I’ve heard many people say they need to do a better job of balancing the different areas of their life that are constantly pulling them in different directions. The trouble with the word balance is that it implies things need to consistently be even on all sides. However, we all know there are times when our work life may need to take priority for a while, and finding an ‘even balance’ with the other areas of our life is impossible. A different season of life may have our personal health taking precedence and other aspects may be neglected. We all know managing the time God has given us is a tension that never goes away.
So, instead of thinking in terms of balance, I’d like to challenge you to look at your life in terms of harmony. Harmony is defined as “the quality of forming a pleasing and consistent whole.” How do we make sure all the things we know are important in this life continue to work in harmony with one another and we don’t find ourselves in a constant state of mixed-up priorities? If I have to be honest, I don’t have a perfect answer. And, despite the many books written on this topic, neither does anyone else! But I am going to look at five areas (Faith, Finances, Relationships, Health, and Work) that we are all juggling on a daily/weekly basis and how we should be making sure they are in harmony with one another no matter our stage of life. We could all write several pages for each of these; however, I’m only going to focus on one aspect, drawing from the wisdom of individuals much smarter than me!
We better talk about this one first, and the reason for that can be summed up by what Jeff Iorg shares in his book, The Painful Side of Leadership: Moving Forward Even When It Hurts: “When you and I rely on anyone else besides Jesus to satisfy our deepest needs, we are always disappointed. Our relationship with Him must be our ultimate satisfaction” (2009). I hope you said a loud “Amen!” We, as Christians, know this to be true, but our sinful self tells us to rely on our spouse, children, possessions, or work for our fulfillment. We can’t have a life of harmony when Christ is not the foundation and source of our joy. And if we are getting this truth wrong, the rest of our lives will never be in harmony.
I’ve found that the best way to keep me in tune to what God desires for my walk with Him is to have people who hold me accountable. We need individuals to remind us when we are not keeping our relationship with Jesus at the center of our lives. If you don’t have a spiritual accountability partner (your spouse and other relatives shouldn’t serve in this role), I encourage you to ask God for someone He could use to have this significant influence in your life.
Over the years, I’ve heard several different leaders talk about the following little nugget of knowledge: “It is much better to say ‘I Want’ instead of ‘I Owe.’” After giving our first fruits back to the Good Lord, this may be the most valuable principle when it comes to managing our finances. Yet, why are so many of us burdened with debt? Jesus understood how much we struggle with properly managing the gifts our heavenly Father has given us; He spoke about it throughout His ministry. Christ knew how quickly the stuff of this world can get a hold of us. When we have a significant amount of debt, we are no longer in control of our finances; they control us instead.
I’m a firm believer in Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace. It should be a prerequisite for all young adults. It has been a huge blessing for me and my wife and helped us become better stewards. I would recommend you go through the course and host it at your congregation and school. My three daughters aren’t old enough yet, but before they head off to college, they will be spending some time learning from Dave! *
This is the most fragile of the five. Dismissing the importance of nurturing the relationships with our family and friends can have long-lasting and sometimes irrevocable consequences. I need to be confronted on this as much as possible and I’m grateful for a little phrase Andy Stanley (Senior Pastor of North Point Community Church in Alpharetta, GA) has repeated several times in his podcasts. This serves as a great reminder for me: “Don’t trade what is unique to you for what someone else will eventually do.”
Someone replaced me when I left my first call as a 7th-grade teacher; another individual sits in the principal’s office I once occupied; and a gifted educator has taken the role of Superintendent of the Ohio District after I moved here to Michigan. But no one is replacing me as husband to Lori, as dad to my three favorite daughters, as son to Galen and Patti, and as friend to Matt. However, many times I still find myself with an unhealthy obsession with work that has a negative effect on my relationships. Grant permission to those you love to give you a little kick in the rear when you allow your relationships to suffer because you have forgotten what is unique to you.
The guy who is twenty-five pounds overweight probably shouldn’t be speaking about this one! Don’t worry; we are going to be looking at another huge factor in our overall health—stress.
Adam Grant, in his book Give and Take, discusses his research findings of individuals who perceive their job as having a lasting impact. Those that do were protected against stress. It doesn’t mean they didn’t have stress in their lives, but their sense of making a difference in the lives of other people created a buffer against stress and enabled them to avoid burnout.
Where in your life are you having a lasting impact? If your job is a place where you feel you are making a difference in the lives of others, what a blessing! I hope our church workers see themselves in this way. For all of you, I pray that you also find an identity outside of your calling as a pastor, teacher, DCE, etc. I believe stress becomes overwhelming when you are unable to separate yourself from your professional church worker role and your whole identity is wrapped up in your position serving the church.
Others may be working in a position where you don’t feel you are making a lasting impact. Are there other places, separate from your job, where you can serve and see yourself being a positive influence on others? God wired us to be givers of our time, talents, and treasures so His kingdom on earth can continue to grow and thrive. Serving those around us for kingdom impact is a natural stress reliever as we are fulfilling our purpose here on earth. My prayer for you is that you find a way for God to use you to be a blessing … no matter how great or how small.
I saved this one for last. If you are like me, this is where we have the most issues. I’m going to steal a thought that many authors have written about over the years, but I really like Rob Bell’s paraphrase from a Nooma Video he recorded in 2008 (this series of videos was recorded before Rob’s theology went so extreme we can’t even recognize it anymore; but we can still take some of his words and Lutheranize them!): “The enemy of the best isn’t always the worst, many times it is the good.”
We get trapped in thinking the devil, the world, and our sinful nature uses all sorts of ghastly and despicable ways to keep us distracted from what God desires for our life. But the opposite is true, and it is especially evident at work. Our calendars and to-do lists can get so full of good things that we no longer have the time to do the handful of things we are truly called to do. None of these tasks are sinful in themselves, but they distract us from accomplishing and focusing on the things that make us our very best. We need to recognize when we fall into this trap.
So, what are the things you are best at handling at work that need your attention? Take a look at your calendar, your inbox, requests from your colleagues, and the stack of notes you have left yourself. When those ‘good’ things pile up and keep us from the things we should be focused on, that is the time when our work begins to spill over into other areas of our life because we need that time to get everything done. I encourage you to begin each day with an understanding of the two to three things you need to attack so you are doing what your company, congregation, or family needs you to do best.
As I finish writing this article, I can see the sinister smile from my wife as she reads it for the first time. She knows better than anyone that I battle against the tension of keeping faith, finances, relationships, health, and work in harmony with one another. Thankfully, our Risen Savior is there to walk beside us and offer His grace and forgiveness when we fail. May all of us look to Him every minute of the day and pray for wisdom as we strive to maintain harmony in our life.
*If you or your congregation would like further information and discounted rates for Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University, visit the Church Worker Care page at michigandistrict.org.
Photo © bymuratdeniz/iStock