by Greg Leith
I slipped into his room late one evening as I arrived home from work so that I could give him a goodnight snuggle and a kiss, only to find him wide awake. "Hey Dad, it's Wednesday!" my 12-year-old said. "Tonight was our date night, Dad! You forgot!"
Somewhere between the deadlines and the meetings and the to-do list, I'd forgotten the most important ministry God had entrusted to me: my family. It had also been weeks since my wife and I had a date together, and I knew things needed to change - and fast. Instead of focusing on work, I needed to focus on my family and let them know they were just as important as my work and my ministry.
We set out to meet our work goals and somehow in the midst of it all, we forget that waiting at home is that young boy wanting to play catch, that teenage girl who needs to talk about boys, or that spouse that needs to be treated with all the attention we used to give when we were dating. Why does it happen? How does it happen? How can you prevent it from happening to you?
Let me ask you this: if you and I were sitting at that Tim Hortons near your house discussing the state of our lives, could I ask you a pretty personal question? What is the real goal that you are striving for? Is it possible that the prize you're pursuing for has edged out your precious family, or that spouse you were madly in love with during your courtship days? They need some of your best time, not just your leftover time.
Well, before the coffee gets cold and we both need to run, here are ten ideas to help you as you strive to balance your work and your family. Got a pen? Jot 'em down on your napkin.
1. Get your family together and craft a family mission statement. It's just as important to be intentional as a family as it is in the workplace. We wanted our family to all be on the same page in terms of our life purposes and the principles that would govern our time together. Need a head start? Here's our family mission statement:
Our family is going through life's journey together, growing roots in Christ and wings for our mission, becoming equipped to make a difference in our world by learning to live like Jesus, for Jesus and in Jesus.
We've designed other elements of this mission statement into the shape of a house, with walls of laughter, doors of prayer and windows of other important character qualities.
2. Carve out time for your family each week…in advance. Put it on your calendar. Stop saying you have to get one more thing done before you leave for home. Plan your week with specific ending times and stick to them.
3. Jettison things from your schedule that aren't important. March to the mission that Jesus called you to, not the mission that others want you to do for them. Be ruthless here!
4. If your work situation requires constant excessive hours to get the job done, it's time to evaluate other ways to accomplish the task. You can't accomplish the mission of the organization single-handedly, so stop trying! Pray for the Lord to send workers into your harvest field and then sit back and watch Him go to work. Pray for supernatural results from the time you do put into your day, then go home and be a minister in the other mission field God gave you…your family.
5. If you're a leader of others, have them actually write into their job descriptions the need to be committed to their family and specific ways in which they will make this a priority.
6. Develop an activity together with your family as a whole, and/or with individual family members. Maybe it's hiking, a date at Denny's for breakfast on Saturday, or coffee and prayer with your spouse each day. As you do this, remember that teachable moments are almost like 'intentional accidents': they happen, but not always because you planned them. So be sure to plan large quantities of time with your family throughout the year so they'll have a chance to occur.
7. Create a 'spiritual life development plan' for each of your kids, outlining their strengths, their areas for improvement and your plans to shape their character as they grow up under your care. Our children are arrows that are being released into a world that we will never fully see. It's our job to shape them into arrows that will fly straight and travel the distance to the kingdom target that God has intended for them.
8. Schedule a date night of at least an hour once a week with each child and your spouse, where you focus solely on them. It doesn't have to be expensive; time is the critical ingredient here. When our budget has been tight, I've had this time in my backyard with my son.
9. When you're traveling, send an email or a postcard back to your family. Call them on the phone and pray with them, in addition to chatting.
10. At the end of a day, ask your kids and spouse these three questions: 'What happened today that you're proud of?' 'What happened today that you wish you could do over?' 'Where did you see God in your day today?'
If your spouse or children were to describe how your performance as a spouse and parent, what would they say? If you're not happy with the words that are echoing around in your head, it's time to make some changes. I love how Eugene Petersen puts it: "Exploit or abuse your family, and end up with a fistful of air" (Proverbs 11:29, The Message). When my work years have come to an end, I want to be holding more than air, don't you?
"Hey Dad! I passed!" exclaimed my 15-year-old girl. You see, I'm writing this morning from the Department of Motor Vehicles waiting room, where I came with my daughter to get her driving permit. Some days you just can't achieve balance, so lately I've been working on integration - aren't laptops wonderful? As my daughter and I celebrated her passing the test with a big hug in the lobby, I was glad I'd decided the to-do list at work could wait. The memory of this morning with her will last forever.
Used by permission of FamilyLife Canada. Copyright 2003.
FamilyLife is a donor-supported ministry offering practical and biblical resources and events to help you build a godly marriage and family.