In a culture always on the go, days, weeks and months blur together. We can sometimes be running so fast on the treadmill of life that we forget to stop and take a break. Sure, we might take a week for vacation or Christmas, but we often fill that time up with so many things to do that afterwards, we feel less rested than when we had before.
Because of life’s increasing demands, burnout — “physical or mental collapse caused by overwork or stress” — has become more prevalent among adults in the 21st century workforce. Perhaps you have thought, “since the corporate culture is filled with too much stress, I will work for the Church, instead.” However, a 2010 study by the New York Times reported that 45% of pastors suffer from burnout as well.
It seems that as a culture we do not understand how to rest. This should not be surprising because we live in what Pope John Paul II called the “culture of death”. The enemy of our soul wants us to run ourselves into exhaustion so that we will not experience the life that God has for us.
To combat this, I believe that we need to rediscover the meaning of the Lord’s day, a day for rest and, more importantly, a celebration of the Lord’s Resurrection. Pope John Paul II wrote an apostolic letter on the subject entitled, Dies Domini, on keeping the Lord’s day holy. Within this letter he says that
The alternation between work and rest, built into human nature, is willed by God himself, as appears in the creation story in the Book of Genesis (cf. 2:2-3; Ex 20:8-11): rest is something “sacred”, because it is man’s way of withdrawing from the sometimes excessively demanding cycle of earthly tasks in order to renew his awareness that everything is the work of God
Rest is something that God has built into our DNA. However, I bet most of us do not think of Mass as the most relaxing way to spend a day off. If so, we might need to delve a bit deeper into the meaning of the Mass.
The Sunday liturgy is an opportunity to recall the new creation brought about by Christ’s Resurrection. We who had been dead to sin are now alive because of Christ. This should bring us great hope and joy that the Creator has loosened us from the bonds of sin. As if this were not enough to bring us joy, Christ also gives us Himself in the most Holy Eucharist as a way to be present with us throughout the week and give us peace.
Participation in Sunday Mass is essential to the Lord’s day, but that cannot be all we do to keep Sunday holy. Pope John Paul II says that “the Lord’s Day is lived well if it is marked from beginning to end by grateful and active remembrance of God’s saving work.”
Within that framework, we should come up with things to do that are relaxing and life-giving. Maybe that means taking a pilgrimage to a nearby shrine or praying the Liturgy of the Hours with some friends. Maybe it means going on a picnic and enjoying God’s wonderful creation, going for a run or reading that book you have always wanted to read. I don’t have the perfect Sunday formula for you, but I do encourage you to think about how you can make your Sunday a more God-centered and restful experience.
Although it may be impossible to completely abstain from all work on Sunday, I think it is important that the day be dedicated to God in a spirit of thanksgiving for his goodness to us. We need to put the smartphone down, unplug and take some time to just be in God’s presence, instead of hitting the next item on the to do list.
If we start off the week by slowing down and focusing on God, the week will go much smoother. I believe that if we make Sunday a day focused on God and the things of heaven, we will find more fulfillment in our work, and avoid burnout because we see how our work relates to God and how much he loves us.