Work Life Balance for a Dad and Husband — who loves His Job

In a meeting last week, I had a moment of clarity that put a question directly in front of me that I’ve been dreading to answer: How much of my heart should I put into my work and at what cost to my family and other work interests?

You see, the meeting ended abruptly at 5pm because it was time for that particular office to “lock up”, meaning that they had boundaries and were used to going home to their families. I’m used to meetings at the end of the day being extra-long because there is almost a contest in the Pentagon to see who stays the latest, and therefore works the hardest and, we might assume, cares the most, is the smartest and has the overall highest worth to society. I stretch this a bit, but only slightly. Throughout my working life there has always been a tension to put in more hours, give the most of your heart and life to the system. This seems to be a concrete way to distinguish yourself as a top-tier worker.

Part of this is because the military is a large bureaucracy where everyone is compared to their peers at a local level and the system allows for abstract feedback. But working harder always demands some form of recognition. This is not all bad. I am convinced it is a good thing to want to do good work and devote oneself to making a difference, even if there are high personal costs. Looking some of my heros off the top of my head: Jesus, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Martin Luther King, CS Lewis, Cicero and the Apostle Paul  — I don’t see a 9 to 5 life. All these individuals probably didn’t coach little league (or their equivalent). All had strange family lives and suffered terribly.

This is the start of the conundrum: how much do our heros mislead us in who we are supposed to be? I mean, the suffering of Paul and his desire to spread the Gospel were a singular focus — totally out of sync with my desire to optimize my “wellbeing” in several spheres: relational, physical, spiritual, financial and intellectual. Did Paul check the air in his tires, fund his 401(k), apply fertilizer in the spring, always remember to write thank you notes, and read challenging books, oh and did he remember that what interests his boss, should fascinate, and consume, him?

No, he lived for the Gospel. Which is what I should be doing. Now, before this devolves into a discussion of life focus and God’s will, I want to bring this back to the main point: How much of my heart goes into my work? I have two main thoughts on this.

First, we should serve our work and put our full heart into it. I don’t jog well. I kind putz around and get tired. However, I can run fast. When I really put my heart into something, I can hold around a 6/min mile pace for marathon distances and am willing to really take my effort into a pretty extreme place. The same goes for my work. I can perform, but I have to really focus and really push myself to do something hard. I feel I should be sprinting at work — giving my employer, who happens to be the US citizen the very best I can. In giving my heart to my occupation and seeking to make a difference, I leave the legacy to my family of hard work and societal contribution. In working hard, I serve my son in ways that working only 8 hours a day might never provide him.

However, I feel that I need to be grounded in the Gospel. My heart must be grounded in the Gospel. My day must start and end with devotions and prayer. My risk tolerance must be calibrated by eternal consequences and supported by my knowledge that my self worth is provided by the Gospel. My hunger, motivation and passion must be centered in the Gospel. My sole metric is the commandment of Christ: am I loving the Lord my God above all else and am I loving my neighbor as myself?

Perhaps there is a tension here, and this tension is where I feel called to be. What it means practically, is that I am here to serve: to serve my family, to serve my country and to serve my God. But! The Gospel tackles fear head on. The Gospel tells me to forget all that and to trade fear for love.

Thoughts greatly appreciated.

3 thoughts on “Work Life Balance for a Dad and Husband — who loves His Job

  1. There’s a lot to talk about here…a lifelong discussion. Calling is an interesting topic and one that is overused and misunderstood I think…not everyone gets a specific calling…and we tend to use the word calling for the thing we give our life to…maybe that is a general “calling”, maybe it’s not. Paul had a specific calling, which included a call to singleness. I think caution should be applied when comparing hero’s with specific, sometimes verbal/audible callings.

    I note that three of the six heros you mentioned were single believers, and only two had Christian ideas in their marriage. And from what I can tell, MLK’s husbandry/marriage had really unfortunate issues. Tough to compare their lives to yours when you’ve been given to marriage and fatherhood.

    One way to look at what you are describing is that you have competing loyalties. Everyone does. The method we use to decide which loyalty to support in any given situation will determine how successful we are in life. Plenty of airmen have gotten in trouble for putting their loyalty to their buddy above their loyalty to the Air Force. I usually share with them the idea of ranking loyalties by length of commitment: the longer the commitment you’ve made, the higher that priority ranks. A commitment to God is generally for eternity, to a spouse for life, child 20 years-to-life, military oath until I leave service, etc.

    I think getting these out of order may make you a hero in the eyes of many, but I doubt it will make you a hero in the eyes of God. I’ve just read a tiny book that seems indirectly applicable here. Not amazing writing, but a transformative idea about life and leadership nonetheless.

    Breaking the King Saul Syndrome by Jonathan Martin
    Link: http://amzn.com/0984716122

  2. A couple of things jump out at me that may simply require a perspective change. I do not profess to have anything close to solution to a balanced life that you seek…but when you changed your title of your blog from “Time to Sell Out?” and added “Balance” to the equation, I think you just about answered your own question. You can’t work on the high wire without balance…you also shouldn’t work without a safety net (more on that later).

