This is such a controversial issue among Christians today. I don’t want to get embroiled in the controversy, but I can’t help but talk about some of the areas of contemplation my brain has stumbled across after living in Japan for a year.
I think there’s a stereotype of Japanese as being “work-a-holics.” Maybe this is for good reason. It’s pretty well documented that the hours a salary man keeps here are insane. The upstairs neighbor in our apartment building last year was a great example. Every morning we’d hear him leave at 6:15am. Every night, we’d hear him arrive home about 10:30pm. 7 days a week.
Then there’s the experience I’ve had getting to know one of my co-workers at the juku where I work. I try to make friendly conversation by asking how she’ll spend her weekend, or what she did over the previous weekend. Most of the time, her answer is “Oh, I’m actually going to be working this Saturday and Sunday.” Mind you, this is a young woman who comes into work on week-days well before I do in the morning, and leaves long after I do at night.
These examples came to mind all too readily when I read this passage recently by Peter Scazzero from his book Emotionally Healthy Spirituality. His words describe the nation of Israel enslaved in Egypt:
They were “doing” machines. They worked seven days a week all year long. Imagine how deeply ingrained activism and overwork must have been for them! They had never observed or experienced a rhythm of work and rest. They had neither permission nor the choice to do so. Living meant performing tasks, with one day blurring into the next.
I find myself thinking that this sounds so similar to a description someone might write of Japanese culture.
I can relate to this perspective too since I naturally have some work-a-holic tendencies myself. Whenever work needs to be done, whenever a crisis arises, my first gut instinct is to jump into gear. If left to my own devices, I think I might run myself ragged.
For me, these words summarizing God’s gift of Sabbath rest speak sweet peace:
“You don’t need to work every day. I take care of you.”
“Celebrate my work, not your work for a day. Acknowledge that what you would accomplish in that 24 hour period is not worth it. Learn to live by resting in my love, not your labor.”
Setting apart a day of rest testifies to a self-reliant world that our work does not save or define us. God does.
(quotes taken from a sermon series by John Piper)
Being here in Japan, I have begun to long for the people I know here to be able to hear the message that Christ offers rest for the weary.
I’ll quote Peter Scazzero again, because I love how he says it:
Sabbath is like receiving the gift of a heavy snow day every week. Stores are closed. Roads are impassable. Suddenly you have the gift of a day to do whatever you want. You don’t have any obligations, pressures, or responsibilities. You have permission to play, be with friends, take a nap, read a good book. Few of us would give ourselves a “no obligation day” very often. God gives you one – every seventh day.
This resonates so strongly with me. Working for 5 years as an elementary school teacher, I know well the eager anticipation for a long-awaited “snow day.” And, of course teachers look forward to those days just as much, maybe even more than the students do!
The gift of Sabbath rest — one day out of 7 that’s free from work — it’s one that could be such a healing balm for cultures like the Japanese culture (and I shouldn’t overlook American culture too).
One other thing that I’ve begun to see and grieve in my time her this past year is the unwillingness of some Japanese Christians to grasp hold of this gift. Unwillingness to grasp hold of this gift for themselves, and even much less to consider offering it to unbelievers as a practical outworking of the gospel.
I’ve also been impacted by the concept of how as Christians, we are called to be “salt” and “light” to people around us. Both of these word pictures describe something that is radically different from everything else around it. They also describe something that brings flavor to a dull existence. Something that restores long-lasting usefulness to an otherwise rotting lifestyle. Something that provides hope and understanding to an otherwise dark and treacherous pathway.
I have a vision of Christians in Japan one day being able to be salt & light to their culture in this way. To be able to offer the hope of rest to those around them. What a radical statement this would be. We know a Christian employer here in Japan who currently keeps his business open 7 days a week and requires his employees to work these days. What a witness to his non-Christian employees it could be for him to offer them Sundays off in the name of Christ. My prayer is that one day, this may be the case. Not just for the fellow we know, but we pray that many other Christians here in this land would be able to take a radical stand, even a counter-cultural stand for what they believe.
“Come to me all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
(Taken from Matthew 11:28)