One of the remarkable facts about the way God made us is that He seems to have made it necessary that we sleep one third of our day. God could have done otherwise, but this is what he actually did. Further, God went on to command that on one day out of seven we were to cease, to rest. The morning was for the rest we call worship and the remainder of the day was to be spent with family and enjoying the fruit of our labor. God wasn’t messing around. He commanded it:
- Six days do your work, but on the seventh day do not work, so that your ox and your donkey may rest and the slave born in your household, and the alien as well, may be refreshed (Ex 23:12)
- For six days, work is to be done, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of rest, holy to the LORD. Whoever does any work on the Sabbath day must be put to death. (Ex 31:15)
- Six days you shall labor, but on the seventh day you shall rest; even during the plowing season and harvest you must rest (Ex 34:21)
- For six days, work is to be done, but the seventh day shall be your holy day, a Sabbath of rest to the LORD. Whoever does any work on it must be put to death. (Ex 35:2)
- There are six days when you may work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of rest, a day of sacred assembly. You are not to do any work; wherever you live, it is a Sabbath to the LORD (Lev 23:3)
Does it sound like the Lord is repeating himself? He is. But sometimes (most times) we’re slow to hear. He has written sleep into our physical nature and rest into our work week. The Lord also prescribed a series of feasts or holy days (holiday is just a mispronunciation of Holy Day), and here to the people were to cease, pray and celebrate.
We Americans are miserable at this. We are hard workers, and that is good, but what good is it to work hard and never be able to enjoy the fruit of our work? DO we work to live, or live to work? Of all the commandments, you’d think we’d get this one right. God commands and prescribes a certain amount of rest and yet we seem to prefer the status of bond servants. How strange.
Besides a handful of national holidays, the typical American worker bee gets two or three precious weeks off out of a whole year to relax and see the world — much less than what people in many other countries receive. And even that amount of vacation often comes with strings attached.
Some U.S. companies don’t like employees taking off more than one week at a time. Others expect them to be on call or check their e-mail even when they’re lounging on the beach or taking a hike in the mountains.
“I dream of taking a cruise or a trip to Europe, but I can’t imagine getting away for so long,” said Don Brock, a software engineer who lives in suburban Washington.
The running joke at Brock’s company is that a vacation just means you work from somewhere else. So he takes one or two days off at a time and loses some vacation each year. Only 57% of U.S. workers use up all of the days they’re entitled to.
It’s a totally different story in other parts of the world.
Nancy Schimkat, an American who lives in Weinheim, Germany, said her German husband, an engineer, gets six weeks of paid vacation a year, plus national holidays — the norm. His company makes sure he takes all of it. [Wow, I honestly don’t know what I’d do with six weeks]
It’s typical for Germans to take off three consecutive weeks in August when “most of the country kind of closes down,” Schimkat said. That’s the time for big trips, perhaps to other parts of Europe, or to Australia or North America. Germans might also book a ski holiday in the winter and take a week off during Easter. [Yes, it’s great when the whole country agrees. It used to be more like that in this country when most things were closed on Sunday and major holidays]
Schimkat’s family back in the United States teases her that she’s spoiled. But when she tells Germans that workers in the U.S. usually get two weeks of vacation a year, they cringe.
“[Germans] work very hard, but then they take their holiday and really relax. … It’s more than just making money for Germans, it’s about having time for your family and it’s about having time to wind down.”
A big reason for the difference is that paid time off is mandated by law in many parts of the world. [OK, but please don’t ask the government in, we don’t need any more regulations].
Germany is among more than two dozen industrialized countries — from Australia to Slovenia to Japan — that require employers to offer four weeks or more of paid vacation to their workers…. Finland, Brazil and France are the champs, guaranteeing six weeks of time off.
But employers in the United States are not obligated under federal law to offer any paid vacation, so about a quarter of all American workers don’t have access to it, government figures show. Most U.S. companies, of course, do provide vacation as a way to attract and retain workers.
But the fear of layoffs and the ever-faster pace of work mean many Americans are reluctant to be absent from the office — anxious that they might look like they’re not committed to their job. Or they worry they won’t be able to cope with the backlog of work waiting for them after a vacation. [There’s the word: FEAR]
[In addition], working more makes Americans happier than Europeans, according to a study published recently in the Journal of Happiness Studies. That may be because Americans believe more than Europeans do that hard work is associated with success… [Yeah, but what good is success when you never enjoy it?]
