I am one who likes to fill my schedule with activities. Are you like that? The demands of family, school, church and other activities often make for a very busy, and often exhausting, life.
If you asked my bride or my children today about life when they were growing up, they would tell you that my favorite expression for them was, “relax!” But then they would follow that comment up with the fact that out of everyone, I was probably the one who needed to heed that challenge the most. In fact, one year for Christmas they presented me with one of those one-word lawn or wall ornament sayings that says just that: “Relax!” It hangs in my office to this very day.
In general, people tend to feel that if they work harder, good results will follow. Sherman James, an epidemiologist at the University of Michigan, describes a personality type named John Henryism. The name refers to the American folk hero who, hammering a 6-foot-long steel drill, tried to out-race a steam drill tunneling through a mountain. John Henry beat the machine, only to fall dead from the superhuman effort.
As James defines it, John Henryism involves the belief that any and all demands can be vanquished, so long as you work hard enough. On questionnaires, John Henry individuals strongly agree with statements such as “When things don’t go the way I want, it just makes me work even harder,” or “Once I make up my mind to do something, I stay with it until the job is completely done.” They believe that with enough effort and determination they can regulate all outcomes.”
But is it really true? Do good things come to those who work harder?
While in seminary, one of my favorite professors used to hammer one principle for wise living into our heads that still is with me today, even though I consistently struggle with its application to my life: “Work smarter, not harder.” He would then point to Psalm 46:10 and say, “When the Bible says, ‘Be still, and know that I am God,’ each and every one of us should take this literally.’” The challenge of balancing the demands of daily living with biblical commands is one of the greatest challenges we will ever face.
Repeatedly, the challenge in the Scriptures is to live by faith. (See Rom. 1:17; Gal. 3:11; Heb 10:38; Heb 11:6; 2 Cor 5:7 for good examples of these challenges to walk by faith). And while diligence is always commended, the main thrust of the Scriptures is to trust God for our lives rather than to live as though all of our lives, both in this life and the next, depending upon our own personal efforts.
Barbara Brown Taylor puts it this way: “I do not mean to make an idol of health, but it does seem to me that at least some of us have made an idol of exhaustion. The only time we know we have done enough is when we are running on empty and when the ones we love most are the ones we see the least. When we lie down to sleep at night, we offer our full appointment calendars to God in lieu of prayer, believing that God, who is as busy as we are, will surely understand.” Ms. Taylor made this comment to explain why she took the entire year (2000) as a year of jubilee, a year of rest, not accepting any out-of-town speaking engagements and working only 40 hours per week.
The key to life, not just the Christian life, but life in general, is balance — knowing when to work hard and knowing when to stop and relax. I am convinced that is what God meant when he left us these words, “Be still and know that I am God.” He wants us to understand that He is in control. He wants us to trust Him in every situation, not just the ones we cannot handle ourselves.
Bernard Lagat knows a lot about long-distance running. Lagat, a Kenyan-born citizen of the U.S., is a four-time Olympian. He owns seven American records, ranging from the 1,500- to the 5,000-meter races. In the 2012 London Olympics, he finished fourth in the 5,000 meters. Although long-distance running is hard on the joints and muscles, 37-year-old Lagat shows no signs of slowing down.
But even in the midst of his rigorous training schedule, every fall Lagat does something that is completely foreign to most elite runners around the globe: he takes a five-week break—just like he’s done every fall since 1999. According to an article in The New York Times, “He will toss his sneakers into a closet and pig out for five weeks. No running. No sit-ups, no heavy lifting, except for a fork.” He will also coach his son’s soccer team.
Peter Thompson, a longtime running coach and track and field official, claims that Lagat’s approach is unique. Thompson said, “In the U.S., runners are very obsessive about not letting go of training.” But Lagat stands by his need for sustained rest. Lagat said that every athlete is different, but his schedule has been very effective. “My runs are very hard,” he said. “Everything I do is hard… [But] the body is tired. You’re not a machine. Rest is a good thing.”
Right after we moved to Florida almost six years ago, I took six weeks of golf lessons. The pro who taught the lessons had one principle he repeated in every lesson. It was one simple word: RELAX! And ever since, I have discovered that the more I relax when I get up to hit the ball, the better the shot.
Rest is good thing, especially when we rest in the Lord. So the challenge for each of us is simple: relax! Sit back and watch God do His thing! Then rejoice.
Chuck Tabor is a religion columnist for The Times-Gazette and a former Hillsboro area pastor. He can be reached at [email protected]