Workaholism as Remedy, not Disease

I have been passionate about a theology of work and vocation for my entire adult life. Being raised with Calvininian/Kuyperian instincts, I think I know where this comes from ideologically. But deeper than that I think it is a pathological issue for me and largely reflects a deeper existential consideration. I think my thoughts on this subject are repeatedly misunderstood or mischaracterized, so I will start off with the fundamentally necessary disclaimers.

I do not believe that humans ought not to take vacations. I do not believe that rest is a bad thing. I do not believe that one’s family should be mistreated or ignored because of your work. I do not believe that people who enjoy “margin” in their lives are inferior to those who seem to be “always on the go”.

But now let me hit the bee’s nest. I do believe that we take vacations simply to recharge our batteries so we can go back to work. I do believe “retirement” is merely a phase of life defined by financial capabilities and perhaps physical limitations – not a period of dormancy. I do believe our families should see us working very hard, and rejoice in it. And above all else, I believe God created us to work. He himself modeled his expectation of us: work 6/7 of the time; rest 1/7 of the time. Does anyone doubt that I can validate this claim exegetically?

My Managing Director in the division of the company I work for frequently says (as a compliment to me) that “I will be able to rest when I am dead”. It is kind of funny, isn’t it? But I actually believe it. There not only should not be, but there COULD not be any such thing as “lasting rest” on this planet if we wanted there to be. We are created to be at work. My solo desert excursions and tropical trips with my wife are indescribably relaxing, but they are not perfect. Real rest – that feeling of blissful fulfillment – is not eschatologically available to us until you know when. This is absolutely crystal clear to me.

A friend of mine said to me that it almost sounded like I was saying that since humans can not yet have perfected fellowship with God that we should just work a lot; I thought for a second and looked at him and said, “That is exactly what I am saying.”

God gave us work to fulfill His purposes for our lives. He recognized that we need some respite along the way, and asked us to rest here and there. But ours is still a life of work – not a life of rest. We get to enjoy many blessings along the way – appreciations for the fruits of our labor (see Ecc. 5:18). But the obsession in modern society (inside the church and outside of it) with compartmentalizing work as a singular box in our life – a necessary but evil box – is abhorent.

There is a balance and perspective to be found. I do not believe what we call “workaholism” is the commendable illustration of that balance. I guess I am just suggesting that perhaps we ought to re- frame the topic with the presupposition that work is inate to our created purpose, and build the rest around that. The alternative has been to start off villifying work, and figure out where to fit it in (going so far as to “concede” its merit only because of the utilitarian function it could serve in feeding philanthropy and ministry). Heaven help us.

There you go. The most unpopular thing I believe laid out in one short blog. But I will say this: As unpopular as it may be, a lot of mysteries will be unpacked if you give this a little further thought.