I visited a nuclear power station last week. We were on holiday in Suffolk, and the weather was uninspiring. Being science geeks, we headed to Sizewell B to check out its visitor centre. We were greeted by a very friendly lady who gave us an excellent presentation about how a Pressurised Water Reactor works. Among fascinating facts about fish sorting, seawater volumes and the construction of fuel rods, I learned about the crucial importance of planned shutdowns.
Most of the time, no one can go inside the main reactor building. But every eighteen months the reactor is shut down for several weeks for refuelling and maintenance. During this outage period the power station produces no electricity. But staff work harder than ever, doing extra shifts and bringing in additional engineers to ensure that every day of shutdown is used to the full. Without these shutdowns the power station might become unsafe and would gradually cease to function. Shutdowns are essential.
I was recently challenged to write something entitled ‘Not Working’. It seemed like a rather negative idea. I associate ‘not working’ with redundancy and brokenness. As a carer for my disabled daughter, I am unable to work at a full-time paid job. Sometimes I feel a little defensive when I compare myself with people who are ‘working’ in the conventional, economic sense. But my visit to Sizewell B got me thinking about what ‘working’ really means.
The purpose of a power station is to generate power. But is the power station ‘not working’ when its staff are labouring flat out during a scheduled outage? Maybe it isn’t producing electricity right now, but it is still fulfilling its wider purpose of being a fully functional part of the nation’s energy resources.
As human beings, our purpose is bigger than the tangible things or money we might make. Productive work in the conventional sense is good and important, but we are still working, still functional, when we are resting, or caring for others, or enjoying recreation, or recuperating from injury or illness. Just as the power station needs its periods of shutdown to be safe and effective, so we need time and space away from life’s pressing demands to become our best selves.
The Jewish people have a long tradition of resting from many kinds of work on the Sabbath or Shabbat. They view this rest as a special gift, ordained by God and based on God’s rest on the seventh day of creation. When Jesus was challenged by religious leaders for healing a sick man on the Sabbath, he replied,
‘My Father is still working, and I also am working.’ (John 5:17).
God is Always Working
What did Jesus mean? I don’t think he was undermining the importance of the Sabbath as a day of worship, celebration, and recuperation. Rather he was pointing out that God’s work of loving, healing and maintaining the universe is continuous. In this sense, God is always working. God never ceases to be fully functional.
I may not be producing a readily measurable output all the time, but I am not broken. Writing my novel, I will discard numerous drafts before I (hopefully) arrive at a well-shaped story. It is easy to dismiss the early attempts as worthless, but I know they are an essential part of the process.
Caring for my daughter can sometimes feel restrictive, but I know caring is work in the truest, most creative sense. Taking time out for holidays or just to sit in the sun, is as important for our ongoing function and wellbeing as the outages are for the nuclear power station.
Not working? I am working all the time at becoming the person I am meant to be. I am a work in progress. I am fully functional.
You can learn more about visiting UK nuclear power stations here. It’s free!
You can learn more about the Jewish Shabbat traditions here:
Karen Lawrence is an author and mother of seven living in Billericay, Essex, United Kingdom. Karen has published two books and is currently working on three novels.
Letting the Light In: How A Baby With Down Syndrome Changed My Life is Karen’s personal account of having a baby with Down Syndrome. It is available from Amazon at
Karen’s first book, Finding Your Calm Space: Thirty-One Ways to find Calm in a Crazy World is available from Amazon at https://www.amazon.co.uk/Finding-Your-Calm-Space-Thirty-One-ebook/dp/B08NZ1W9QY
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