“Come to me all who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest.”- Matthew 11:28
I have always been a “good worker.” My mother often bragged about how she loved to work, crediting her father as the role model of a strong work ethic. My mother never rested, and neither did her father. Interestingly when they both retired they spent most of their time sitting in a chair, not doing much of anything.
As I grew up, I also became a hard worker. I was always accomplishing things, taking on projects, raising my hand to lead a task. As a lawyer, overwork is a badge of honor. Billing hours, staying late at the office and coming in on weekends often garners you a partnership. When I entered the practice in the 1980’s it was particularly important to work hard and show up often because women were just starting to be accepted into the previously male dominated profession.
Where is the line between hard work, perseverance and being a “workaholic?” One source suggests that if you answer “often” or “always” to the following you might be in danger of being a workaholic:
1. You think of how you can free up more time to work.
2. You spend much more time working than initially intended.
3. You work in order to reduce feelings of guilt, anxiety, helplessness and/or depression.
4. You have been told by others to cut down on work without listening to them.
5. You become stressed if you are prohibited from working.
6. You deprioritize hobbies, leisure activities, and/or exercise because of your work.
7. You work so much that it has negatively influenced your health.
Unfortunately, after examining this list, it’s clear I may struggle with workaholism.
One of the anecdotes for overworking is rest. Without it we can suffer burnout. Even God rested on the seventh day. Rest may not come easy for those of us who are constantly working. As lawyers even when we are “off the clock” we carry our client’s burdens in our heads, and we may be worrying about the next court deadline in the back of our mind. Even when we are with family, we may have our mind back at the office. We may not even know how to rest.
I love the Scripture verse at the top of the page. When God says “come to me” what might that look like for this weary lawyer?
I’ve noticed it doesn’t take a vast amount of time to make me feel refreshed. When I have even a bit of solitude (preferably with God, reading my bible, journaling prayers to him, or just taking a walk in nature talking to him ) I feel instantly restored. And the power of that rest endures for hours. Even during the day at the office when I close my door and read a scripture or a page from a Christian devotional, the break restores me.
For those without a spiritual practice, even taking short breaks away from the desk or computer throughout the day can bring relief. A friend of mine sets her computer at the office to go off every few hours as a reminder to just breathe, pause, look away from work and dream for a minute.
One of the best steps I have taken is to remove my work email from my phone, so I am not constantly being pulled back into work during leisure time. I set limits on times to return emails and while I thought it would be stressful to let go of constant connection it has actually been freeing.
I’ve also blocked time on my calendar for a lunch break every day, and also for time to write at a local coffee shop on Friday mornings. It’s tempting to fill the time when I see it blocked off but the more I actually take the time the better I feel. Even if I don’t take the whole lunch break I know it is “downtime” without clients coming in or other expectations.I’ve also been experimenting with setting a firm stop time for work, no matter what.
Like all boundaries, the ones I am setting are easy to set but not easy to hold. It takes real commitment, and it’s important to enlist the others in the office to help you stay accountable. I meet a friend for the Friday writing who also holds me accountable. My law partner is supportive of my goals to stop overwork and is quick to remind me it’s time to leave if I am lingering.
I’ve also found it helpful to take a Sabbath. Many Christians feel that Sunday is the Sabbath but this is just our Western tradition because we go to church then. Christians don’t go to church on Sunday because it’s the Sabbath, it’s because Christ rose from the dead on Sunday and we are celebrating the resurrection.
The true Sabbath is Saturday, just as it was when Christ was alive. In the Jewish tradition the day begins at Sundown, so Friday night at sundown begins the Sabbath which then ends on Saturday at nightfall. The Jews still keep this tradition called “Shabbat.”
In Greek Orthodox tradition we have Vespers service on Saturday night just after sundown, as the beginning of the liturgical day. It is my very favorite Orthodox service, and even now if I don’t attend Vespers I love going to Protestant church on Saturday night because I am in such a rhythm of beginning a day dedicated to God at sundown. It makes me let down from the week, focus on God and relax, and I sleep like a baby.
There are many who would argue that to be “true” to the Bible and God’s commandment we have to honor the Sabbath on Saturday. I like to think that God doesn’t want us to be legalistic, particularly when we have taken the time to dedicate a Sabbath, and that he is just grateful to have our attention and to have us rest on any day we choose.
Taking these steps has helped me begin to pay attention to what I feel is an unhealthy pattern of prioritizing work. As I continue to explore this tendency I have self compassion, remembering my overwork has been a coping mechanism in the past for me in some way. I want to choose a healthier lifestyle and know that letting go of overwork, like all self improvement endeavors, is a journey.