Work/Life Balance and the Bible (Part 1)
Work/life balance. The very term suggests that our lives are compartmentalized into these two categories––work and life. And realistically, that’s probably how most of us think of our lives. We have our paid work, and then we have our “life”––everything else we do with our time. Family, friends, hobbies, church, house projects, volunteering, vacation, etc. And if we don’t have enough time for those things, we say we don’t have a life!
For a long time, I wrestled with the concept of work/life balance, and not just because there’s naturally tension involved in trying to balance the many priorities and areas of life. It’s just that these categories weren’t so clear to me. For most of my career, a lot of “life” happened for me at work, especially the social aspect of work. And a lot of my life outside work, especially marriage, raising kids, helping out around the house, etc. had a lot of work!
I was also puzzled by how this concept applied to other people I talked to. I noticed that people who talk about work/life balance often seemed to dislike their jobs or see work as meaningless but necessary drudgery. Having a “life” was about escaping from work. Their work and life didn’t need balance so much as a reconciliation.
Then there were others who didn’t really talk about work/life balance. Some of these were admittedly workaholics––their work was their life, and they were not really interested in trying to balance it with other things. They wanted success, achievement, and getting to the top of their game or the ladder.
But then there were a few others who didn’t talk about work/life balance because they were actually in balance. They had a life they were fully living, and work was part of that.
All of this led me to wonder whether our modern concept of work/life balance lines up with what the Bible has to say about our work, and what it means to live a life of balance. So, a few years ago, I took a closer look at the biblical view of work.
The first thing that stood out to me in the earliest pages of Scripture was that the first Person we see working in the Bible is God Himself.
Next, I saw that God created humans in His image to work: “The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it” (Genesis 2:15 NIV).
So right off the bat, the Bible affirms that work is good and not something we need to try to escape from. Work is something God does and has never stopped doing. Even Jesus said, “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I too am working” (John 5:17 NIV). And our work is supposed to be an extension of God’s work. We’re coworkers with God.
But the third thing I noticed was that the Bible does contrast work with something, but it doesn’t call it “having a life.” It calls it rest.
Once again, God is the One who rests just as He is the One who works: “By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work” (Genesis 2:2 NIV). The next verse says,
“Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done” (Genesis 2:3 NIV).
I don’t know about you, but whatever God blesses is something I want to pay attention to. In Genesis 1, God has already blessed the animals and the humans to be fruitful and multiply. But the next thing He blesses is this period of time, the seventh day, because it is set apart from the work week. So why would God bless a day just because it was His day off?
The answer is that God blessed the day of rest for our sake, which we see in the Ten Commandments. “Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the LORD your God” (Exodus 20:9). This commandment shows up twice. The first time, Moses explains that when we keep the Sabbath, we honor the cosmic rhythm of work and rest established from creation. The second time, Moses urges us to remember that we rest from our work because we have been delivered and liberated from slavery.
I don’t have the time here to dive deep into the practice of the actual Sabbath day. I encourage you to study the subject for yourself and ask God to lead you into this practice His way.
But I do want to suggest that instead of looking at our lives through a lens of work/life balance, we look at it through a lens of work and rest. Work includes everything in our lives that involves significant output of energy and creativity. Rest is when we stop the output and switch to inputs that restore our bodies, souls, and spirits.
How do you practice rest each week?