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'Working Not to Work'

Jessica Johnson on

During my early years of teaching, my students often found it humorous when I told them that I worked around the clock. I didn't even take a break during spring break. I had piles of papers to grade, which were quite time-consuming, but that's what I signed up for as an English professor. There was a problem, however, because work was consuming all of my schedule and really came first in my life. I was not giving sufficient time to my church ministry or my family. I recently caught a Facebook live stream teaching and prayer session regarding work, by evangelist Benny Hinn. It made me reflect on how I should be managing my work and time to avoid the stress factors affecting many Americans. Hinn and Chris Lindberg, pastor of Life Fellowship Church in McKinney, Texas, were discussing how many people are putting lots of hours into their jobs but are extremely unhappy. Lindberg encouraged viewers to get to a place of solace where they are "working not to work."

When thinking about typical work-life balance for many of us, "working not to work" would be a difficult challenge. It's common knowledge now that, on average, we work longer hours than our counterparts in other developed countries, and we receive less in unemployment and disability benefits. Statistically, the longer hours do not appear to be that much of a difference on paper, as the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that the average American works 44 hours a week, which is roughly one hour more than Europeans. But that extra hour is actually a huge deal since Americans are working almost eight hours more a year than they did in 1979, according to the Economic Policy Institute. Not surprisingly, more time spent at our jobs is correlated with sleeping less. Gallup poll data on sleep from 2013 showed that the average American is getting 6.8 hours of rest a night.

So why are so many of us tirelessly grinding through the week, some to the point of physical exhaustion? In a piece for The Atlantic last year, Derek Thompson attributed our obsession with work, especially for many who are gainfully employed, to what he referred to as "workism" or "the gospel of work." Thompson wrote that workism is "the belief that work is not only necessary to economic production, but also the centerpiece of one's identity and life's purpose." His essay title pretty much summed up what many economists view as our current condition: "Workism Is Making Americans Miserable." I've thought about Thompson's claims and how they relate to Lindberg's encouragement for us to slow down and access what matters most in life. During his teaching session with Hinn, Lindberg quoted Psalm 127:2, which says, "It is vain for you to rise up early, to sit up late, to eat the bread of sorrows; for so he giveth his beloved sleep." In this verse, the "bread of sorrows" symbolizes what people believe is essential, such as work to maintain their position in life. But their quest to make work the center of their being results in distress. Sleep is bestowed upon those who seek God for guidance and meaning in everything they pursue.

I am blessed to have a job that I truly enjoy. I get to choose my schedule and work in extra hours as needed. I love teaching and interacting with my students, but I have to be careful not to let work consume me as it once did. Workism cannot be my "gospel." I've been in the workforce long enough now to have seen how disappointment can kill the dreams of someone who was preoccupied with a promotion he or she did not receive, or how achieving an upper-level position results in haughtiness in the treatment of others. I've had some career disappointments as well, but I am learning to approach my job responsibilities "heartily," as Colossians 3:23 states, letting God get the glory through my work.

"Working not to work" is an outlook that many people need to have. It's not worth it to let a 9-to-5 routine dominate your life. Focus on the things that are the most important -- faith, family and friends -- and give yourself time to rest.

 

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Dr. Jessica A. Johnson is a lecturer in the English department at Ohio State University's Lima campus. Email her at smojc.jj@gmail.com. Follow her on Twitter: @JjSmojc. To find out more about Jessica Johnson and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

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