Sabbath and the dignity of work

This is the last post in this series on vocation and the importance of thinking local when we want to do economic development work in a way that celebrates each person’s God given capacities. We’ve considered the incredible gift of the notion of vocation where, as Buechner says “our deep gladness meets the worlds deep need.” But we’ve also considered the idea that, as a result of our increasingly de-localized world, many folks who live in a state of economic vulnerability are robbed of the opportunity to ask that question meaningfully in favor of work that culture tends to demean and trivialize—in service of external economic demand. 

In this last post, I want to add one final layer for consideration, the concept of Sabbath. The concept of Sabbath in Scripture has two layers as well. First, each week, people were to rest, to consider the God who provides but also to find a sense of re-creation themselves. To rest from work so that God might recreate us, implies that we are also resisting our ‘ability’ to extract more from the week. We give up the possibility of “making more” of our time, and using our time to “make more.” Weekly Sabbath was a regular way of choosing recreation/restoration over extraction.

So too was the Sabbath year a way of choosing recreation/restoration over extraction. By letting the land rest for an entire year, the people chose to resist the temptation to “make more” from the land. By forgiving debts, the people chose to resist the temptation to “make more” from those indebted to them. Both choose restoration of people and place over extraction and profitability. 

Applied to our concept of vocation and the dignity of work, particularly for those of us concerned about economic development done through the lens of God’s kingdom, I wonder how we might think about forms of development that center recreation/restoration rather than extraction and if we took that dynamic seriously, if we might find that it becomes easier to create forms of work that allow people to find restoration IN THEIR WORK, instead of defaulting to seeing restoration as being opposed to work. Being restored IN our work is fundamentally a question of vocation, to know that our skill set allows our deep gladness to challenge the world’s deep need is a beautiful way to find a sense of flourishing in our work. On the flip side, being driven by extraction will tempt us to sacrifice restoration in favor of efficiency and profitability. 

Sabbath is a restraint to our bent toward extraction, and the gift of that restraint is the discovery of restoration. 

About Adam Gustine

Adam Gustine leads CovEnterprises for Love Mercy Do Justice and the Evangelical Covenant Church. He is also the founder of Jubilee Ventures; an economic incubator in South Bend, IN. He and his wife, Ann, live in South Bend with their three kids.

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