Wednesday, October 22, 2008


Deb posted a request to respond to one of Brad's blog postings, "Failing All ‘Round?" and I had enough thoughts to justify a blog post of my own rather than a super-long comment.

The question, in a short nutshell, is "Can I succeed at work and family both, or do I have to pick one, and if so, which?"

I guess I fall pretty strongly on the "Choose family!" side. Perhaps this is partly because I am a woman (we tend to be more relational (ie family) and less idea/object (ie work) oriented). Perhaps it is partly because in my life I have chosen to give up a career and most hobbies in order to do a good job raising my family. The following is some of the thinking which has gone into my choice, and my continuing choice to stick to it. (By the way, if you notice a typo, put it down to the concussion. I've been making about 5 times as many as usual tonight.)

First, the eternal perspective. Naked we came into this world, and naked we will leave it (Job). The only thing we "do" on this earth which we can take to heaven with us, is people. Anyone converted by my Spirit-inspired efforts will be my friend for eternity. Furthermore, since I became a parent, I have responsibility before God for the souls of my children. So any work I do toward saving others needs to come after the work for my own family.

Second, Mom's example. All her life, Mom mourned her missed chance at a career. Until she got sick -- then her testimony was that it was as if God said to her, "Well done, thou good and faithful servant" -- not because of the counselling job she never had, but because she raised four god-fearing children. (I can't tell if that is a sentence or not. Oh well.) And Mom did lots of unofficial counselling on the side, as we saw from the amazing turn-out at her funeral.

Third is my own experience. At one time, I thought that every action of living up to the certain standard I set myself was a necessity in my relationship with God. This made my life an un-ending pressure of duties and tasks, each equally as important as the other. A friend astutely pointed out to me that "You're having trouble balancing your roles as wife, mother, daughter, sister, church member, and child of God." She was right. You know what? On this earth, we can't do everything.

One of the most important things I learned in highschool (by experiment, not in class) was the 80%-20% rule: For 20% of the effort, you can get 80% of the result. If you want the next 20% (up to 100%) of the result, you need to put in the rest of the 80% of effort. In other words, you have to put in four times more effort for one-fifth the additional quality. I use this rule to great effect in mothering. For example, if I wanted to cook perfectly, I would have to put in 100% of my effort and would have no time or energy for cleaning, schooling, child-rearing or "the rest of the family". So instead, I put 20% of my energy into each area, and get 80% of the possible result. I'm not a perfect house-keeper, but I also homeschool. I'm not a perfect child-raiser, but I also share my life with the rest of my family, cook, clean, etc. I have learned to accept this -- that I can only do 80% of what I could do in any one area -- because of the following.

Priorities. This is what it really comes down to. If your work (may it be in saving souls) is your 100% priority, then I hope you don't have children. The second part of my experience was from a book by Elizabeth George, where she shared the following priority scheme (from memory, from 3 years ago): God -- spouse -- children -- home -- job -- relatives/church/volunteering. I don't remember the order of the last three. This finally brought sense to my life. If I don't have time in my life to spend with God, reading His Word and praying, then how can I really call myself a Christian? If I make my children more important in my time than my spouse, my marriage will fall apart (the demands of children are never-ending) -- and that's not much help to the children! If my home is in chaos, that will carry over into my job and prevent me from working effectively. If I have more loyalty to my church than to my spouse, my marriage will fall apart over a minor difference of doctrine! On the other hand, if I give my relationship with God priority, he will give me strength and wisdom to balance the rest. If I give my spouse priority, he will be a strong support for my work in the home and with the children. If I give my children priority, they won't distract me from my job when I have to work. And so forth. Her book was directed toward women, so I don't know how the priorities would change for a man.

Who do you want to be? Mozart, who died of excess at 35, or Heinrich Schutz, who composed some of his best works later in life and live to 87? (Please, if you pick Mozart, don't have kids! It's just not fair to them.)

God needs people who are 100% dedicated to him, in all that we do. If we have children, they are a big responsibility, and will play a big role in the work he wants us to do (but must not become our idols). Jesus left nothing concrete behind when he was done his work -- only 12 ill-prepared disciples. His greatest accomplishment, was to die at odds with the law. Yet, that was what it took to win everything. As long as we are looking to him, we don't know what it will be -- our job, our hobby, our kids -- which will make an eternal difference -- but we can know that he knows, and will guide us to the place he wants us at the time he needs us there. So be 100% sure to look to him!

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