After every vacation, my husband inevitably returns to work buried in emails. Since he’s in sales he always has customers in need of his product, so while he might be on vacation from work, his customers are not. In an ever-connected digital age, work never stops.

My experience after a vacation is a little different. While I may not come home to an inbox full of emails, I return to another monstrosity—laundry. Maybe it’s my season of life (three kids younger than 3) or maybe it’s just the fact that there are five people in our house, but laundry is my overflowing inbox. Everything else takes a vacation when we are gone (the cleaning, the cooking, and so on), but the laundry just keeps coming. It sleeps for no one.

Whatever part of your work is overflowing when you end your vacation, we all face this dilemma, don’t we? What do we do with the work that never ends? Taking it a step further, can rest sometimes look like work?

Work vs. Play

Since work is a fluid part of my life, with no real beginning and end, a question keeps arising in my own mind, and maybe in yours as well: What’s the difference between rest and play? Is it resting to read a book to your child? Is it resting to eat dinner when you open your home for hospitality? It can be difficult to discern what’s work and what’s play when it all melds together.

But if work is about people, our rest is as well. Just as we’re tempted to view our work as done for our own glory, we’re tempted to view our rest the same way. I see this in my own life when I lament my lack of rest—by which I mean I haven’t had a break from my kids in a while. But I can rest while watching a show with them, playing soccer with them outside, or eating dinner with them. Sometimes rest is watching Netflix by myself, and sometimes it’s eating pizza in the living room with my kids.

As Kevin DeYoung observes, “Effective love is rarely efficient. People take time. Relationships are messy.” Anyone who spends any amount of time investing in people knows this to be true. DeYoung isn’t saying we don’t rest when our work involves people; he’s simply saying a people-oriented life might change the way our rest looks—or might make us even busier than we intended to be. He goes on to write, “Stewarding my time is not about selfishly pursuing only the things I like to do. It’s about effectively serving others in the ways I’m best able to serve and in the ways I am most uniquely called to serve.” I long assumed I can only rest when doing the things I want to do, the things I find restful. But rest is sometimes about enjoying my kids, enjoying the fruit of my labors.

We view rest and work as things that exist for us. But they don’t.

Rest as Neighbor Love

Marva Dawn, author of Keeping the Sabbath Wholly, says that this view of rest actually frees us to love people more, since we aren’t seeing them as a means to an end:

When we are not under the compulsion to be productive, we are given the time to dwell with others, to be with them and thereby to discover who they are.

Rest is about people as much as work is. People aren’t efficient, and can sometimes be draining, but they’re part of our Sabbath rest.

The church community must be our accountability here. We can serve our fellow believers in their quest for rest by helping with chores around their home, participating in a restful activity together, and even encouraging the weary to sleep. This is another reminder that, along with the work itself, the rest from it is a community effort. Left to ourselves, we would either be lazy or workaholics.

By embracing time in our Sabbath rest, we’re free to love others in our resting. Since we’re not bound to productivity or a schedule, people aren’t a hindrance to those things. Dawn notes that if we’re resting in God’s grace, we can fold others into that freedom also. When our kids interrupt us, but it doesn’t derail our day. When our neighbor needs help moving a piece of furniture, and we can joyfully serve. In our resting we’re not a slave to the clock. In Christ, we’re free to serve because he’s the Lord of the Sabbath. Dawn procceds to say that this ceasing opens us up for inefficient things like “sitting quietly together and enjoying each other’s company.” Without the demands of life and work, we aren’t blinded to the people in front of us. Rest gives us the chance to value the people for whom we labor every day.

While we might cease from work in our rest, we don’t cease from delight. Our resting makes way for feasting. And our ceasing makes way for embracing and loving others. Of course, this requires a shift in our thinking. Work and rest are about loving our neighbor. Work and rest are about worshiping God and enjoying the good things he has given us. Yes, balance is needed. Personality types and seasons of life determine how much individual rest we need. But it’s not all about our own personal gratification.

Sometimes our rest includes others (like playing with our children), and sometimes it’s just us. But it’s always about God. 

Editors’ note: This is an adapted excerpt from Glory in the Ordinary: Why Your Work in the Home Matters to God (Crossway, 2017).