The Work Beneath The Work

1094329_sleepingIt’s no secret that those in, or preparing for, a career in healthcare are overworked and exhausted.   One study of approximately 2,300 students from seven medical schools found, for example, that nearly half of those surveyed met the criteria for burnout.

But beyond the sheer hours a life in medicine requires, there may be an even deeper source of exhaustion – what pastor Tim Keller calls “the work beneath the work.”  This is the burnout and insecurity that comes from continually feeling the need to prove yourself – not only to yourself, but to everyone around you.  Who spent the most time in the library?  Who did well on the exam?  Will I know everything I’m supposed to on my rotations?  Do I have what it takes to make it in the “best” specialties?   And so on.  It’s draining because you’ve never done enough.  You did well on this exam, but what about tomorrow?

So how do you get off the treadmill?

The writer to the Hebrews gives us a clue in chapter 4 of his epistle.  In verse 10, he says, “for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his.”   He’s talking about God resting from His work after creation (Gen. 2:2), and saying that we can have a similar rest “from [our] works.”

But how can we rest like God?  It’s not like He needed to rest anyway, right?!  Looking back at Genesis 2, we notice that at the end of His creating, God called it “very good” (Gen. 1:31).  This is not a physical rest, but the rest of being perfectly satisfied with a job well done.

You may be thinking, “OK, I get that.  But I’m not God, and I’m not usually satisfied with what I’ve done.  And even when I am, it’s not long before I mess up again.”  Fair enough.

That’s where the gospel comes in.  You may have noticed that a condition for “resting from our works as God did from his” is that you have to “enter God’s rest” (Hebrews 4:10).  Hebrews 4:2-3 tell us how:  “we who have believed [the “good news” or gospel of verse 2] enter that rest.”  And believing the gospel – that Jesus did everything for me – is restful because I know God will always accept me based on Jesus’ performance, not mine.

This is enormously freeing.  Get pimped by your attending and look foolish?  Fail to match and have to scramble?  Feeling like your life has been reduced to medicine?  Not to be trite, but it’s OK – the gospel means your value and security have nothing to do with you anymore. And, you may not be able to change the hours you’re working or studying, but this is something you can always do by God’s grace.  You may have to work, but you can replace the work beneath the work with real rest.

Let’s close by making this personal.  Where do you find yourself focusing on “you” and feeling discouraged?  And, what difference will it make as you come to trust in Christ’s performance instead of your own?

However you’re feeling today, don’t give up: “he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6).


About Bryan Stoudt

On my personal website (, I help Christians follow Jesus in a noisy, broken world. I also have the privilege of helping Philadelphia's healthcare students and professionals do this as Area Director for the Christian Medical & Dental Associations (CMDA). More information at On a personal note, I'm fortunate to be married to my wonderful wife, Sharon. Together, we have four fantastic children. In my spare time, I enjoy roasting coffee, running, reading and learning foreign languages.
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