As I type this, I’m working my last few hours before I go on vacation. It’s working out, because of a federal holiday towards the end, that I’m getting almost a week and half off work. This, I realize, is an extreme luxury. Most humans aren’t able to take so much time off, much less travel out of the country like my wife and I are doing.
What I didn’t expect this week before vacation is how stressed out I’m already becoming about my return. The gazillion emails. Training a new employee. Catching up on communication with colleagues. Cleaning up messes that have occurred while I was gone.
And let’s be honest: As Americans, we’re still caught up in what we perceive as a merit-based work ethic. “If I work really hard all the time, more than all my co-workers, I’ll receive my reward.” “If I prove to my colleagues that I put in the most work, I’ll be viewed as the most valuable asset to my employer.” Our faith shows us a different model.
The writer of Ecclesiastes, for example, asks questions that should sound oddly familiar to us, though they were written so long ago. Three verses into the first chapter, he asks, “What do people gain from all their labors at which they toil under the sun?” A chapter later, he answers his own question by saying, “Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun.”
Something that I’ve only started learning to do better in the last couple of years is to practice a Christian balance in my life called praxis. Action. Reflection. Action. Reflection.
Across the New Testament, we find examples of Christ–sometimes in the least-expected moments–falling back into prayerful retreat in the midst of action. It is only then that he can truly remember who he is and whose he is.
We can only process why we grasp after social justice if we spend time remembering why we do so. We can only honor time in closer proximity to God if we go out and do something about it upon emerging from our prayer closet.
We have to try harder to remember that we don’t get our identity from our jobs. We don’t even get it from the things we like to do in our spare time with our passions, though that is a bit closer to the truth. We get it from God. There is nothing that you will do today–nothing–that will make you more worthy and important than you are at this exact moment reading this. And this (How often we forget!) is the central message of the Gospel.
Let’s get things straight, though. I love my job. I love reading, running, and writing in my spare time. Unless, however, I spend time doing nothing more than enjoying being alive, all of that becomes meaningless.
So…stop reading this. Go take a nap.
Kenneth J. Pruitt is a teacher by trade, and the Director of Volunteer Management at Kingdom House, a social services agency founded during the settlement house movement. He is proud of St. Louis, his adopted home. His wife is far more attractive and intelligent than he. He loves what you’ve done with your hair.