I have a love/hate relationship with Allen wrenches. Also called hex keys or hex wrenches, Allen wrenches are those little “L” shaped tools that alternately make my life easier and more difficult. I love Allen wrenches because along with a tire lever, they are just about the only thing I need to properly maintain my bike. Brakes, seat adjustments, handlebar adjustments—all accomplished with one handy tool. I hate Allen wrenches because they signify the return of my nemesis: pre-fabricated furniture. I had to put together a new desk this weekend, which required only an Allen wrench and a Phillips head screwdriver. In the past, I have put together these infernal contraptions only to have extra parts and poorly fitting pieces. This time was a little different: maybe I’ve become handier with age, or more patient in doing it right the first time. Whatever the cause, I finished the desk with a minimum of evil thoughts toward the makers and actually reflected on how handy this little Allen wrench was.
This cycle of love/hate/appreciation for a three-inch, six-sided piece of metal got me thinking further. There are other cycles I regularly encounter that have undergone change throughout my life. In the Bible, God establishes a cycle of work and rest very early. He creates in six days, and rests on the seventh. This is the command God offers in Exodus, “Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, you or your son, or your daughter…” (Exodus 20:9-10a). This cycle would be extended further to a seven-year cycle, and the calendar of feasts and celebrations (reflected in the church year). God took the pattern of work and rest so seriously, that in the book of Nehemiah, the people of Israel were commanded to celebrate. They had discovered the missing book of the law when they were rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem. Intense grief accompanied their discovery that they hadn’t been following God’s pattern for the celebrations, but instead of staying in the grief, they were called upon to recognize the holiness of celebration.
As I said before, this work/rest cycle has changed throughout my life. As a kid, I couldn’t get enough rest. Days off of school were my favorite. Homework was for other people. My mother would often exclaim, “If you’d spend half as much energy on doing the work as you do trying to get out of it, you’d already be done!” My father always said I’d make good management, a joke/insult I didn’t understand until later. But, as with many things in life, maturity wrought some changes in me. If you went back in time and told my teenage self how much of my life is wrapped up in work, he’d probably find a way not to grow up. It doesn’t hurt that I like my job, but I can’t imagine a day without doing what I do. Even if you don’t like what it is you do for a living, you may understand—our identity is often wrapped up in what we do. So now, it has become harder for me to rest. I have to be intentional about actually taking time off. When I was pastoring a church, my wife would often tell me that even when I left the office physically, I never actually left the office in my head—and that was to my disadvantage.
I’m not sure that I’m ever going to get this thing perfect—sometimes I’ll get out of whack on the side of work, sometimes I’ll get out of whack on the side of rest. Maybe someday I’ll learn a good balance for Allen wrenches, too.