Working to Rest

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“I hope you are recovering and resting well.” A text from a friend.

Recovering-check. Resting-check. Well-….

I don’t do that last part.

I don’t rest well. It’s taken a surgery (kidney stone) and a persistent wife following for me to allow myself to rest. To not work. To not press myself. To not feel guilty.

I don’t do that last part.

I accuse myself of sloth and indolence; of even when I am working, that I don’t work hard enough, or diligently enough, or faithfully enough, and that I am incapable even of doing so, incompetent for the tasks set before me.

In our Citygroup, we’ve been reading Dietrick Bonhoeffer’s Life Together. This week, appropriately enough given the sermon topic of Sloth, was on “The Day’s Work.”

Bonhoeffer remarks of work:

In work the Christian learns to allow himself to be limited by the task, and thus for him the word becomes a remedy against the indolence and sloth of the flesh.

It’s strange to think of work as something which causes us to realize our limitations as a positive good.

At the start of the evening, I had seen the emphasis on limitation as a revelation that I am limited, that the task before me requires ever more than I can do. My limitations, which I bemoan so often, are goods to me. But there is more, as so many of my Citygroup were helpful to point out. Work, Bonhoeffer remarks

plunges men into the world of things. The Christian steps out of the world of brotherly encounter into the world of impersonal things, the “it”; and this new encounter frees him for objectivity; for the “it”-world is only an instrument in the hand of God for the purification of Christians from all self-centeredness and self-seeking.

shovel to dig on the farm

My temptation, often, is to see my limitations and focus on myself, on what I cannot do or the ways I cannot measure up instead of casting myself into the work without consideration of my incapacity. Or rather, perhaps, in the realization that the very recognition of my limitations frees me from self-consideration to be confident of God’s work and pleasure.

For Bonhoeffer does not leave us there. He continues to say,

The passions of the flesh die in the world of things. But this can happen only where the Christian breaks through the “it” to the “Thou,” which is God, who bids him work and makes that work a means of liberation from himself…Thus every word, every work, every labor of the Christian becomes a prayer; not in the unreal sense of a constant turning away from the task that must be done, but in the real breaking through the hard “it” to the gracious Thou.

It is not that I should turn from consideration of myself to some pious platitude, nor even, according to Bonhoeffer, to some set-aside period of prayer. Rather, the salvation from myself is to cast myself ever more into my work, to find God in the labor and beyond the labor, and for that, itself, to be the offering of prayer.

When I most consider this, when I most meditate on this in the morning when I rise, I am reminded I cannot do more than what God has appointed. And in that, in my limitation, my work can become a prayer. In the words of the offering in the Episcopal service:

All things come of Thee, O Lord, and of Thy own have we given Thee.

Todd Wedel