What has a man from all the toil and striving of heart with which he toils beneath the sun? For all his days are full of sorrow, and his work is a vexation. Even in the night his heart does not rest. This also is vanity. There is nothing better for a person than that he should eat and drink and find enjoyment in his toil. This also, I saw, is from the hand of God, for apart from him who can eat or who can have enjoyment? For to the one who pleases him God has given wisdom and knowledge and joy, but to the sinner he has given the business of gathering and collecting, only to give to one who pleases God. This also is vanity and a striving after wind. – Ecclesiastes 2:22-26, ESV
Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” – Matthew 11:28-30, ESV
What does it mean to come to Christ and rest? What does it mean if you’re coming up for tenure and working for as many lines on the CV as possible, if your course planning is complex, if your dissertation seems to be an endless cascade of new and complicated research tasks that lead from one to another? One of the hardest things about the academic life can be the sense that there is never a time or place to rest your oars, that there is always one more book to read, one more email to send, one more conference to apply for. I remember a night early in graduate school when I tried to go to sleep, and worry about the paper I was writing drove me back out of bed and to my laptop. I remember plenty of other nights when the clock crept past midnight, then one, then onto three or four in the morning because there was so much to do. I could have used Dana Ray’s eloquent reminder that sleep is good for the academic life.
My summers tended to be less crazy in graduate school, but even during the summer there are plenty of reasons not to rest: papers to be written and all the many tasks that add up to get there, fall teaching to be planned, long range career goals to be considered. Our work is a good gift from God, but sometimes there is just so much of it.
What does Christ say to us when we find ourselves facing so much to do? He says to come to Him. And He promises rest. Yet the rest He promises is surprising. He doesn’t promise a week in the Bahamas or by the lake or (more likely for some academics) touring historic cities or hands-on science museums. He doesn’t offer to set us up in early retirement or permanent vacation. It seems in Matthew 11 that Christ invites us to find rest in our work, or even more in His work. He invites us to take His yoke, to work with Him.
Do I know how this works out in the academic life, or in any life with deadlines and multiple responsibilities and work to do? To be honest, sometimes I struggle to know what it looks like. Some days I look at the list of things to do and feel that God has called me to everything on that list and that it’s just too much. And some days I dive into that list without seeking Christ, or I spend time in prayer and still wonder how I will get through the list.
But I also remember times when Christ has given me unlikely peace. For example, I remember a time when I was actually afraid of my dissertation, when I got nerves like stage fright each time I sat down to work, and I remember that the thing that let me start again was prayer: I typed panicky prayers into my word processor each day before trying to write, and God heard them, and gave me the grace to write.
Memories like those remind me to put my hope as well as my faith in Christ, to believe that He is with me in all things. Christ is inviting us to come to Him, to give all things over to Him, and to be near Him. And in that proximity to Him, we will find rest.
Where is it hardest to find rest in my life right now? How can I bring those things to Christ? What would it mean to invite Him into them?
Am I placing my hope for rest in Christ? What would that mean for me right now? How can I seek His comfort and rest?
Lord, as we work for Your Kingdom, let us come to You and find rest. Let us find Your rest in our work, in our sleep, in our friendships, and in our leisure. Let us come to You and learn from You, You who are gentle and lowly, You who welcome us to Your rest. In Jesus’ Name, amen.