Anyone serving in a church, paid or unpaid, can identify with the strain Glenn Packiam shares in his recent post about the tension between busy church life and the contemplative life at rest in Jesus. In it he quotes Gregory (Bishop of Rome, b. 540), who wrote:
“On every side I am tossed by the waves of business, and sunk by storms, so that I may truly say, ‘I have come into the depth of the sea, and the storm has overwhelmed me’ (Psalm 68:3). After business I long to return to my heart; but, driven therefrom by vain tumults of thoughts, I am unable to return…”
This tension isn’t a feature unique to modern life. It has always been a challenge, from Mary and Martha until now. No, even further back, to the Garden and the Fall, when our previously joyful work was cursed to come at the expense of thorns and sweat. This struggle is not new. That is encouraging—for we are not alone—but it is also eye-opening: the tension is not going to go away until all things are made right. To avoid it would mean either isolating ourselves and shirking responsibility or being consumed by busyness and missing out on God in the process. It’s not a tension we can grow past, but at least it’s one we can grow through.
The telltales for me are my spiritual rhythms. When I’m serving in my own strength, gritting my teeth and pushing through, I grow fruit of bitterness and frustration instead of love, and my temporary happiness comes either from people’s opinions of me or from some subjective measurement of how much of my task list I’ve accomplished. That is the fruit of Martha living.
Instead, when I’m faithful in consistently practicing spiritual rhythms like silence, solitude, prayer, and scripture meditation, I am able joyfully to live in the middle of the tension and while experiencing the fruit of the Spirit and seeing God do kingdom work through me. Instead of temporary happiness, I experience deep joy from the Spirit. The difference is death versus life, slavery versus freedom, exhaustion versus empowerment. The Northumbria Community’s Aidan Compline says it well:
May the virtue of our daily work
hallow our nightly prayers.
May our sleep be deep and soft
so our work be fresh and hard.
Our God-given work ought be holy, fresh, and hard—but in order to be so, it must be in balance with our rest. It is the healthy tension between work and rest which gives each its meaning. Without holy work, our rest is simply inactivity. Without hearty rest, our work is simply activity. Between them, empowered by the Spirit, we live in healthy tension.