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Discipleship Hour Notes

Who Am I? | Session Two

Posted by Nick Locke on

I’M NOT A WORKAHOLIC… I JUST WORK TO RELAX

 In the 1960’s Congress held a lengthy hearing to discuss what they perceived would be a massive problem in the coming decades: the twenty-hour work week. At the time, thinkers all over the world, from sci-fi writers to political theorists, thought that as technology made our work more and more efficient and effective, Americans would have less and less work to do. “Everybody thought the main problem in the future would be too much leisure.”[1] People were worried that summer camps would have to stay open-year round, and families “would be taking so many vacation trips that our national infrastructure would need to be completely overhauled to accommodate the traffic.”[2] All of this was assumed to be the reality by 1985.

The idea is almost laughable now, because the exact opposite scenario has played out. “Technological advances have not increased downtime. Instead of condensing work, they have squeezed out rest. Dramatically so.” The average American works nearly four hours per week more than they did in 1979. The average worker in the US clocks in “some 1,788 hours a year, 120 more than our counterparts in Britain, 300 more than the French, and 400 more than the Germans.”[3]

 There has also been a massive cultural shift in the way that we think about rest and status. Busyness is now a sign of wealth. As one article in the Harvard Business Review points out: “Advertising, often a barometer of social norms, used to feature wealthy people relaxing by the pool or on a yacht (e.g., Cadillac’s ‘The Only Way to Travel’ campaign in the 90’s). Today, those ads are being replaced with ads featuring busy individuals who work long hours and have very limited leisure time.” Complaining about being busy and working all the time is so commonplace, we do so without even thinking. Today when “someone asks ‘How are you?’ we no longer say ‘Fine’ or ‘I’m well, thank you.’ We often simply reply ‘Busy!’”[4] “A century ago the less you worked, the more status you had. Now it’s flipped: the more you sit around and relax, the less status you have.”[5]

 I WORK, THEREFORE I AM?

 We may rail against our current predicament and claim to want to want something different, but statistics seem to tell a different story. Studies have demonstrated that many who have the means and opportunity to take a week or two off every year choose not to. The same dynamic can be observed with our relationship to sick days. Famously, America does not require employers to offer paid sick leave. On average, employers granted new employees eight sick days in 2016, 20 percent less than what was offered in 1993. But even then, people rarely take the full number of sick days allotted to them, even when they should.[6]

 David Zahl writes, “The only conclusion a person can draw is that many of us who claim to want some R&R are either fibbing or in the grip of something stronger than ourselves.”[7] According to one clinical social worker in the Bay Area who sees a lot of stressed out tech workers, “Everyone wants to be a model employee… One woman told me: ‘The expectation is not that you should work smart, it’s that you should work hard. It’s just do, do, do, until you can’t do anymore.’” [8] Celeste Headlee comments, “We have internalized these values to the point where many of us are willing and devoted believers. We have converted to the religion of long hours and have faith that working without cease is not just the best way to get a promotion, but the best way to live.[9]

 “The real question when it comes to our work habits,” according to David Zahl, “is not so much why we work such insane hours, but why we have come to prefer it. Could it be that our careers provide us with much more than a paycheck?”[10] According to Robert Bellah and his team of sociologists, the answers is, “yes.” He writes, “The demand to ‘make something of yourself’ through work is one that Americans coming of age hear as often from themselves as from others… work… is very close to our sense of self. What we ‘do’ often translates to what we ‘are.’”[11]

 This mentality, however, can and has led to tragedy. The stakes are much higher than mere fatigue or burnout. The same interview that included the Bay Area clinical social workers comments about expectations in the tech industry goes on to detail the suicide of Joseph Thomas, a software engineer at Uber.  In her comments to the media afterword, Thomas’ widow “blamed the company’s gung-ho culture, with its long hours and intense psychological pressure.”[12]

 PROCRASTINATORS UNITE… TOMORROW

 Perhaps, you’re not an overachiever with a Type A personality. Maybe you’d even go so far as to describe yourself as a procrastinator. Surely you’re not tempted to find your identity in your work, right? Perhaps, but perhaps not.

 A 2010 study put out by the American Psychological Association reported that 20 percent of Americans qualify as ‘chronic procrastinators.’ A separate study a few years earlier described the most consistent emotion experienced at the time of procrastination: guilt. David Zahl comments, “Procrastination, then, consists of more than delayed activity but of delayed activity that induces guilt. This means that 20 percent of Americans feel acute guilt over not ‘getting things done’ in a timely matter or not working efficiently enough.” He goes on to speculate, “Would 20 percent of Americans admit to feeling acute guilt about more conventional moral failures, such as lying or cheating? Doubtful.”[13]

 If we take these studies at face value, then it would appear that productivity is a higher cultural value than goodness. Our cultural definition of righteousness just might be more closely linked to efficiency than morality.

