As I was working obsessively to finish some work I was doing in the Book of Ecclesiastes, I was struck by its words of warning about being a workaholic (Ecclesiastes 2.18-23). Ironic, I know.
I think it is admirable and important to be a hard worker, so I work hard:
- I work hard because the Bible teaches that God created people to be workers. From the beginning, God created Adam with a task, to tend and keep the Garden of Eden. We are not made for continued leisure; we are created for work.
- I work hard because I think my work is important. Our church’s mission is to glorify God by making and maturing disciples to be like Christ. I try to help do that in a lot of ways, but as a youth minister, I specifically work to try and convert young people to Christ, and to help them grow as disciples.
- I work hard because the work of ministry never ends. I never have nothing to do. I never come to the end of my tasks. There is always more that could be done…I could be better organized, I could be better prepared to teach or preach, I could study biblical languages more, I could spend more targeted time with a youth group member, etc.
- I work hard to provide for my family. Like everyone, my wife and daughter have physical needs, and I work in order to keep them fed, clothed, and housed. I am thankful for the opportunity to provide for them.
- I work hard because my salary is paid by other people who work hard. There is something very humbling about having your income provided by the generosity of others. Church members work hard at their jobs, freely offer contributions to the church, and I am paid from those funds. If I don’t work hard and do my best, I am robbing them and robbing God.
So hard work is good and there are a lot of good reasons to be a hard worker.
But, if I am honest, I am more than a hard worker—I am a workaholic. This does not make me particularly unusual, as it is becoming increasingly clear that in the United States, we are a nation of workaholics. Americans work more than any other industrialized nation, taking less vacation, working longer days, and retiring later as well.
Consider some of these American over-working statistics (available here):
- 85.8% of men and 66.5% of women work over 40 hours per week.
- From 1970 to 2006, the average numbers of work per year have increased by 200.
- 70% of American children live in households where all adults are employed.
- One in three American adults does not take his/her vacation days.
- One in two workaholics’ marriages ends with a divorce.
- 60% of workaholics spend less than 20 minutes eating during lunch.
Some of those bullets apply to me, as I frequently work well over 40 hours in a week, never take all of my vacation days, and rush or work through lunch some days. Additionally, here are some ways in which I sometimes act like a workaholic:
- Already busy, it is easy for me to accumulate more and more tasks if I am not careful either because I am interested in a new task, or out of a desire to please people.
- At times my work becomes a major part of my self-worth. It can be where I derive my sense of value.
- I seek escape from life problems by plunging myself into my work.
- Work can cause me to neglect relationships. This can happen when my busy schedule keeps me away from my family, but I noticed in strikingly one Sunday when I left a fellowship meal to go to my office to do more work.
Workaholism is unhealthy in any field. It can bring about unnecessary stress and fatigue which negatively impact our health. It can remove us from our families to the point that we neglect them. And as a minister, my excessive amount of work can fool me into thinking that somehow God loves me more for my many deeds, or that my obsessive desire to always do more in some way merits His favor. Definitely unhealthy.
This year, I am making a concerted effort to work hard without being a workaholic. Realizing that my work never ends but that I can come back and pick it up again the next day, I’m going to try to go home and see my family at a reasonable time rather than always working late. Knowing that my elders graciously give me a day off and vacation time for a reason, I will seek to use it. And knowing that ministry is primarily about being in the people business, I am determined to prioritize people over tasks.
Work is a good thing, but it is not the only thing. My study of Ecclesiastes has helped me to realize that, and I intend to live it out.