Recently, I was told that I am known for having "the best work/life balance of anyone on the team." We were joking around because I never leave vacation on the table at the end of the year, and I fuss at the other staff if they do. UBA doesn’t hire slackers, so it is not uncommon for one of the staff to get a little wrapped up in work. The to-do list grows. An unexpected challenge arises. Things get critical. Before you know it, things are out of balance.
I watch for that. I pretty much insist that everyone take their vacation days—all of them. If they have a string of night or Saturday meetings, then I want them to take a day off. I encourage them to tend to all the aspects of their lives with care. So, I confess. It’s true. I am committed to the work/life balance.
A Theology of Balance
Now, a really hard-driving Type-A personality might not see that as a positive thing. Some folks see “balance” as just another word for “lazy” or “uncommitted.” I see it differently. My theology about balance involves the belief that all the aspects of my life are meant to be lived fully to the glory of God. That includes a week on the beach just as much as a week in a teaching conference. I sometimes say that every part of my life is as important as every other part of my life, though that’s a generalization.
In truth, my family and personal relationship with God are more important than whatever ministry God has called me to. There are others who can do your ministry. There are—and indeed will be—others who pastor the church or write a book on your treasured topic. However, there is no one else who can be the husband or wife to your spouse or mother or father to your child. Those roles are yours and yours alone.
Doing the Schedule Shuffle
While few would argue with that concept, living it out practically can be more difficult. I started serving at UBA about three years after Bob and I were married. By that time, we had negotiated most of the major marriage adjustment hurdles—new city, new jobs, new church. We agreed on money management principles, the purchase of our house, and getting a dog. There wasn’t much that created conflict for us except for the challenge of scheduling consistent and adequate time together.
He was a young chaplain at Methodist Hospital, and I was on staff at UBA. His schedule involved regular on-call overnights at the hospital while mine involved connecting with pastors and churches on a lot of nights and weekends. We were both new in our jobs and had conferences, training, and professional meetings we attended to establish ourselves in our field of ministry.
We both were highly committed to doing our jobs well.
This resulted in very hectic and mostly unpredictable schedules. We’d schedule a date night; then a church would call or a chaplain’s meeting would get scheduled. We’d cancel our date night because ministry was important; others expected things from us, and we both wanted to do well.
A Drastic Change
Eventually, though, we realized that this was not the way to maintain a healthy relationship. Our schedules were so erratic that they controlled us instead of our controlling them. We did kind of a crazy thing. I recommend it only in extreme cases, but it worked for us.
We divided the 7-day week into 21 units comprised of morning, afternoon, and evening of each day. We recognized that some of those units were already reflecting strong commitments in our lives that we agreed were important to retain. We would continue to worship on Sundays, prepare a Sunday School lesson, fulfill deacon responsibilities, etc. We both had a full-time 5-day work schedule. Bob had the overnight on-calls, and I had some weekend or night church consultations. Well over half of our “units” were committed through the choices we had already made.
We realized that we had choices to make about the remaining units. Making our relationship a priority was both a choice and a responsibility. We didn’t want to mess up that gift from God. We talked and shared our needs and agreed to reserve a specific number of units each week for us to spend together —having a leisurely meal, taking a walk, talking about our day, or just being together.
I don’t remember how many units we required, but that’s not really important. The important thing is that this system allowed us the window we needed to take control of our own time commitments. It made us aware of how we were spending our time. Thankfully, we don’t even deal in “units” anymore, but we do occasionally remember our admittedly over-structured system with a smile.
Along the way, I had a revelation. We had agreed on some flexibility to renegotiate schedules. If a chaplain’s conference got scheduled or a church called for a consult, we’d sit down together and shuffle our schedule to make adjustments. We honored our commitment for the amount of time reserved for us but were flexible about changing the date.
One week, we had scheduled a date night on a particular Saturday. A church called and wanted me to meet with their Leadership Team. I was just about to say, “Let me renegotiate my calendar and get back with you,” when the revelation came. I realized if that Saturday commitment had been a consultation with another church on my calendar instead of a date with my husband, then I would never suggest that I renegotiate the schedule putting one church ahead of the other.
“Why,” I thought, “would my time with my husband be less important than a meeting with another church?”
That was a turning point for me. I simply told the church quite honestly that I already had another commitment on that Saturday and asked if they had other dates we could consider. They did. We scheduled another time for their meeting. Bob and I kept our commitment to spend time together. It’s been a life journey to actually realize work/life balance, but that revelation certainly moved me quite a ways down the road.
The Balancing Act
Over the years, I’ve come to more and more strongly believe that holding all the areas of my life in balance before God brings honor to him. To give disproportionate time to my work is to say that other areas of my life are less important to God and have less ability to bring him glory.
God has called me to ministry. He has also called me to be a wife, a mother, a neighbor, a friend. He has called me to spend time alone with Him. He has called me to live and serve in a community of faith. He has called me to joy and peace and purpose. None of these things are less important than my work at UBA, and many of them are more so.