark's holiday snaps of the Isle of Arran
MarkFTRev Mark Fairweather Tall is the Minister of Norwich Central Baptist Church.  
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