    First, quite possibly when your were at that meeting and the shut the doors at 5 pm, they were following the law. At least until September 21 furlough laws are still in effect…we may not have to work 32 hour weeks anymore, but by law we cannot work more than 40 hour weeks. Maybe yes, maybe no, but it points to the perspective that with everything you do, whatever balance you seek, no matter how much you love your job, breaking the law is not an option. Generally speaking, I’ve always believed in the DoD, breaking the law simply was one of those unconscionable actions that rarely, if ever, occurred. Then I woke up and realized that when we do break laws it’s rarely the result of an deliberate action. It is the end result of a never-ending sequence of tiny corruptions, that perhaps “we” only moved the end result forward a single millimeter. Don’t break the law.

    Second, I personally have never favored the employee who arrives before 6 am and stays to lock up the door in the evening. If the system favors this employee, I haven’t personally seen the evidence of work hours as an indicator. Some of these employees are reading the paper at 6 am. First it’s their attitude and then it’s their productivity that earns them recognition. A team player with a can-do good attitude and unquestioning loyalty is the employee who rises into top 25%…almost with no productivity. If they are also productive, well then they are in the top 5%. If the boss requires you to be a work-a-holic, then perhaps that falls into the can-do, loyalty part of the equation. But, personally, I would strive to be productive. Over the long haul, if you are recognized as productive, it doesn’t matter if you’re a horses-ass, or come to work at noon, your contribution to the organization will be highly valued. Be productive.

    Third, I hate jogging or maybe it’s yogging, with a soft “g”. When I run, whereas I can’t sustain a 6 minute pace, I can run a 7:30 minute pace, and I hate to do otherwise. I can sustain it for about 14 miles. I’ve never completed a marathon. Why, because at a 7:30 pace, I break things. I injure myself. I’m not the slow and steady tortoise in a marathon. But that doesn’t mean running is inferior to jogging. That just means run, but know your distance. Run at work, but also run when you are with your family. That means, when you are with your family, no multi-tasking. Give your family your six minute miles. Give them your undivided attention when you are with them. And then move on. Also, if you are training for a marathon, that means long hours away out training. Only train hard for the race that counts, not for every race you are in. I haven’t been through p90X or Insanity yet, but I think the formula for is the most effective workout — balanced, intense, and short. Always run, but don’t always run marathons.

    Fourth, balance. But I think you’ve arrived at balance on your own. The question is, for each of us, how to walk the tightrope. All of us have different gifts, so it’s difficult for me to apply my gifts to your situation and expect you to be able to walk on my tightrope. I could not walk on your tightrope either. You can’t walk on the wire without balance. I’ve told you to get quiet first and listen. Yes, that’s focus and concentration. It’s hard to walk on a tightrope with loudspeakers blasting in your ears, you need your ears to find your equilibrium. But once you have, all the noise in the world will not disrupt your balance. Find your equilibrium…but that might mean you have to get very quiet first.

    Finally, you are not doing this alone. You are not trying to walk on the wire by yourself. You can take risks and figure out how to walk and balance and maybe even jump up and down and bounce on your own personal stretch-line. But you do, many don’t, have a safety net. Whether that be your friends…or your family…or your faith. I believe you have all three nets in place. So don’t be afraid to try because the fear is not real with a safety net in place. Get out on the wire, it’s where you live. And don’t be afraid to fall because love will always catch you.

  3. As always I am intimidated by the depth of your thinking and of your friends who comment. I’m hesitant to even offer advice because my problem is the opposite of yours- I think way too little of my work. I need to read Matt Chandler and Tim Keller’s recent works on Working and the Gospel. But perhaps that is apposite (I need to use a big word for self-esteem here) to your situation as well. God gave us jobs. It’s one of the first things He did in Genesis: Adam named the animals and he and Eve were to tend whatever needed tending in Paradise.

    I’m also hesitant to comment because this is deeply personal stuff and you are clearly struggling with it. Sometimes the Holy Spirit needs to simply work its magic and our efforts to do something interfere with that. I don’t want to create more noise, basically. I sense in reading your post that what you would really like to hear is, “You’re doing the best you can. It’s OK.” And maybe you are! And even if you’re not, and it’s not OK, God forgives that as well. But we know idols are idols, and not merely pleasures, when they are taken away. Do you run full bore in your work because it is only at that level that you receive the satisfaction from it? Is it like many idols that require evermore effort for it to receive the same feeling of satisfaction? If your work were taken away right now. If you were, say, not promoted or even demoted, would it be beyond disappointing and instead disillusioning and depressing? If so, it is a central part of your identity and the balance is off, of course. If not, and we’re really talking about striking the right balance and not idols, then I think the answer is “Whatever works.”

    I do not want to give trite Hollywood advice like “Give it all up for your family” because that is really puerile. Farmers had to work all day and into the night in the fields not because they wanted to- they had to. Maybe you have to. Maybe your country needs you to. But maybe you do not and in the area in which you have discretion, to which side should you err? In a strangely self-interested way, you should always give more to the people and to the God who love you back. Your job, important as it may be, never loves you back. But by your description of events, it seems what you really want, and this is going to sting a bit I’m so sorry, is credit and reward for what you do and not the work itself for its own sake. Otherwise you’d be happily toiling in obscurity and ignoring the 2 hour end of day meeting that is really a signaling model for who is the most loyal.

    Total respect for what you do and who you are, Tim. I hate to see you torn like this. I pray God gives you real insight into what to do.

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