Our family life seems so pressured and full right now that we often feel defeated. There are just so many things we're expected to do. How do you relieve the pressures you feel as a family?
Dennis: I think many couples today fail to realize just how much they are driven by the expectations they feel from living in this culture. So many of the choices we make about our lifestyles are driven by the expectations we develop by comparing ourselves to others—in the workplace, in our churches, in our neighborhoods, in the shows and commercials we watch on television. In order to please others or to reach some "phantom" standard we set for ourselves, we run ourselves ragged. We want more money, more experiences, more power, more entertainment, more success for ourselves and for our children.
As our kids were growing up, Barbara and I determined that we would regularly and prayerfully hammer out our own values, our own standards of success. On an annual basis, we asked ourselves, "Where do we want to succeed above all else?"
We always returned to the same basic priorities: We wanted to succeed first in our relationship with God and, second, in our marriage. Third, we wanted to win with our kids. If we kept those three commitments in focus, it became easier to make decisions about saying "yes" to the right things at church, at work, and in our community, and "no" to things that would pull us apart in our own marriage and family.
Barbara: For example, Dennis often receives speaking requests. When this happened while our kids were still at home, we sat down together and looked at our schedules, weighed that request alongside our core values, and determined how that would help us in our priorities. Sometimes we only talked about them for two or three minutes before the answer was pretty obvious to both of us. We said "no" to a lot of great opportunities, but we wound up winning where it counts.
Dennis: We made mistakes like anyone else. We didn't always live consistently by our values. But having them set clearly before us ensured a better focus and a greater chance of hitting the bull's eye than if we hadn't had them at all.
Barbara: I really pushed us to plan well, because that helped bring security and stability to my life. When I knew what was going to happen in the next couple of weeks or the next month, then I was better prepared to handle those things.
Here's another example: There were certain times of the year that brought more pressure than others. One of those times was May. It was the end of the school year for the kids, so there were many activities going on there. It was also a very stressful time for Dennis and me in the ministry—he often had trips to go on that he couldn't avoid. Because of that, we really tried to stick to the rule of no trips for the last half of April—that time of rest helped us prepare for the pressure we knew we'd experience in May.
Another busy time was September through Christmas, and especially the month of December. We had to watch our calendars carefully to make sure we didn't over-schedule that time. We also tried to keep the first part of January open—keeping our meetings to a minimum, keeping travel out of the schedule. We learned through lots of failure that we need to plan carefully to handle those two difficult seasons in our lives.
Dennis: I want you ladies to know that I resisted my wife's admonitions early in our marriage. Then I began to see that God has given me a gift in Barbara. I needed her perspective. By throwing out those anchors in our schedule, Barbara created these little harbors of tranquility that helped us get through the pressure.
Be patient with us men if we don't get the message right away. Barbara was patient with me, and I now see that her thinking on this was really far superior to mine!
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