By the Evangelical Portal team
Introduction: Over the past month, the Evangelical Portal has conducted a "Consultation" on the challenges of being a person of faith in the secular workplace. On the basis of our interactions with readers, we identified the five most pressing issues confronting Christian professionals. Recently we interviewed Marcus Goodyear, the editor for TheHighCalling.org (a program of the H. E. Butt Foundation) as well asChristianity Today's section on Faith in the Workplace. We asked Mr. Goodyear to address each of the five issues that formed the center of our Consultation. Below are his responses.
1. Especially given the pressures of the current economic environment, how do we balance our family and church commitments with our work commitments?
This is a complicated question because it's based on a metaphor of balance. Balance is a great metaphor if you are talking about limited resources. When I talk about balancing work and family, I'm really talking about the issue of time: how do I deal with the fact that both my work and my family expect time of me?
There can be times when I need to do 80-hour weeks. If I were a farmer, for instance, and it were harvest season, then I would work a very long day. Yet the Hebrews were still called to take Sabbaths even in the time of harvest. So we are always called to take times of rest, but there can be seasons of hard work, as long as we go on into seasons where we work less.
The trend in contemporary society is to work until we burn out. I don't think that's healthy for us as a society and it's certainly not healthy for us as individuals. So I advise that we try to schedule some relaxation at the end of a difficult season, a vacation or at least a period in which we have fewer obligations at work.
Yet the balance metaphor isn't entirely accurate. It implies that we have to balance our faith, as though we have three pieces to our lives: work, family, and God. This makes it seem as though we have even more things to juggle. But there can be overlap. For instance, I can bring my family along on my work trip. That's even more true with God. It's not so much that we have God-time in the morning before work, then we work, and then we have time for our family again. No, God should be fully present throughout all of that.
Of course, we're limited, and we may not always be able to pray without ceasing. Yet the idea is that we should be integrated people, whole people, not different people in different times and places, but one person in all times and places.
So there are competing metaphors here of balance and integration. We cannot throw out the balance metaphor entirely, because we are dealing with the limited resource of time. But we shouldn't be afraid to look for creative ways in which we can bring the different spheres of our lives together.
Some of the executives who come to Laity Lodge [another ministry operated by the H. E. Butt foundation, related to TheHighCalling.org] are burnt out. We tell people: we have a schedule for this weekend, but you need to feel free to do what you have to do. God called you here with a specific plan for you. That may involve attending everything, but it may not. Yet some are so burnt out that they attend the first and second sessions and then they simply sleep. They shut down -- or even break down. Finally they've gotten to a place where they can rest, and they need it desperately.
We as a society have forgotten how to rest. Even the way we treat the Sabbath sometimes feels like we're more busy on Sundays doing church stuff than resting. I don't mean to step on any toes, but there are certain denominations that conduct all of their business meetings on Sundays. At my previous church I taught regularly, and I had a bad habit of not preparing until early Sunday morning, and that ruined the Sabbath for me. The church never came alongside me and said, "You really ought not to do that. If you're not ready by Sunday, do something liturgical like lectio divina." I would have appreciated some guidance on how properly to prepare as a volunteer, so that I could still assist on Sunday yet do so in a way that is restful.
Honestly, sometimes church can feel like a three-ring circus or a worship show. At times that is very exciting -- but it isn't restful. The church we attend now is more counter-cultural. What happens on Sundays is traditional and mellow. Sometimes I just want churches to be more restful. Assuming we're going to treat Sunday like a Sabbath, too many churches open the Sabbath day with this busy craziness.