Studies show the negative effects of long working hours
12 MINUTE READ
Rhythms and Rest are important in how we are made.
We know this intuitively and experientially.
We feel awful if:
- we don’t sleep well each night.
- we work long hours.
- we work through the ‘week’s end’.
- we don’t take vacations.
All of us get short-tempered and irritable if we don’t ‘stop’ whatever our work entails to reflect, enjoy, refresh and connect. These last two years of covid have taken their toll on me. For the first time in ages, leaving my workplace was only leaving ‘face-to-face’ work behind. Each evening became filled with ‘study’ work – learning and upskilling on so many different facets of pandemic life… that were then out-of-date by the next week! The cycle repeated over and over, replacing only the content: symptoms, testing, personal protective equipment, cleaning, item numbers, telehealth, digital messaging, vaccinations, modules, conspiracy theories, webinars, lunchtime updates – the list seemingly endless! As soon as one topic was ‘mastered’, the content would change. It was a never-ending hamster wheel of change. I was exhausted.
This year, we’ve all been there.
Various studies1 show the negative effects of long working hours on the health of workers. This includes increasing risks of cardiovascular disease, chronic fatigue, stress, depression, anxiety, sleep quality, all-cause mortality and detrimental health-behaviours (alcohol use, smoking, and physical inactivity). Shorter sleep duration leads to the worst health outcomes.
“Various studies1 show the negative effects of long working hours on the health of workers.”
The very earliest accounts of humanity, outlined in the creation narrative of Genesis, run the refrain: “And there was evening and there was morning, the [numbered] day.” God designed us in His image, and that includes a time of rest and reflection: “And God saw that it was good.”2 By the end of the first chapters of the Bible we have a daily and weekly rhythm that incorporates times of rest, reflection and delight. This includes a weekly Sabbath rest – “So, God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all His work that He had done in creation.”3
When God rescues his people from Egypt, one of the first things He does is to designate months and years, instituting festivals and seasons in which to remember Him, starting with the Passover festival4. Once they are safely away over the Red Sea, with Egypt’s mightiest in spectacular ruins behind them, God gives Israel the Ten Commandments in order to delineate how they will live as His chosen and saved people. They have been a slave nation – worked to the bone for hundreds of years, with no allowance for rest. The fourth commandment is a stark contrast to this slavery, and a reminder to trust God and revel in our being made in His likeness5. And so, we find ourselves in the 21st Century, still dividing our time into days and nights, and weeks with weekends, and months and years, with festivals and remembrances for significant dates in our history, even if we have lost sight of the reason behind these rhythms.
Monks go even deeper. Their day is characterised by intentional stoppages in order to spend time with God. Seven times a day, the Trappist monks attend to the Daily Office6 (daily ‘Opus’ meaning ‘work’). The Daily Office is the ‘work of God’ and nothing is to interfere with that priority. The Westminster Shorter Catechism7 reflects this in its first question, “What is the chief end of man? Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy Him forever.” Stopping for the Daily Office and Sabbath is not meant to add another to-do to our already busy schedules. It is the resetting of our entire lives toward a new destination – God. Peter Scazzero, in his book, “Emotionally Healthy Spirituality”8, describes it thus:
“We live in a blizzard.
And few of us have a rope.”
He then goes on to describe fierce sudden blizzards that require farmers to attach a rope from their house to the barn so that they can know their bearings and not die, (perhaps only metres from safety) in the course of their daily work.
“The Daily Office and Sabbath are ropes that lead us back to God in the blizzards of life. They are anchors for living in the hurricane of demands. When done as a ‘want to’ rather than a ‘have to’, they offer us a rhythm for our lives that bind us to the living God.”
I must admit, the thought of this is daunting. I have difficulty taking time each day in a traditional ‘quiet time’, let alone several times a day! However, when I do spend sustained personal time with God, the benefits of that overflow to every aspect of my life…
Over the course of my life, there have been various Rhythms of Rest:
- On Beach Missions or Mission Trips – morning devotions and prayer were written into the timetable.
