Lawyers are perhaps not the best at pacing themselves or deciding when enough is enough. The profession is renowned for its long hours, punishing workloads and unending demands. Trainees and pupils spend their training constantly trying to prove their right to join the profession. Solicitors in private practice work under the constant pressure of recording sufficient “chargeable” time to justify their continuing place in their firm. Barristers bear the brunt of their large workloads alone, juggling long days in Court with complex paperwork and voluminous documents. Even judges face potentially crushing workloads, spending intense days sitting in Court whilst also needing to deal with paperwork and write judgements. Even so, busyness remains something of a badge of honour and indication of success within the profession.
And outside of “proper” work, there are a large number of demands. The constant push to develop clients and practices. The need to evidence ongoing professional development. Articles and updates that need writing, books that need editing. Initiatives to promote diversity and inclusion in the profession, or to try and improve the wellbeing of its members. And this is before considering the various extracurricular demands that may be placed on lawyers by families, friends, church and other options for ministry.
Within this whirlpool of activity, lawyers may not be best placed to know where to draw the necessary lines. Some of the character traits that help them to excel in their profession, may cause them to struggle to manage their time and energy well. A perfectionist who needs everything to be “just right” may find their time eaten up by whatever they are doing, inside or outside of the office. A worrier who thinks through every permutation of a case might find the weight they carry affecting their sleep and health. Someone with imposter syndrome may feel the need to give 110% to everything, at work and in ministry, to try and prove that they merit a place at the table. Those struggling with feelings of guilt, or fear of missing out, may make it hard to say “no” to anything so they quickly feel overwhelmed.
Yet so much of what lawyers set out to do is good in of itself. Seeking to promote justice in our cases; working diligently and sharing Christ’s love with our colleagues; trying to improve the profession for those who are underrepresented or struggling; sharing our gifts more widely at church or in other Christian organisations. All of our resulting effort and activity is spent towards good, right and Christian ends.
Nevertheless. There is a cost to such unceasing activity and busyness. That cost may be most obvious where it is paid mentally or physically. We might find ourselves lacking peace or joy, and consumed by worries and concerns. We might find ourselves distracted, or mentally absent from friends and family. We might suffer from illness that we can never quite shake, or which becomes more severe over time.
The less obvious cost, but which is certainly no less of a problem, is spiritual. In unceasing activity, we fail to spend time with the God who created us and loves us, and who is the source of all life, hope, joy and peace. Martha wrestled with this very problem when Jesus came to visit her and her sister, Mary (Luke 10:38-42). Martha was busy with all of the hosting such a visit entailed, and the preparations it required. These were good things in of themselves – showing hospitality, taking care of the needs of her guests – and the Lord Himself. Yet Mary chose to spend that time sitting at Jesus’ feet, leaving the work to her sister. Martha was understandably cross, and told Jesus as much. His response was perhaps surprising, but infinitely wise. Jesus did not criticise Martha for being concerned with practicalities, or berate her for her anger towards her sister. Instead, Jesus reminded here that only thing is really needed, and is better than all of this work – being with Jesus, sitting at His feet and receiving from Him.
Such a re-orientation is absolutely vital in the midst of busyness. It prevents us from idolising our work or activity, from placing it ahead of the Lord. Although it is not wrong in and of itself (like many idols), work and activity will not ultimately bring us life, joy or peace; they may well bring the opposite. In fact, we are commanded by God to make time to rest (Gen 2:2-3; Ex 20:8-11) and sin against Him by ignoring that direction. This reminds us of our creatureliness – that we are finite and limited, able only to bear a small amount, and dependent upon our creator. We cannot do it all, and the world (even the legal world) does not depend on our efforts. We must pick and choose what we do as God leads us, being prepared to leave other things undone and trusting God for their completion.
Perhaps of all places, such an ethic of “Sabbath”, and of consequent submission to God ahead of work and activity, is wildly countercultural in the legal profession. Yet there lies life in the presence of God and so, paradoxically, the strength to keep working and being fruitful throughout our careers and our lives.