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.