 It is also worth considering the multiple causes for procrastination. Sometimes procrastination can be attributed to laziness, but there are often other factors at play. For example, writer Anna Smith in an article for Modern Reformation explains that the primary cause for her chronic procrastination is actually perfectionism. She writes:

 “I am one of those tragic figures who is both a perfectionist and a procrastinator. I am such a perfectionist that the very idea of failure terrifies me to the core of my being. I am so afraid of doing things wrong that I am afraid to start, because I will probably not do it (whatever ‘it’ is) perfectly and correctly. So I have to wait around until the fear of failure-by-not-finishing-at-all becomes greater than the fear of failure-by-not-doing-it-perfectly. Once the scale tips the balance, I can then scramble to try to get it done in the little remaining time, my normal fear of imperfection having been overwhelmed by the terror of it not being completed by the deadline. If this doesn't sound like a healthy pattern to you, that's good, because it isn't.”[14]

WE REGARD NO ONE ACCORDING TO THE FLESH

While it is incredibly easy for us to find our identity and meaning in our work, the Bible provides a soul-satisfying alternative. In 2 Corinthains 5:16, the apostle Paul makes a powerful statement: “From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh.”[15] Paul declares that appearance, qualifications, vocation, or any other worldly category have no bearing on how one is viewed in Christ. “Things which once had been regarded as important were now seen to have no real value at all (cf. Phil. 3:4–8). He can no longer pride himself ‘on a man’s position’, only his standing before God, which is a gift of grace (cf. v. 12).”[16]

Paul goes on to declare the radical extent of our new identity in Christ: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself… that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them” (2 Cor. 5:17-19). In Christ, our performancism is done away with. God knows our trespasses, but in Christ, he no longer counts them against us. How? He explains in verse 21: “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” In Christ you are a new creation, one that bears the righteousness of God.

 Understanding who we are, changes everything about us, including our approach to work, and even procrastination. Anna Smith explains beautifully:

“If I want to escape the perfectionism/procrastination cycle, I need to let go of the whole project of establishing my own worthiness. I'll never succeed. I make mistakes, I fail people, I hurt people. Busily engaging in my own pathetic attempt for perfection in limited areas doesn't fix those things. These projects, which seem so terribly important, just distract us from the real issue. The real issue is that I am a sinner and there is a holy God, and I do not deserve good things from him. I need someone to fulfill the demands of the law on my behalf and suffer the judgment for my failures. Christ has done this exact thing for me and extended his worthiness to me by grace, and it means that my worthiness is no longer up for me to determine. Because of Christ I am good, I am safe, and no B+ (or worse!) can vouchsafe that reality.”[17]

 

 

[1] John Mark. Comer, The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry: How to Stay Emotionally Healthy and Spiritually Alive in the Chaos of the Modern World (Colorado Springs, CO: WaterBrook Press, 2019), 33.

[2] David Zahl, Seculosity: How Career, Parenting, Technology, Food, Politics, and Romance Became Our New... Religion and What to Do about It (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2019), Kindle, Chapter 5.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Silvia Bellezza, Neeru Paharia, and Anat Keinan, “Research: Why Americans Are So Impressed by Busyness,” hbr.org (Harvard Business Review, November 26, 2019), https://hbr.org/2016/12/research-why-americans-are-so-impressed-by-busyness.

[5] Comer, The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry, 34.

[6] Zahl, Seculosity, Kindle, Chapter 5.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Dan Lyons, “In Silicon Valley, Working 9 to 5 Is for Losers,” The New York Times (The New York Times, August 31, 2017), https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/31/opinion/sunday/silicon-valley-work-life-balance-.html.

[9] Celeste Anne Headlee, Do Nothing: How to Break Away from Overworking, Overdoing, and Underliving (New York, NY: Harmony Books, 2020), 62.

[10] Zahl, Seculosity, Kindle, Chapter 5.

[11] Robert N. Bellah et al., Habits of the Heart: Individualism and Commitment in American Life (Berkley, CA: University of California Press, 1996), Kindle, Chapter 3.

[12] Lyons, “In Silicon Valley, Working 9 to 5 Is for Losers.”

[13] Zahl, Seculosity, Kindle, Chapter 5.

[14] Anna Smith, “Perfectionism and Procrastination,” White Horse Inn (Modern Reformation, September 28, 2016), https://www.whitehorseinn.org/article/perfectionism-and-procrastination/

[15] This verse and all the quotations that follow are from the English Standard Version.

[16]Colin G. Kruse, 2 Corinthians: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 8 of Tyndale New Testament Commentaries. IVP/Accordance electronic ed. (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1987), 123.

[17] Anna Smith, “Perfectionism and Procrastination.”

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