Scientists have a name for it: Ergomania. It is a word composed of two Latin roots. “Ergo,” meaning work, and “mania,” which means passion. Ergomania, thusly, is a “passion for work.” In contemporary society we use a different term for an individual suffering from this condition: The “workaholic.” The condition is not limited to corporate offices or the manufacturing plant. It thrives in houses of worship.
It’s been my experience that we religious people work very hard, often killing ourselves for God, spiritually, emotionally, and physically.
Why? I believe it is because we do not believe that God is love or that he really loves us. Most of us are working like slaves to earn an ambivalent God’s love, unaware, it seems, that his love is already ours in abundance. That God would take us just as we are, that he loves us just as we are, is too much for us to accept.
And why should we believe it? Our parents never accepted us without conditions. This merciless culture is constantly judging us, and our level of success. Our spouse left us for someone younger, better looking, or richer. Our coach tells us we’ll never be good enough to make the team, and yes the church gets in on it too.
When we were young, it was all about perfect attendance pins, achievements, and all those little check marks on our weekly reporting at Sunday school. We learned quickly that we could measure a person’s spirituality, thus their worth as an individual, by how many gold stars they had beside their name.
When we got older, the exercise continued, now measured by different gold stars. Volunteer, serve, give, teach Bible study class, lead the choir, chaperone the youth group, chair the Stewardship Committee; and the leadership and congregation will sing your praises. But the second you relent, the moment you acknowledge your exhaustion, that you just can’t keep up, then that familiar conditional approval will rear its ugly head.
Conditioned like this, when Jesus shows up and says, “If you’re tired I can help with a little grace,” we just can’t believe it. Yet, that’s exactly what Jesus said when he showed up! With words that make most type-A congregational leaders cringe, Jesus said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”
Eugene Peterson’s translation of those words is more pointed: “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you'll recover your life. Walk with me … watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace.”
The unforced rhythms of grace: That is what we religious laborers need, because the people that Jesus most wants to set free are those of us who are eyeballs deep in religious work, we who are religious ergomaniacs. He wants us to see that our religious work really doesn’t work; it works against us.
His invitation is for us to get off of the spiritual hamster wheel and to crawl out from beneath the choking yoke of religious workaholicism, and dance freely to the easy tempo of grace. Grace will teach us to serve God, not to make him like us, but because he already adores us. It will teach us to give up our overachieving and slaving ways, and find peaceful rest for our souls.
Now, if you are happy with doing all your religious work, then please, just keep doing it. If work is your passion, and time spent on the treadmill suits you just fine, then disregard all I have said as useless drivel and carry on.
But if you have had it; if you are sick and tired of being sick and tired; if you’re looking for a way out; if you are desperate for your life to change; if you are finally at the end of yourself and need a rest, have I got good news for you: That is exactly what Jesus offers. Go with him, and he will give you the rest you need.
Ronnie McBrayer is a syndicated columnist, speaker, and author of multiple books. You can read more and receive regular e-columns in your inbox at www.ronniemcbrayer.me.