No one knows for sure when the phrase “rat race” was first introduced, but it likely originated in the US during the 1930s. The phrase conjures up images of rats scurrying through a senseless maze complete with walls, obstacles, and a small reward for all their effort. It’s hardly a flattering picture but, if we are honest, some of our busiest weeks leave us feeling exhausted and demoralized as if we’ve run a race we should have left to the rodents.
We may snicker a little when we learn that folks in the 1930s thought they had it bad, but busyness has been a problem since at least the first century AD. Jesus regularly encouraged his followers to slow down and consider what really matters. He warned that an entire life can be “choked” out in such a way that a person ceases to grow because they have been overcome by the “cares and riches and pleasure of life” (Luke 8:14). This is a scary thought, but it suggests that busyness represents a real threat to peace and joy. In the face of many cares, it can be all too easy to waste time and energy on things that are of little significance in the grand scheme.
It’s typically easier to complain about busyness than to do something about it. To Jesus’ credit, he regularly guided people beyond diagnosis toward genuine relief from the challenges they faced. Like a skilled physician, he proposed that we start with a heart check. While we have little control over the circumstances around us, we do have control over how we respond to those circumstances. For instance, when asked to intervene in a spat between two siblings, he pointed out that their problems stemmed from the fact that one of the ladies involved was “worried and anxious about many things.” He reminded her that “only one thing is necessary” and pointed out that her sister was happier simply because she chose to focus on the things that really matter (Luke 10:41-42). Rather than joining the rat race, the younger sister had taken time to stop and listen to the great Teacher when he entered her home to spend time with her.
This points to another aspect of the remedy Jesus proposes. In addition to managing how we respond to our circumstances, Christ encourages us to come to him when our burdens are more than we can bear. “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden,” he urges, “and I will give you rest . . . learn from me . . . and you will find rest for your souls” (Matthew 11:28-29). Sometimes we strain needlessly under the weight of challenges that are too great for us. In many cases we do not have the relief we desperately need because we do not ask. Jesus promises to provide relief to all who turn to him and rest to all willing to learn from him. Life can be hard, but we were never intended to live it on our own apart from the God who made us.
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