What does the death of lunch mean?

After I listened to a podcast about the death of lunch for most working people in Midtown Manhattan, I took an informal poll of my Facebook friends to see if they thought lunch was dead.

The person being interviewed noted that lunch as an idea was dead, not in the sense that workers were no longer allowed a lunch hour, but the concept of leaving the office to dine somewhere else with a colleague, or a friend, or to make a business deal was gone. He credited this to many things, but the most interesting to me was his noting the lack of necessity of lunch because so much social interaction occurs during the day through social media, Email, and cell phone usage.

In a different era, a lot of social interaction (necessary for “business”) occurred over lunch, these days much of that can occur without anyone even leaving home. My Facebook poll is a case-in-point, I got dozens of responses from people within minutes, literally, of posting it. I was amazed at how effective it was.

On my post, most people lamented how short their lunch break was, but many also noted that it was an important discipline for them to take it. Many prided themselves on not overworking and taking the break. Others even said their bosses required it of them. Still others noted that eating wasn’t central to it, but rather doing something recreational, catching up with a friend, or for one leader in Circle of Hope, furthering a relationship with another leader or someone in their cell.

Personally, I rely on people’s lunch breaks to catch them during the day, when it is more feasible for me to meet with them. So I am thankful when that sacred hour of respite from the office, or wherever, is shared with me.

The interview I listened to was between Christopher Kimball, editor of Cook’s Illustrated, and Adam Gopnik , a writer for the New Yorker (and Philadelphia native, apparently). His main point was about food and how we relate or don’t relate over it. More people pack their lunch, or do take out, or buy food off a truck.

I was thinking more about the theology of work and rest, and the lunch hour. It was noteworthy to me how many people were clinging to the “rights” of lunch, but so little of the folks I spoke to talked about lunch as something social—rather as something restful. I wonder what 30 minutes of rest really does and why it is so craved.

I got a little worried that we were using that sparse 30 minute break as a way of getting rest because it is

Café Terrace at Night, Van Gogh, 1888
so minimal. In an era where we aren’t sleeping enough, where we are constantly working (aren’t our offices portable these days, too?), and where we even get anxiety buzzes in our pockets even when our phones are on the opposite sides of the room—it seems to me that Sabbath and retreat, an internal prayer life is quite important. We need to get real rest so that we don’t just feel entitled to it all the time.

The more blurred the boundaries between work and rest are, the harder it gets to find real rest. Tech companies like Facebook and Google get accolades for blurring those lines (having cafeterias in their offices, or even having happy hours in their buildings “after work”). We work longer hours, but we have fun too. We end up taking work home with us on the weekend, or we do more at night. Never being able to let go of work has many problems.

For one, it creates a resistant to work among people. Work can become a negative thing because it never leaves us. Some argue that work is a curse given to Adam and Eve by God, but I think he made it part of our lives. It’s normal and good to work. Protesting work altogether, may be an excuse to not develop fully an adult life and subsequently faith. It may allow us to continue to live out of childhood fantasies of provision and protection. But it’s also good to and normal to rest. Life in Christ in one whole cloth, so those lines aren’t always so clear, and that can be OK. But if we are never fully “off,” I wonder if we’ll ever be fully “on.”

The pastors were talking about the fatigue that many people feel when they are leading or serving in the church the other day. One of the points we settled on was the importance of not blaming our circumstances for our fatigue, but looking within ourselves to find the root of it. Maybe we’re so tired, and so desperate for that 30 minutes of lunch, because we don’t ever get a break from social media or texting our friends or our mother calling us, even.

My friends don’t know me for the strict boundaries I set. But I am growing in my consciousness that it is anxiety that is often the motivating factor in what causes me to break my boundaries or not take a lunch break. It is not so easy to just “will” anxiety to stop, and I think dwelling on it can make it grow.

I have learned two things about setting boundaries despite anxiety that I want to offer to you.

  • Tell someone about the problem. When I began articulating the fact that my diffuse boundaries were the result of my anxiety, I began to change. I wrote about it, I told my wife, and my friends too. I not only received good counsel, but also allowed me to confront my own thoughts.
  • Pray about it. My prayers needed to come in two forms to really work. I got them out of my head and in front of me vocally, but also in written form. Writing down my prayers helped me confront what was worrying me. Further, it helped organize my life into more than just work, rest, and play, and actually grounded me.

I really think boundaries for work, play, rest, and screen time are important, but I am unsure a rule about how we navigate those areas is all we need. We need to find rest in Jesus, in our savior, and we need to find the kind of labor or vocation that rings into eternity too.

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