Working Hard or Hardly Resting?
“On the seventh day God completed the work he had been doing; he rested on the seventh day from all the work he had undertaken” (Genesis 2:2).
When I began freelance writing, another writer warned me of the great temptation to work constantly. All I have to do is flip open my laptop, check to see what clients need or what I could pitch, and I can work while the kids eat breakfast. It all sounds so easy, and for the most part, it’s an ideal setup. But, when I have downtime, the voice in my head starts talking.
“You are sitting with your kids on your lap watching a 20-minute cartoon,” it says. “Time is money! Get up and go knock out a paragraph or two of that blog post that’s due soon.”
Sometimes, the glow of the laptop on the bar in my kitchen seems like a sinister idol, one that is ever-present and perpetually lit like a chancel candle in the heart of my home. How can this thing I prayed for, that is such a blessing to me and to our family, sometimes seem like a near occasion of sin?
If that sounds a little dramatic, maybe you’re right. I’m not neglecting my family. However, I know it isn’t right that I am not always fully in the moment with my husband and children, or sometimes in my prayer, because I am thinking about deadlines and pitch ideas.
Learning From Cain and Abel: The Value of Rest
My women’s group at church is doing Jeff Cavins' Great Adventure Bible study. In his study, Cavins makes some interesting points about the story of Cain and Abel as it relates to the temptation toward workaholism. He asserts that the pains Genesis takes to describe the superlative nature of Abel’s gift point to the reason God favors Abel’s sacrifice over Cain’s: Cain likely didn’t put too much thought into his gift.
Genesis emphasizes Cain’s vocation as a tiller of the earth, a vocation that God subsequently takes from Cain after he kills his brother. God’s repetition of the word “ground,” from which he says Abel’s blood cries to Him, and from which He declares Cain’s punishment will come, could suggest the excessive importance the land might have had to Cain. When Cain says God’s punishment is “greater than I can bear!,” it seems to indicate that Cain’s attachment to his earthly work has become disordered. Even after he has killed his own brother, it is the separation from his work that appears to be Cain’s breaking point.
When our group discussed this story, I wondered if the reason God saw Cain’s sacrifice as subpar was not because Cain was doing bad work but because Cain was, in fact, too focused on his work. Suppose that when Cain went to make a sacrifice to the almighty Creator, he decided he would save time and “pick something up on the way”? Any busy person can relate to this (often very practical) life hack. “I’ll say a rosary while I fold laundry and save some time,” I often say to myself. “That way, I can get back to that piece I was working on. Wait, what decade am I on right now?”
Cavins highlights the fact that Genesis later goes on to describe the descendants of Cain and then the descendants of his other brother, Seth (from whom Noah — whose name, Cavins emphasizes, means “rest” — would eventually come). Cain’s descendants are described in relation to their worldly accomplishments and achievements, whereas Seth’s are described by their qualities (for example, Enoch “walks with God”). These contrasting genealogies seem to suggest that rather than passing on the values that really mattered to his children and their descendants, Cain’s example taught his family to focus on worldly achievement. We don’t hear too much about Cain’s lines after that.
Living the Liturgical Procession: Right Praise
Cain’s downfall, then, may have stemmed, at least in part, from an inability to rest. We are designed by God for rest, and for Catholics, that means participation in what Bishop Robert Barron refers to as the “right praise” of the Mass. To paraphrase a recent sermon by Bishop Barron, the story of the creation, each day focused on different aspects of the world, is meant to evoke a liturgical procession. Each day, God brings something into being that early peoples later worship — the sun, the moon, etc. — thereby placing it in its proper subordinate context. Man is created last, just as the priest arrives last in the liturgical procession at the beginning of Mass. Then, God rests.
God rests, Bishop Barron stresses in his sermon, not because He is tired but because all of creation has come together in its purpose: to unite as a chorus of praise led by humankind. As the saying goes, in a very literal sense, God’s in His heaven, and all is right with the world. According to Barron, when Revelation describes all of creation worshipping the Lamb who was slain in unity with the angels and saints, it provides a portrait of right praise: all things ordered toward God as God intended. The Mass is a participation in this ongoing heavenly worship, so that, according to Bishop Barron, “[E]very time we worship, every time we adore, we rediscover Eden, we rediscover friendship with God.”
By contrast, Barron says, sin can be understood as “bad praise,” or ordering ourselves toward a lesser good than God. How often do we use God’s gifts simply to serve our own ends? How often do we become so focused on their temporal applications that we forget to stop, to truly rest in God and to give real thanks to Him for his gifts? How mindful are we of returning to God the gifts He has given us? What are the people in our care learning from our example? Will it be said of them that they walk with God ... or just that they were really hard workers?
Rest isn’t just a nice break. True rest is a participation in the life God always wanted for us. The Mass is a gift from God to help us tap into the eternal Heavenly rest that is available to us all. Let’s accept that gift and let it flow into the rest of our lives.
Maggie Phillips is a freelance writer and military spouse with three small children and an incredibly patient husband. Follow her work at mrsmaggiephillips.com and on Instagram at @maggies_words.