Isaiah 55 asks a good question.
Well…a number of good questions. Verse two asks, “Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy?”
God, if we could only ask that question more. To ourselves. To our kids. To our spouses.
But mostly to ourselves.
See, I have a lot of people sit on my couch in a week. They talk. I talk. I listen. They listen.
There’s a lot of it.
And one thing that I notice more and more from pretty much everyone under the age of sixty these days is that we have this fixation on 80 hour work weeks and being busy.
There is a nasty myth going around that we need to be the first ones at work and the last ones home. In fact, there’s a Forbes article from yesterday where entrepreneur extraordinaire John Nazar gives that very same advice.
We don’t. And it’s killing us. Jason Nazar may be successful, but at what price?
It’s at this point where I’ll say, “Physician, heal thyself” because Lord knows that I fall into the 80 hour work week trap a lot.
And it costs me.
So much, in fact, that I have a couple of blogs waiting in the wings where I admit to some of my bad work habits and what it’s doing to my spiritual life.
But more than anything I want to tell the majority of these couples, and singles, and people under sixty, to just go home.
Seriously. Go home.
Part of the bane of the middle class is the idea that success means more money and prestige and more toys and more expensive vacations and more, more, more. It’s like we get addicted to stuff and once we have a snort of “stuff” we can’t get it out of our noses and we have to consume it until our houses and calendars are cluttered and our hearts are empty.
This is a spiritual problem. And it’s hard for someone like me because I can pretty much do “work” anywhere. Because I deal in people, and people have this amazing way of sticking with you and crowding out your vision so that you don’t see your wife or husband or child or partner even when you’re at home because you’re stuck on someone else’s issues that you’ve decided is your own issue.
And by God you’re going to work that problem from sun up to sun down.
Because that’s success. That’s what it takes.
If that’s it, then I’m going to excuse myself from the race.
And I want you to, too.
Our mothers and fathers fought hard in the labor movements to ensure a 40 hour work week. And God damn our prosperity because we have kindly forgotten that and have opted in favor of 80 hours and email inboxes that must always be open lest we miss something.
80 hours, which means we burn the midnight oil long after our kids and spouses are in bed. Because that’s what it takes. It takes us not spending quiet time next to our loved ones to be successful. It takes being tired and grumpy in the morning to our kid because we have to put food on our middle class tables.
There are people who are working two or three jobs because they have to; that’s what it takes to survive. That’s a terrible truth that could take some midnight oil to solve.
But many of us are working one job twice over in a week because that’s what it takes to have a three car garage.
Physician, heal thyself.
But I can’t. And I don’t think the church has sufficiently taken on this issue, which is spiritual in nature, with our congregants. We bemoan the demise of the family but blame it on mixed up gender roles instead of our addiction to success. We bemoan that nobody comes on Sunday mornings and blame it on faithlessness and institutional decline instead of the fact that an 80 hour work week doesn’t want another hour of obligation…especially if that time could be spent catching up on work or getting a jump on work. Or spending time with our spouse and kids that we forfeited on Thursday to stay late.
We spend money on things that don’t feed us. We labor for things that won’t satisfy.
We all know the story of pastors and nurses who sit at the bedsides of the dying and hear them say they wish they had worked less and loved more. But somehow we all think we’re the exception to that. And that we won’t regret 80 hours because we’ll retire early. And that’s what it takes. And it’ll pay off one day.
I ran into a fellow pastor who is hired part-time at a church. We were chatting and I said, “So what does part-time look like for you?” to which he responded, “Well, if I actually worked part time, I think I’d be a pretty crappy pastor.”
And I disagreed and said so. I pushed back. I don’t want to cultivate a society that expects full time work for part time pay, and I don’t want to cultivate an individual who accepts that they aren’t valuable enough to not be defined by their job.
It’s a spiritual issue. In my work I can “work for God” so much that I lose sight of God altogether because I’m so busy. In our work we can lose sight of ourselves, of our God-given identities, because we take on the identity of “success.”
Don’t be successful if it’s going to kill you. In fact, I’d say that success will probably kill you…at least the parts of you that people love most and want most.
Time in community. Time in family. These are things I value. These are things I want my parishioners to value. Jesus wasn’t successful by any measurable standard. And yet Jesus followers flock to mega-churches in mega-numbers because they want to be a part of something that succeeds…hoping it will bleed over into their personal lives.
How can we have spiritually healthy people if we have spiritual leaders and spiritual homes who are in the same rhythm as the mega-firm and the mega-business?
By and large, I just want you to go home. And I want me to go home more. As a Christian, as a pastor, as someone who cares about the health and souls of my people, just go home.
And I want the church to tackle this issue more.