So despite research documenting the health and productivity benefits of taking time off, a long vacation can be undesirable, scary, unrealistic or just plain impossible for many U.S. workers. [Note again a particular word: “scary”]
[But] “There is simply no evidence that working people to death gives you a competitive advantage,” said John de Graaf, the national coordinator for Take Back Your Time, a group that researches the effects of overwork. He noted that the United States came in fourth in the World Economic Forum’s 2010-2011 rankings of the most competitive economies, but Sweden — a country that by law offers workers five weeks of paid vacation — came in second. [OK, pay attention, this is important data – hard work alone doesn’t necessarily cut the deal].
“I’m in no way anti-capitalist, I think the market does a lot of good things, but the Europeans understand that the market also has its failings and that when simply left completely to its own devices, it doesn’t produce perfect results.”
But is more government regulation the answer? The debate rages on.
Well, I must admit that I am very poor at taking vacations. I like what I do and I am a “home body.” I also hate to travel. I also think that six weeks paid vacation is way over the top. But all that said, I need to do better. If for no other reason, my people and my staff need a break from me! But the main reason is, that God commands hours of rest each day, one day each week and seasonal observances of holidays.
God says, “Stop!….Rest!” But why? Here are some likely reasons:
1. Because, like any loving Father he wants us to enjoy some of the gifts he offers. Imagine if you gave your child a gift and they just hurriedly said thanks, tossed it up on the shelf and never took time to enjoy it. Is that why you gave it? Is this really the proper attitude to have about gifts from God, that we never enjoy them?
2. In so resting we are refreshed and also let others rest and be refreshed, especially the poor. A great sadness of the modern age is that, since we demand the convenience of Sunday shopping etc., many who are poorer have to work. One of the articulations of the Sabbath rest surely applies here: so that your ox and your donkey may rest and the slave born in your household, and the alien as well, may be refreshed (Ex 23:12)<
3. Some gifts are only given while we rest. Psalm 127 says, In vain is your earlier rising, your going later to rest, you who toil for the bread you eat; when he pours gifts on his beloved while they slumber. Exactly what gifts these are may be mysterious to us. Surely our bodies benefit from rest, but the psalm may also refer to other hidden gifts, like serenity, and spiritual insights that are given only while we sleep. Perhaps God whispers wisdom and spiritual truth into the depths of our soul while we sleep. Perhaps it is only in rest that we finally connect the dots to make sense out of the many events of our life. Perhaps only rest and vacation can give us the necessary perspective we need and restore us to proper priorities.
4. Scripture also speaks of the Sabbath and holy days as a day of protest against the servitude of work and the worship of money (e.g. Neh 13:15-22; Amos 8:4-6). The Nehemiah text is too long to produce here, but Amos says: Hear this, you who trample the needy and do away with the poor of the land, saying, “When will the New Moon be over that we may sell grain, and the Sabbath be ended that we may market wheat?”— skimping the measure, boosting the price and cheating with dishonest scales, buying the poor with silver and the needy for a pair of sandals, selling even the sweepings with the wheat. The Lord has sworn by the Pride of Jacob: “I will never forget anything they have done.
5. But here comes the subtle reason: God wants to remedy our fear. Note that I highlighted the reference to fear twice in the article above. In the end, the call to keep the Sabbath holy, and to take our holiday, is a call to trust. Although it might seem that rest is a natural human tendency, it will also be seen that the opposite is more often true.
Many fears accompany the cessation of work: Will competitors surpass me while I rest? Will I fail to complete all my duties? Will others amass more wealth or power while I fall behind? How can I pay all my bills or finance my lifestyle if I do not work more hours? Will my children’s college education be possible if I do not work every day? Will I loose my job or not get one at all if I do not agree to work Sundays and scrimp my necessary vacation?
In effect God says, “I want you to trust me. Take one day and set it aside entirely. Get adequate rest, take some vacation. Do no work on such days. Cease striving, let go of the controls. Rest, worship, consider your blessings, enjoy them and give thanks for them. Spend time with your family and friends. I promise you that you will accomplish more with the six days remaining that you ever would with all seven, 48 weeks, than the 52, with the reasonable work hours rather than endless overtime. Understand and trust that if you are faithful to my commandment to rest and worship on the Sabbath and other days I will bless you.” (cf Jer 17:24; Is 56:4; Dt 28:9ff; Ex 19:5).
The gift of our time to God is a precious one indeed. But why should we fear to give it to the author of all time? Trust in God.
As you look to some vacation this year, consider well that to some extent, God commands it. I don’t know that he commanded six weeks of vacation. But it is very clear that God has written into our nature a need for eight hours sleep each day. He has commanded one day of rest where we do not strive or earn money, but just trust, worship and enjoy. Further, in commanding placing numerous religious feasts and festivals on the ancient calendar, God also seems to sanction and even prescribe some extended periods of rest we call vacations or holidays (a.k.a. Holy Days).