- As a young mum unable to sleep in the middle of the night – this gave me the (questionable) blessing of undisturbed solitude to spend time talking with God.
- Breast-feeding gave me several opportunities a day to ‘stop’ and enjoy God’s creation in the wonder of a newborn.
- Praying for the day on the way to and from work, on my walk around the park.
- Listening to the Bible in One Year9 whilst showering and dressing each morning.
- Weekly youth groups, small groups, Friday night dinners and church services.
- Four-hour blocks of time on Monday mornings to stop and read and journal.
- Working through various books – devotionals, marriage enrichment, personal development.
- Weekly Bible memorisation with a group of women at church.
- A week of vacation every school term – at least three away from home, and two weeks in a row at least once a year. Some vacations are at the same place each year, with plenty of time for inactivity, whilst others involve exploring, new experiences and variety.
- Seven-yearly ‘Sabbaticals’ where I take several months or the entire year off from regular work to travel, study, explore or tackle large unpaid projects.
Without question, time spent with God is not wasted. Every time I stop and focus on God, it changes me and affects my relationships. At work, I find that I often connect with people over what I have been reading recently. This is so much more beneficial when it has godly content.
“Without question, time spent with God is not wasted. Every time I stop and focus on God, it changes me and affects my relationships.”
Michael Horton makes a gardening analogy in his book, “Ordinary”10. He describes the Christian life like taking care of a garden. The daily ‘work’ of gardening is very mundane: watering, weeding, fertilizing, mulching, pruning and the like. The purpose, however, is not in the work, per se – it is in delighting in the beauty and joy of the garden whilst at rest (perhaps with the resonance of, “And God saw that it was good!”2). Likewise, Christian ‘work’ may seem somewhat mundane: prayer, Bible reading, worship, church, small groups and Sabbaths. However, the purpose is in order to delight in God, to worship Him, and rest in His presence.
How might we do this?
Firstly, it springs from the desire of reorienting towards God. The aim is not legalistic, but relational. God has made us all differently, so that expression of focus will look different for each of us. It may be triggered by nature, the five senses, our breathing, scripture, times of the day, eating, or anything else that helps us to pause. Scazzero8 notes the following four elements for a Daily Office:
Stopping – so that our time with God is unhurried. We give up control and trust God to run His world without us.
Still – moving into God’s presence and resting there. This may involve concentrating on breathing (inhale Holy Spirit, exhale “Have mercy on me”), eyes closed, five senses, mindfulness.
Silence – quieting other voices to attend to God.
Scripture – psalms, Lord’s prayer, worship songs, devotional classics, Bible in a year, meditation, memorization, nature.
There are many books that can direct us to different ways of attending to God deliberately in our day. A general rule might be: If it helps, do it. If it does not help, do not do it – including the Daily Office! The purpose is to remember God and commune with Him through our days. Yahweh is a God of grace, who loves us because we are His children, not because of what we do. We are not to be like the Pharisees who, “Tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders,”11 in meeting with God through the day.
On Sabbaths, we imitate God by stopping our work and resting. It is a gift from God to stop our work and to delight in Him. It is a reminder that we are deeply loved by God for who we are, not for what we do – human beings, not human doings. This is particularly hard for many of us with Type A driven personalities, especially in round-the-clock jobs like health. Covid and isolation have given many of our friends and relatives a chance to stop their regular work and rest – taking the opportunity to do enjoyable things for which they otherwise don’t have time or opportunity. Facebook feeds have been full of home-cooked meals, gardens in bloom, craft and garage projects, books read, renovations and art! Our dental colleagues have perhaps had more opportunity for this than our medical friends, but I must admit to being pleasantly surprised at the extra time in my weeks with the transition of many meetings online. Whilst it may not be possible to always have the same time each week due to rosters, shiftwork and other demands, selecting a time period and protecting it is key.
“Whilst it may not be possible to always have the same time each week due to rosters, shiftwork and other demands, selecting a time period and protecting it is key.”
