At Work & Theology 101

A Christian’s Secret Weapon to Prevent Burnout: Shalom

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From the day our first parents walked out of the garden, estranged from God, each other and the earth itself, God has been at work redeeming the fallen creation, its people and its social systems.

–Bryant Myers, Walking With the Poor

Work–life balance is big business. A constant stream of books, articles, and conferences are available from experts, giving us the 7, 10, or 15 steps to achieve harmony at work and play. We are also told by these experts that the lack of work–life balance produces burnout, which is true. The question is, with all the resources out there, why are many people still struggling to find the right balance and feeling burned out?

The Elusive Work–Life Balance Quest

Psychology Today defines burnout as a state of chronic stress that leads to physical and emotional exhaustion, feelings of ineffectiveness, cynicism, and detachment. And it is on the rise.

“Employee burnout has reached epidemic proportions,” says Charlie DeWitt, vice president for business development at Kronos who just completed a new workplace survey in conjunction with Future Workplace, a human resources advisory and research firm. Some of the factors driving the current spike in employee burnout:

Too much work. Too little pay. Too many technological advancements. Too much emphasis on recruiting new employees rather than keeping existing ones happy.

Ultimately, all this information is not having any impact on workers because “work–life balance” is a myth. The reality is that most people cannot balance the scales of work and life on a day-to-day basis. “Work–life balance” is about more than compartmentalizing the parts of your life to somehow keep them in psychological equilibrium.

So what is the answer?

We must learn to live lives that are integrated around a single, common purpose. Here, we as believers have a secret weapon in the war against burnout. Our singular purpose is to glorify God, fulfilling this mission by living lives based on his design and desire.

For us, there should be no divide between our work and the rest of our lives, no difference between the secular and the spiritual. For us, all things are spiritual and integrated around the core of our mission.

As Nancy Pearcey writes in her book Total Truth,

The biblical message is not just about some isolated part of life labeled “religion” or “church life.” Creation, Fall, and Redemption are cosmic in scope, describing the great events that shape the nature of all created reality. We don’t need to accept an inner fragmentation between our faith and the rest of life. … The promise of Christianity is the joy and power of an integrated life, transformed on every level by the Holy Spirit, so that our whole being participates in the great drama of God’s plan of redemption.

360° Flourishing: Shalom

At IFWE, we write a lot about the Old Testament concept of shalom and how it represents flourishing in every direction, both individually and corporately. It was God’s original design for his creation and it is what Jesus intends to restore at the end of this age.

Shalom presupposes an integrated life where everything is done for one reason, to glorify God. Shalom should be the net result of everything we do and should seamlessly touch every area of our lives and flow out into our communities.

In his book, Health, Healing, and Shalom: Frontiers and Challenges for Christian Healthcare Missions, medical missionary Bryant Myers says that only by working to heal the “whole person” can any long-term progress be made. He argues that God created humans as relational beings consisting of mind, body, and soul intending for them to experience “shalom; in other words, health, wholeness, and flourishing.” Myers writes:

A Christian anthropology is the foundational underpinning for understanding the role of the church in its missional practice of saving and healing. On the one hand, we need to know who God is and what God is doing, and on the other hand, we need to know who human beings are and why they were created. Until we are clear on both of these key theological ideas, our investigation into health and healing will be limited, shortsighted, and possibly flawed.

As believers, we love God, we enjoy his creation, we serve the common good by bringing flourishing, or shalom, to his creation. All these things are inseparable for the follower of Christ.

Christians must be the ones to resist the temptation to compartmentalize their lives and be transformed by a different way of thinking (Rom. 12:2):

  • We are transformed when we work “as for the Lord and not for men” (Col. 3:23), which means not working to the point of putting our health in jeopardy or to the exclusion of family and relationships.
  • Working “as for the Lord” also means trusting in his provision—working without worry or fear that it’s all up to us to provide for ourselves and our families (Matt. 6:25-33).
  • When we look at work and play or rest through the lens of scripture, we see that all our activity belongs to God. “Whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. ….” (1 Cor. 10:31)

As Christians, we know that what we do outside of work is just as important to God as what we do at work. When we are seeking to serve God with all our time, even when we do it imperfectly, we advance shalom.

So, we are called in this age to join with Christ and work toward shalom in gratitude for God’s great love and in delight of all his blessings. Even though we live in a broken world that will never see full shalom until Jesus returns, he has given us this encouragement:

Peace [shalom] I leave with you; my peace [shalom] I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid (John 14:27).

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