It’s not breaking news to tell you that we’re overworked. According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, productivity per American worker has increased by more than 400% since 1950. This means that we should be working less than ten hours per week to afford the standard of living a 40-hr week could purchase in 1950.
That’s obviously not true.
Every industrialized country except Canada, Japan and the US gets at least 20 vacation days/year (Finland and France get a full month). And 134 countries, not including the US, have laws regulating the maximum hours we’re allowed to work in a week.
Twin forces are arising from this. One glamorizes ‘the grind’, celebrating overwork as commitment and even glamorizing burnout.
The other side of the coin is the burgeoning self-care industry, complete with a host of self-proclaimed self-help gurus are inviting us to rage against the machine by doing things like… making our beds, brushing our teeth and going to bed without spending an hour scrolling on our phones first.
Burnout is bad. We weren’t created to be cogs in a machine. We’re humans. But is ‘self-care’ really resistance? Is our late-stage capitalistic society really so overwhelming that the only way to resist is to… go to bed on time?
Last month, Gawker published an article about just this question. In it, author Clare Coffee observes that this extreme focus on self-care, particularly in the form of what we have taken to calling ‘Adulting” is, well, infantilizing:
“There is something debilitating about hearing and internalizing the message that the paralysis and malaise that seems to afflict so many is wholly externally imposed, that constrained choices are not real choices, that sending emails 16 hours a day is something only collapse of capitalism can mend.” — Clare Coffey, “Failure to Cope ‘Under Capitalism’”
I agree with Ms. Coffey here. Capitalism and all its working woes is not an irresistible master. But the answer to our increasingly burnout-tolerant society isn’t self-care. It’s Sabbath.
I know what you’re thinking – wait… isn’t taking a day off just self-care? Well no, actually. Sabbath is something much more intentional. It’s about what you choose to do as much as what you choose not to do.
And more importantly, Sabbath has been the practice God’s people have used for thousands of years to resist the logic of the Empire, whether that’s Egypt, Babylon, Rome or Consumer Capitalism.