Again, Scazzero8 suggests the following for treasured ‘Sabbath-keeping’:
Stop. We have limits. God does not. I have a poster on my wall, “Remember that God is still in heaven and I do not have to do everything.” Stopping acknowledges that we are not in control and demonstrates our trust that God is in charge and He does not need us to bring about His purposes.
Rest. Do whatever delights and replenishes you. Tim Keller, in his article, “Wisdom and Sabbath Rest12” suggests the following:
Some time for sheer inactivity – time doing nothing, similar to Israel’s practice of letting a field lie fallow every seventh year to produce whatever happens to grow (Lev 25:1-7).
Pleasurable rest – something that sparks joy. Preferably a balance of the following:
Contemplative rest – prayer/ worship/ Scripture/ journaling
Recreational rest – something that refreshes you – exercise, hobby, art, craft, books, movies, board games, etc.
Aesthetic rest – exposure to beauty, nature, gardens or the weather.
Recharge – this may be with or away from others, depending whether you do this best on your own, or with people. Likely it will be away from technology in the form of phones, email, computers or social media.
Delight. The Hebrew phrase, “It was very good,” (Gen 1:31) communicates a sense of joy, completion, wonder and play. Slowing down to pay attention and delight in people and our senses is restorative.
“Taste and see that the Lord is good,13” is a helpful refrain for the Sabbath. Repeating this and deliberately exploring all five senses every time I eat something helps me recentre and remember how good God is!
Laughing and having fun, catching glimpses of perichoerisis (the ‘dancing around’ relationship reflecting the mutual indwelling of the Trinity), is helpful when I am tempted to be sombre and serious, weighed down with the responsibility of life.
“On Sabbaths, we imitate God by stopping our work and resting. It is a gift from God to stop our work and to delight in Him.”
Contemplate. The Sabbath is always “Holy to the LORD” (Ex 31:15). Worshipping with God’s people, feasting on His presence, reading and studying scripture, praying and singing give us a taste of the glorious eternal party of music, food and beauty that awaits us in heaven. Keeping this earthly life in heavenly perspective gives us hope, strength, focus, courage and energy that staves off burnout and compassion fatigue. We can overflow with God’s never-ending love as we remember His love for us throughout Biblical history.
Enjoy the Sabbath as the gift of a ‘no-obligation’ lockdown day EVERY week – a silver-lining of COVID-19!
“If you begin to practice stopping, resting, delighting, and contemplating for one twenty-four-hour period each week, you will soon find your other six days becoming infused with those same qualities. I suspect that has always been God’s plan.”
Dr Catherine Hollier Dr Catherine Hollier is a part-time GP in Newcastle who loves to encourage others to integrate faith and work, including the work of rest! She enjoys disseminating the wisdom of many CMDFA members through editing Luke’s Journal.
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- Kapo Wong,* Alan H. S. Chan, and S. C. Ngan The Effect of Long Working Hours and Overtime on Occupational Health: A Meta-Analysis of Evidence from 1998 to 2018 Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2019 June
- Genesis 1:10, 12, 18, 21, 25. All Bible references from ESV.
- Genesis 2: 1-2 – “And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation.”
- Exodus 12:2 – “This month shall be for you the beginning of months. It shall be the first month of the year for you.”
- Exodus 20: 8-11 – “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labour and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God…. For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore, the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy,”
- Daily Office – https://www.trappists.org/trappist-life/liturgy-of-the-hours/
- Westminster shorter catechism – https://www.apuritansmind.com/westminster-standards/shorter-catechism/
- Scazzero, Peter Emotionally Healthy Spirituality Zondervan 2014, 139-163.
- Download Nicky Gumbel’s Bible in One Year app from bibleinoneyear.org.
- Horton, Michael Ordinary: Sustainable Faith in a Radical Restless World Zondervan 2014. Ch 9 – God’s Ecosystem, p181.
- Matthew 23:4 – “They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger.”
- Keller, Tim Wisdom and Sabbath Rest https://redeemercitytocity.com/articles-stories/wisdom-and-sabbath-rest July 2021.
- Psalm 34:8 “Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!”