Isn’t it hard to find time to rest well these days? It feels like we’re always being whirled from one essay to another, one shift to the next, and finals looming on the horizon only makes things worse. Even during breaks, work sneaks itself in and makes us feel guilty if we really relax. It makes you wonder if there is a way to live that can make us restful despite all the work ahead of us as students, employees, and Christians.
I believe there is; but the explanation is complicated. We are faced with the classic problem: balancing work and rest. In order to do that effectively, we should think carefully about what we are attempting.
What is work? What is rest? Let’s answer those core questions from the perspectives of culture at large, of a few genius thinkers, and of the Christian faith, as we seek to define and balance work and rest.
So, what sorts of things does our culture project about work? To many, work is the primary ingredient in success. When most of us think of a successful person, whether it be an actor, business owner, or singer, we likely think of that person as having as much talent and hard work as they had fortune. That is the American dream after all: that anyone can find a good life if they work hard enough.
But is that all work is for? Success is important, but surely the work we do every day has something more to offer than a dollar in our pocket, right?
A. G. Sertillanges, a French monk, certainly thought so. He wrote his book The Intellectual Life about lots of ideas surrounding working well. He has a very interesting idea about what makes work valuable, calling it “a sacred call.”
In addition, scripture says that God created man in the garden to “till it and keep it” (Genesis 2:15). We are also tasked as Christians to “do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Colossians 3:17).
If this is true, then we would be wrong to think of work as only a tool for our personal benefit. Work is not for us; it never has been. Work, since the first human was made, has always been for God.
Now let’s look at rest. What is rest? Many describe it as a “break” from work. We rest and sleep so that we might work better when we get back to it. But just like with work, rest is something more, too.
Certainly, rest enables us to work well. In so doing, rest becomes a sort of work too, since we need to carefully choose how we rest so we get the most out of it.
But is there anything that makes rest worthwhile all on its own? Josef Pieper thought so. He wrote his essay Leisure the Basis of Culture on just that. He references a Greek word to guide our thoughts on leisure: skole. This is the Greek word for leisure, and it is the root of the English word “school.” Its counterpart in Latin, otium (also meaning leisure), informs us of what the purpose of leisure is.
Both words define leisure as time spent in contemplation or learning. Pieper draws from this connotation that leisure is not just a break from work, it is an activity with its own purpose. In his words: “therefore leisure does not exist for the sake of work—however much strength it may give a man to work.”
He explains that leisure is a method of learning where knowledge is gained just by receiving and responding. In other words, it is worship. The first question of the Westminster Shorter Catechism asks, “what is the chief end of man?” The answer is “to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.”
If Pieper, the catechism, and the scripture are correct, then the whole reason we exist is to worship. Leisure is one of the most important ways to worship, because it is a time, not to be working for God’s glory, but simply to see it around us and appreciate it.
Work can be worship, too. While rest is a more passive form of worship, performed by receiving and appreciating, work is a more active sort of worship, where each thing we do is worshipful if it is done for God’s sake. This is the meaning of both work and rest—our entire lives—to be offered as living sacrifices to God in love.
Overall, I think we can pull out three important principles for how to balance work and rest from what we’ve seen so far in scripture and with these prominent authors. They are as follows:
1. Devote yourself to your work.
Work like you’re working directly for God, because in a way, you are. Never do your work halfway. Don’t allow the draw of improperly timed distractions, like social media, sports games or videogames, to draw you away from your work. But be careful, don’t do so much work that you never have any time to rest! If you have so much to do that you cannot rest without neglecting work, that means you probably need to drop a few things. It is better to do a few things well for God than to do many things only half-well.
2. Rest fully and enjoy the good things God has given to us in life.
Like work, it is important that you set aside time for rest, too. Devote time to really have skole, to enjoy life by seeing God’s nature reflected in His creation, and diving in wholeheartedly to things like friendship and love. But just as you shouldn’t let work interrupt your rest, don’t let rest stretch into your time for work. So much of balancing work and rest properly is just keeping them separated. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t appreciate things while you work, but just that you don’t let that appreciation distract you from working well.
3. Work and rest with a mind focused on worship.
Remember that everything we do should be done to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. This should always show in our work and our rest; it is the definition of doing both well.
Maybe right now that means you need to leave a club or two to really get your work done well. Maybe that means that you need to limit your social media, pick up that guitar you haven’t touched in a month, and start making beautiful music that reflects God’s beauty (it doesn’t have to be worship music). When you think of work and rest as worship, that makes both of them part of your purpose for living. There is nothing more worth doing well.
We have seen how we should think about work, rest, and some principles to guide us in balancing the two. Undoubtedly this is a crucial balance for each of our lives, and none of us will master it without flaw. Despite this, we should each try our best throughout our lives to engage with labor, leisure, and love in a way that brings glory to the worthiest object of our worship: the Creator.
 A.G. Sertillanges, The Intellectual Life, pg. 5
 Josef Pieper, Leisure the Basis of Culture, pg. 49-50
 Josef Pieper, Leisure the Basis of Culture, pg. 65
Jonathan Perkins is an undergraduate scholar interested in "diving into the deepest riches of knowledge and discovering how to use them, both for our own good and the glorification of God." He is passionate about proclaiming what is Good, True, and Beautiful, and bringing the wonder of the world to those who have yet to hear