As clergy recover from the rigours of Easter and all the planning and organizing leading up to Holy Week observances, it is a good time for us to take an honest look at our work habits. It is often not a pretty picture.

I have long been concerned about the frequency with which I encounter colleagues who seem to view their overwork as a virtue. It appears, medical researchers are coming to the conclusion that workaholism may in fact be a deadly disease.

It is becoming increasingly clear that workaholics do indeed need help. Researchers in New Zealand have found that people who work at least 50 hours a week are up to three times more likely to face alcohol problems. Earlier this month, the American Journal of Epidemiology reported on a global study showing that over-workers are between 40 and 80 percent more likely to suffer heart disease than others. The lead researcher of that study had previously found that middle-aged people working more than 55 hours a week tend to be disproportionately slow-witted, and to be more at risk for dementia.

“We’re beginning to look at work addiction from a cellular level now,” says Robinson. “The workaholic operates on the fight-or-flight response, which leads to a drench of cortisol, norepinephrine, and adrenaline. It can lead to heart disease and heart attacks, diabetes, compromised immune systems, and gastro-intestinal problems. We know this, the studies are pouring out.”

If the lives of any professionals should be expected to model a more healthy rhythm of life, surely it should be the lives of those of us who work for a boss who said,

Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin;* yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. (Luke 12:27)

Jesus once told a story about two women, Martha and Mary. Martha was frantically distracted with her busy chores, while Mary sat at Jesus’ feet listening to his teaching.

When Martha complained about her sister’s behaviour, Jesus replied,

‘Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.’ (Luke 10:41,42)

Company had come; dinner needed to get on the table. There was work to do and Martha was the one who was bustling about getting the job done. But Martha’s work had become a distraction, a source of worry and anxiety in her life. Her work, as virtuous and necessary at it may have been had crowded out “the better part.” Work that does not emerge from “the better part” does not bring to birth that spirit of life that conquered death and raised Jesus from the tomb.

Throughout Lent we have had the opportunity to examine our lives and seek to be honest about those activities, commitments and demands that clutter our lives. We need to ask ourselves honestly if, in the service of life, we have failed to take time to listen to the deeper inner voice of truth and light that has the capacity to guide us to a life in which the necessary jobs do get done, but they get done without the stress and pressure that result in “a drench of cortisol, norepinephrine, and adrenaline.”

When we get the centre right, the activities and demands of our lives will find their proper place and we will be able to embody a way of life that we might want to recommend to those who look to us for spiritual leadership.