Friday, May 14, 2010

Quitting Time

Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Matthew 6:25-26

In vain you rise early and stay up late, toiling for food to eat - for while they sleep he provides for those he loves. Psalm 127:2

Do not wear yourself out to get rich; have the wisdom to show restraint. Proverbs 23:4

For overachievers, hell on earth must be an hourly-wage job. A company policy against overtime keeps them from their obsession do more and better. There probably are some misplaced overachievers here and there in the hourly workforce, but I bet that most often, if an overachiever is in an hourly-wage job, it is stepping stone to something less restrictive. I think of overachievers as typically being in salaried or commissioned positions, or self-employed - a work arrangement from which they can reap some positive reinforcement for their obsession.

Maybe I'm being harsh on overachievers to say they are obsessed. I do believe there are seasons in a person's life that are prime for high productivity and if we have the God fortune to find ourselves in such a time and engaged in an activity for which we are well-suited, we should go for it! Produce, produce produce! However, many an overachiever cannot discern when they are in such a season - they think any season is prime for production. Consequently, there are those who neglect sleep, their health, finding a spouse, or if they found one, neglect the spouse and their children, God, family and even the dog just to get in one more sales call or finish one more chapter or check the balance sheet one more time. Being busy fulfills them. Perhaps they think they are living out Solomon's best case scenario: eat, drink and find satisfaction in work for the few days God has given us (Ecclesiastes 5:18). But look what else Solomon said: "In vain you rise early and stay up late, toiling for food to eat," and "Do not wear yourself out to get rich; have the wisdom to show restraint." When we juxtapose these scriptures to a 16-hour work day, overachieving does seem to be a mental ill - an obsession.

Solomon wasn't addressing everyone in these verses, because not everyone has this problem. Many have the opposite problem and to those, he said things like, "A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest and poverty will come on you like a bandit and scarcity like an armed man" (Proverbs 6:10-11). And then there are those who have found the middle way - balance. I venture to say that working an hourly-wage job is conducive to having balance in your life. When the "whistle blows," it is quitting time and off you go to enjoy life outside of work, which usually bears no resemblance to work.

So this entry goes out to all my self-employed, salaried or commissioned homies who aren't calling it a day at the blow of a whistle: Show some restraint. Set yourself a work schedule and, against every fiber of your obsessed being, stop working when quitting time comes. Turn the phone off. Take the wife to dinner. Make every soccer and t-ball game - the season is short. Take a Sabbath (that's once a week, BTW). Take a vacation. Celebrate the holiday, all day.

Easy for me to say, right? Actually, no, it isn't. I struggle almost every night to make dinner while there are still people at the table. I work at night, making it particularly hard for me to call it quits and go to bed on time. I've made great strides in this regard, however. Some years ago, I would work until the wee hours of the morning, now I rarely work past 11 p.m. But my bedtime is 10 p.m. (to get eight hours of sleep), so I have a ways to go.

Jesus (kind of) said life is more important than being able to sport Rolex and Armani and eat at five-star establishments. Yes, but for many an overachiever, Rolex and Armani aren't even on the radar. We're just overachieving for the heck of it - not even really seeing any wealth or prosperity as a result. How much more vain is that! Then there's the overachieving minister. This is the hardest nut to crack because he feels his obsession is sanctioned by God Himself. He's doing the Lord's work, so it is OK to abandon all restraint. After all, the fields are ripe for harvest and the laborers are few. We've got to make hay while the sun still shines! If we go to bed now, a soul could remain lost as a result.

Newsflash: We are expendable; God can call a lost soul to Himself in some other way if we take the day off. And we are no exceptionl; the commandment to rest on the Sabbath was meant even for the men and women in God's service. Just because we're in the family business does not mean the policy manual does not apply to us. Even Jesus observed the Sabbath and holidays, and every once in a while, He just got away from it all to refresh and renew. He had only three years to minister to all of humanity. Surely our deadlines and sales goals pale in comparison.

Contemplate this: Have I allowed work to overstep its rightful role in my life?

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