Grind Culture Will Not Save Us

“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30

Everyone is so busy these days. It seems like the more outside shuts down; the busier life inside gets. We seem to be doing more than ever before, yet literally going nowhere. When I was little, I used to wonder if the gerbil running on the wheel at the pet store realized he/she is going nowhere. As I navigate this pandemic experience, I’m started to empathize even more with said gerbil. I know this isn’t going to be popular, but it needs to be said, grinding will not save us. Grind culture (aka grinding) is culture based on raw achievement where over functioning and over working are the metrics of success. A recent NYT article referred to it as “performative workaholism…that is obsessed with striving.” While it is prevalent in the secular world, the dirty little secret of the church is that it flourishes here too, especially among pastors. We know in our hearts that working harder, faster, longer, smarter, stronger will not save us or fulfill us, yet we can’t seem to stop ourselves. Clergy burnout was at an all- time high before the pandemic and I would say its near catastrophic proportions now. That’s why some of us are so miserable during this pandemic. We are discovering afresh that grinding is no way to live. Whether it’s the belief that there is some type of virtue in suffering, or the impractical nature of Sabbath, for many of us grinding is behavior rooted in insecurity, fear and bad habits.

While we love to encourage our members to keep sabbath and engage in contemplative practices, we are often guilty of not practicing what we preach. Womanist theologian Tricia Hershey states “the guilt and shame we feel when we rest is due to our brainwashing from a capitalist, white supremacist system.” Grind culture reinforces the idea that we are only as good or as valuable as what we produce or how we perform. That without production or output we are less valuable as people and less successful professionally. Capitalism makes this seem like a virtue, but I believe it’s sinful in nature because it causes us to place human value in something other than our relationship with God and the Imago Dei. We cannot earn self-worth and yet we try. Brene’ Brown uses the term “stumping for worthiness” to describe the ways we seek to earn validation and self-worth by “doing” verses “being.”

For the past several months I have witnessed the ways that we as pastors have over functioned, over worked and over produced to the point of exhaustion. I wish we were doing it for the Kingdom, but I fear many of us have done it either out of habit, to appease those in our congregations and “earn our keep”, or out of our own sense of insecurity that without our works, we alone are not enough. As many of our denominations and churches have grown, administrative functions have tipped the delicate balance between “doing” and “being” into the mostly “doing” category. Even during pandemic times when churches are closed, we have worked ourselves into a tizzy competing with our pre-COVID selves. The question I find myself asking is, if God is doing something new in the church, have we paused long enough to perceive it?

Don’t get me wrong, work is necessary. Work is vital. Work is purposeful. Work is fundamental to our Christian witness as it goes hand-in-hand with our faith. Maintaining connection with our members and meeting the needs of our community are essential. What I’m warning against isn’t “doing” but rather doing too much or grinding. The Bible is replete with examples of Jesus privileging rest, prayer, meditation, contemplation and relationship, even as He healed, communed, taught and fellowshipped. Jesus didn’t grind, nor does He encourage us to in scripture. In some ways the church pre COVID-19 looked a lot more like the temple that Jesus critiqued so harshly than the New Testament Christian church inspired by His earthly ministry. I wonder if the church post COVID-19 will be any different?

Just as the shutting down of society has allowed the earth to rest and restore, I wonder if the church might experience the same gracious restoration if we too would rest. If nothing else, this season has proven to me that “God takes care of God’s own” as my grandmother says. I encourage all of us to engage in the work that fulfills the mandate of our faith, but also let us realize that grind culture is not of God. It is rooted in the systems of this world that tell us that who we are, people created in God’s image isn’t good enough.

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