"Why do we work so hard?" The question is asked by a man standing before a pool and manicured lawn. "Other countries, they work, they stroll home, they stop by the cafe, they take August off, off. Why aren't you like that? Why aren't we like that? Because we're crazy hard working believers."
The recent Cadillac commercial that featured this message has been heavily criticized for endorsing materialism and workaholism. But what critics often overlook is the ad's accuracy.
According to the International Labor Organization, Americans work more, take less vacation, and retire later than people in any other industrialized country. In the U.S. 86 percent of men and 67 percent of women work more than 40 hours per week.
By any measure work is an enormous, even overbearing part of our lives. Our culture is more work-centered than any other on the planet and, very possibly, more work-centered than any other in history. In such a culture, those of us tasked with making disciples of Jesus Christ cannot ignore work as a critical area of spiritual formation, but two-thirds of churched adults surveyed by Barna said they have not heard any teachings about work at their church.
At a recent Leadership Journal event to address this topic, a few pastors challenged me. "Does the church really need to be talking more about work in a culture that's already obsessed with it?" one asked. That's a fair question, but let's apply the same logic to another cultural obsession—sex. For generations many churches avoided talking about sex apart from periodically condemning the culture's warped sexual values. Most pastors have now abandoned this ignore-or-condemn approach to sex for more mature, biblical discussions about an inescapable part of our humanity and spirituality.
Similarly, ignoring work or condemning our culture's idolatry of it is not enough. Instead our task is to affirm the original goodness of work as a God-ordained part of our humanity without falling into the culture's trap of making work into an idol. We must present a redeemed vision of work. In a culture full of "crazy hard working believers," however, that requires not only talking about work but also rest.
Music isn't just sound
A few years ago, visiting relatives in Southern California, my brother and sister-in-law took me to a concert at the Hollywood Bowl. As the sun was setting behind the outdoor amphitheater, the members of the orchestra began taking their seats. The sounds of the musicians tuning their instruments were odd. Screeching strings randomly echoed from the left. Blasts came from the wind section on the right. It was chaotic and a bit unpleasant.
Finally, the conductor emerged. He calmly raised his arms over his noisy instrumentalists. Silence. After a few moments of quiet anticipation, the conductor's hands moved and the music began.
While the musicians were tuning their instruments, they were certainly making sounds and even notes, but not music. "Music," said composer Claude Debussy, "is the silence between the notes." It is the orderly rhythm of sound and silence that creates melodies and the soul-stirring music we value. Without silence there can be no music, only noise.
Similarly, redeeming work requires an orderly rhythm of work and rest. Without regular periods of rest, our work loses its meaning and value and deteriorates into chaotic toil. We may ridicule cultures that legislate six-hour work days and eight weeks of vacation every year, but ceaseless work does not lead to flourishing either. What our culture has lost is a rhythm of work and rest in a frantic pursuit of achievement. As a result we are making a lot of noise but very little music.