I’m really busy, lately. I won’t bore you with the details, but what is most telling during this time is how cluttered my home desk gets, and not with work. Instead it’s filled with materials that I find relaxing, items that help me get away from it all: comic books, enjoyable readings, Sudoku puzzles, newspapers, and magazines. Since they have nothing to do with work, they are not a priority, and are left untouched until I am no longer busy. One can usually get a sense as to how busy my life is by how chaotic this area is: the more there is, the busier I am (and conversely, when fully empty, it means that I have time for leisure activities). So, during this time of heavy work, there gets to be quite the pile.
In mentioning this scenario, most people don’t really see a problem. For those of us who prioritize well, we know that we get done what needs to get done first, looking to escape later when there is time to escape. Yet, look at that word: “escape.” Why do we call these activities escapist if we don’t get to them until there is nothing from which to escape? Why do we wait until everything is finished before we start them? The obvious reason is because there is work to do, but I would like to make a case that excessively working without these escapes is nothing more than a futile exercise in entropy.
Put simply, one of the laws of entropy (or thermodynamics) suggests that for some tasks, the more effort you put in, the fewer results you will get in return; the harder you try, the less you’ll succeed. For example: a student has a test tomorrow, and when he gets home, he tries to read the relevant chapters, scanning them several times. He then takes notes on those chapters, filling out several pages worth. Next, he chooses to stay up late and quiz himself on those chapters, creating flashcards and diagrams to help with his studying. He sets an early alarm to review all the material. On the bus in, he works towards memorizing all his notes and reviewing his flashcards. He continues to study up to the minute that the test is given, yet when he gets his grade back, the grade is not as high as the other student who studied for a few hours when she got home, had dinner with her family, made one set of flashcards and reviewed them twice, watched a little television, got lots of sleep, and didn’t study at all when she got up the morning of the test.
I’ve seen these two scenarios play out thousands of times. The one who tried hard ended up burning himself out, where the one who worked, but took breaks with activities she enjoyed, ended up renewed, filled with energy, and performing at a higher capacity. More isn’t necessarily better. There exists, in each of us, a point where going beyond said point has diminishing returns, and we are then not of any use to anyone, including ourselves. However, when we stop before we get to that point and then couple it with times of leisure, we are more productive despite the less time devoted to work. God gives us opportunities for rest for a reason, and if we don’t take them, we become overworked and overstressed.
When the work is piling up, we seem to think that we need to tackle it right away and continue to tackle it even when we are exhausted. We don’t take time to do the things we enjoy, activities that renew our spirit. Christ felt this way, too. After a long day of preaching to the crowds, despite their demands for more, Christ decided to get away, even though there was still work to be done.
That day when evening came, he said to his disciples, “Let us go over to the other side.” Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him. A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm. – (Mark 4. 35-39)
Even though the storm raged around them, Christ ignored it. Even though the work was piling up, He was in need of renewal (and more than likely, the only reason He calmed the storm was so that the disciples would leave him alone and let Him rest). Often, it’s more important to rest and be renewed than it is to tackle the work. Christ knew that there is always time for work, but there will not always be time for rest. And the more rest He got, the more productive He could be later. By accepting these God-given occasions for rest and renewal, we are allowing God to grant us the rest we need, so we can continue to work for Him in all things.
This week, despite the work that may be piling up for you, stop after a reasonable amount is done, and start to do the activities that refresh your mind and renew your spirit. Whether it be time for yourself, time with God, or time with others, take time to make the time. The work will still be there when you get back, but by taking the time to do what nourishes your soul, you will be able to tackle the work that much more productively. Overworking yourself won’t get as much done as you might think, but by breaking up that work with activities that renew your spirit, you can be ready to tackle more later, being the full-charged person that God desires you to be. Amen.