Working to Death

Reprinted from the Salt & Light Australia Daily Devotional.

Matthew 11:28-30
28 ‘Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 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. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.’
Miwa Sado was 31, almost a decade into a successful career in the Japanese media industry. She had landed a job at Japan’s national broadcaster, NHK in her 20s.

She was deeply loved by her parents, who had become concerned about the amount of overtime she was working.

Miwa had been covering two elections — one regional, one national. However, one day she emailed her father: “I am too busy and stressed out and think about quitting my job at least once a day, but I guess I have to hang on.”

On July 25, 2013, Miwa Sado was found dead in her Tokyo apartment, clutching her mobile phone.
An autopsy found that she had died from congestive heart failure — meaning her heart had grown so weak it couldn’t pump enough blood round her body.

The real cause of death was attributed to karoshi, a Japanese word which translates to “death from overwork”.

It took four years before her parents were brave enough to talk about her death, and chose to speak out, in a bid to warn others about the dangers of overwork, a phenomenon behind hundreds of deaths a year in Japan alone.

According to labour officials in Tokyo, Sado had clocked up 159 hours and 37 minutes of overtime at work in the month until her death.

However, Sado’s father, who trawled through the journalist’s mobile phone and work computer, found that her overwork hours actually came up to 209 hours in the month up to her death. That’s almost seven hours of overtime a day, including weekends.

The WHO did a study released this year which indicates almost 750,000 people die each year from overwork.
Contrast that with Jesus’ words in Matthew 11:28–30, inspired by Eugene Peterson’s Message paraphrase:

  • Come to me.
  • Get away with me.
  • Recover your life.
  • Take a real rest.
  • Walk with me.
  • Work with me.
  • Learn the unforced rhythms of grace.
  • Keep company with me.
  • Learn to live freely and lightly.

I wish Miwa had heard those words… taken up that invitation.
Our society has made an idol out of busyness, and not even multiple lockdowns can stop us. “How are you?” “I’m busy. Frenetic. So much going on.”

We need to learn from Jesus’ unforced rhythms of grace.

I’m the first to admit I struggle with this. I am hugely activity and achievement focused. I am a work in progress. But I am learning to walk not run. To breathe not speak. To surrender not strive. God doesn’t ask you to do more than you are able. That is enough.

Think It Through

  • Is busyness an idol for you?
  • Have you learnt to rest in God? 

Loving Lord,
We admit our temptation to take pride in our busyness.
We admit that we are often yoked to our jobs rather than to Jesus.
We are sorry that we seek to please others more than you.
Forgive us.
Retrain our hearts so that our joy is in working with grace.
So that our focus is on you and others.
So that we find true rest in you.

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Kara Martin is the author of Workship: How to Use Your Work to Worship God, and Workship 2: How to Flourish at Work. She is also a lecturer with Mary Andrews College. Kara has worked in media and communications, human resources, business analysis and policy development roles, in a variety of organizations, and as a consultant. Kara has a particular passion for integrating our Christian faith and work, and helping churches connect with the workers in their congregations. She is currently conducting research on how to effectively equip workplace Christians to integrate their faith and work.

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