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By David Bachelor, PhD
Summer vacation is coming to an end. Most working people and students are reluctantly bracing themselves to get back into harness. The headlines reflected this struggle between work and play. Among the stories there was one industry for whom their summer vacation is just beginning. For another industry, there was a story about how their vacation never began. Both industries have placed their hope on mandatory time off.
Sunday marked the official end to the Formula One racing season. After a demanding schedule of 13 races in 13 countries in 20 weeks the headline for Motorsport.com asked, “What Is F1’s Summer Break, Why Does It Happen and How Long Is It?” The answers to these questions are closely related to each other. The article states, “The F1 summer break is so vital to each season that it is written into the sporting regulations, with penalties for teams who do not adhere to the rules.” Quoting from these regulations the article notes, “All competitors must observe a shutdown period of fourteen (14) consecutive days during the months of July and/or August.” The reason the regulation became necessary was because some teams were working during their competitors’ vacations to gain competitive advantage. As a result, no racing team dared to take a break lest their rival get ahead.
On last week’s traditional day of rest the BBC.com featured the headline, “Mandatory Time Off: When Taking Holiday Is Part of the Job.” The article looked at the nascent corporate trend among knowledge-work companies that incentivizes time spent away from the job. The piece notes, “[D]espite their elevated stress levels, more than 50% of American workers end up leaving paid vacation days unused.” This surrender of vacation days was blamed on a “long hours culture” that censures employees who take time off. The article records, “These firms say their goal is to foster a working culture that encourages rest, removing barriers – both perceived and overt – that prevent workers from leaving the office.” The participating corporations hope that employees who rest will be employees who are happy and not burned out.
The Bible contains regulations for mandatory time off. Like the above industries, the setting for these regulations was driven by the “long hours culture” that was the norm for God’s people. Another name for God’s people’s “long hours culture” was slavery in Egypt. Prior to their deliverance, the Egyptians had demanded more and more work out of the Israelites (Ex. 5:7-8) When God brought them out of this bondage He commanded His people, “Keep the Sabbath holy. You have six days to do your work, but the Sabbath is mine, and it must remain a day of rest. If you work on the Sabbath, you will no longer be part of my people, and you will be put to death” (Exo 31:14).
By the time of Jesus, God’s people had made this mandatory time off into another burden for them to bear. Jesus had to re-set their culture. He taught them, “The Sabbath was made for the good of human beings. People were not created to serve the Sabbath”(Mar. 2:27). Let us hope that this New Testament spirit is present in the industries mandating these holidays. Otherwise, it will be just another job to do.