Contemporary society puts a very high premium on work, not rest. For countless people in offices, factories, assembly lines, and construction projects, work has become their sole purpose for living.
But it is a too-narrow purpose. It locks us into a closed mode; it makes us think that to be jobless is to be worthless. It shuts our minds to wider questions and deeper concerns about life.
When we deprive ourselves of rest, we constantly fish, instead of swim, in the waters of life. We lose the ability to wonder, enjoy simple pleasures, and develop the inner strength to face adversities. So, when unexpected events happen, like an accident, loss of employment, breakdown of marriage, or a lingering illness, our daily work routine is disrupted, and we fall apart.
Worse, even if our bodies and minds want to rest, we are frightened by the prospect of not having to do anything. Blaise Pascal was right when he wrote, “The greatest problem that we human beings have is that we cannot sit quietly in a room on our own.” We are always looking for work, distractions, and entertainment to overwhelm our feeling of emptiness.
Even young people are initiated early into the workplace, depriving them of the chance to enjoy their youth and ask serious questions about life. Many parents continually urge their children to take tutorial lessons, engage in sports, get involved in community projects, create a blog or a Youtube account, do anything except laze around and wonder at the mysteries of life. The social media, television, and movies aggravates this by develop in them a superficial understanding of events and issues. Their minds become a collage of shallow opinions, tastes, and fashion.
During the pandemic, many workers initially welcomed the work-from-home setup because they thought that by working at home they would have all the time to rest. Later, they realized that this setup actually allowed work to invade even their very private spaces and steal away their time for rest.
Rest is essential to being human. What sets us apart from other animals is our understanding of what it means to be free. Human freedom means not only the ability to perform an action unimpeded by external factors, but also the ability to overcome the physical limits set by our being human. Fishes cannot refuse to swim, nor can birds refuse to fly. But we can refuse to walk, and instead design the means to travel without depending on our feet.
Today, we traverse the seas faster than fishes, and soar to the skies higher than birds. All these we have achieved simply because we refuse to be bound by the drudgery of walking and traveling. Our desire for a restful existence gives birth to ingenuity and creativity. That is perhaps why the word “school” which we identify with the process of learning, comes from the Latin “schola,” which means “leisure.” Learning is impossible if we are always busy, when we have no time to wonder leisurely about everything, and invent the best ways to live more humanly.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus invites the apostles to come away to some lonely place all by themselves and rest for a while (Mk 6:31). Somewhat related to this are Jesus’s words: “Come to me all who labor and are heavy burdened and I will give you rest” (Mt. 11:28).
These words are not an invitation to escape from obligations and responsibilities and do nothing. Rather He wants His disciples to have a radical experience of their inner life, and learn compassion and empathy from their intimate familiarity with their own inadequacies and powerlessness. Jesus challenges them to cast all their cares on Him because without Him, they can do nothing. Jesus teaches them that rest is not a form of escapism, but taking time and making space for a deeper understanding of what it means to be human and be Christ-like.
People who are workaholic should remember that when God rained down manna from heaven, the Jews were instructed to gather only what they can eat for one day. The manna they gathered beyond one day’s supply spoiled and rotted (Ex.16:22-23). Indeed, at the root of our workaholism is our lack of faith in God’s providence.