This article is part of the Help! series.
The Holy Grail
The holy grail of modern life is to achieve work/life balance. But despite millions of ‘new decade resolutions’ to that effect, the vast majority will fail miserably in 2020, making this year as miserable as last year for themselves and for those around them.
Maybe you’re one of the millions who already sense that 2020 is going to be just as stressful and joyless as 2019. The new year has barely begun and yet you’re already feeling like the old you—physically drained, emotionally depleted, unable to cope, and lacking in energy.
When you think about your job, you see a relentless enemy. When you think about those who work for you, those you work for, and those you work with, you are cynical and critical. When you think about your customers, patients, clients, members, etc., you are numb and negative. When you think about your family, all you can think about is what you’re not doing. When you think about serving the church. . . well, you try not to think about that.
In fact, it’s almost impossible to separate work from home, work from church, work from hobbies, and work from vacations. Work invades everything until life is just a big blob of undifferentiated stress, exhaustion, alienation, frustration, and cynicism! It’s a miserable life, isn’t it?
But 2020 can be different from 2019. With the Lord’s help, it can be much more joy-filled, if we take the following four steps toward striking a better work/life balance.
Have a Holy Calling
Work/life balance begins with a biblical view of work. Contrary to what many think, work is not primarily a place to please our boss, help our customers, make money, or build a career. So what is a biblical view of work? Notice these six insights from Ephesians 6:5–8:
- God has called us to work.
- God has called us to serve him in our work.
- God has called us to serve him from and with the heart.
- God has called us to do our work with excellence.
- God has called us to love our neighbor in our work.
- God sees, appreciates, and will reward our work.
Putting that all together, we arrive at a biblical view of work: work is the place God has called us to serve him from the heart, with excellence, for the benefit of others, and to please him. I hope you can see that such a view of work will change your view of work. It will transform your attitude to it, your actions in it, and your assessment of it. Work is essentially good and godly.
Maybe you’re thinking, “Well that’s a biblical view of work, but I thought this article was addressing work/life balance. What about the life part?” You’re right, work is not everything. So, let’s identify a biblical view of life.
Accept Holistic Reality
A biblical view of life will help us implement a biblical view of work. Many go wrong on the work side of things because they go wrong on the life (anthropology) side of things. So what is a biblical view of human life? Here’s a summary of the biblical teaching in passages such as Mark 8:36; Prov. 17:22; Ps. 32:2–4; 1 Cor. 6:19–20; Rom. 6:12–13; Matt. 6:25–34.
We are limited creatures. This means we are not the Creator. We are limited, not unlimited. We are finite, not infinite. We are dependent, not independent. This also means we are accountable to God as our Maker for how we accept and live within our limitations.
We are complex creatures. God created human life with multiple components such as the physical (our body), emotional (our feelings), intellectual (our thoughts), spiritual (our soul-life), moral (our ethics), social (our relationships), volitional (our purposes and choices), and vocational (our calling).
We are interconnected creatures. We cannot neglect one of these parts of human life and not expect the other parts to suffer. Conversely, if we care for each part, we will benefit the other parts too.
We are fallen creatures. Sin has broken us so that living a balanced, holistic life is harder than it ever was.
Really believing these truths will make a difference to how we assess ourselves, our capacities, our abilities, and our responsibilities in every part of our God-given life. It will stop us from making one part of life the whole of life. Instead, we will have a realistic holistic view of our humanity, especially our limitations, complexity, interconnectedness, and fallenness.
“Yes,” you might say, “I agree with you in principle about this biblical view of life, work, and the need to have a holistic view of ourselves to be balanced in life and work. But can you help me work this out in everyday life?”
Work is the place God has called us to serve him from the heart, with excellence, for the benefit of others, and to please him.
Build a High Wall
There are many ways to achieve better and more biblical work/life balance, but the biggest and the best thing you can do is to build as high a wall as you possibly can between your work and the rest of your life. If you want to work well and live well, then you need to build an insurmountable and impenetrable wall between these two spheres.
The most common cause of the miserable work/life imbalance that many of us experience today is that there is little or no separation between our life and our work. Each bleeds into the other, draining the life out of us. We do life at work (personal texts, emails, calls, online purchases, blogs, news, websites, social media, etc.), and we do work at home. We are therefore never fully “on” and we are never fully “off.” We bring life to work and we bring work into life. The result is draining disengagement in both work and life.
So what’s the answer? The answer is full engagement in both work and life with clear boundaries between them. In The Power of Full Engagement, Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz observed:
To be fully engaged, we must be physically energized, emotionally connected, mentally focused and spiritually aligned with a purpose beyond our immediate self-interest. Full engagement begins with feeling eager to get to work in the morning, equally happy to return home in the evening and capable of setting clear boundaries between the two.
That’s really another way of saying, “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might” (Eccl. 9:10). Balancing well requires building a wall. On the life side of the wall, we are engaged in refueling and renewing. On the work side of the wall, we are engaged in spending and expending. And the better the boundary, the higher the wall, the more fully engaged we will be in both work and life. While fully engaging in work, we fully disengage from “life.” While fully engaged in life, we fully disengage from work. That way, work becomes more productive and life becomes more renewing, and both become more enjoyable.
“But, but, but. . . ” I hear you say, “You don’t know how hard it is for me to do this. I can see how this would work for others, but it can’t work for me.” Which brings us to the fourth step in rebalancing.
Make Hard Decisions
Wall-building often stalls because what we think is a “can’t” is almost always a “won’t.” We know what needs to be done, and we know what decisions need to be made in both life and work, but we protest, “I can’t do that!”
As I look at my own protests and those of others I’ve counseled, I’ve come to realize that it’s not so much that we can’t make the changes, it’s that we won’t. It’s not inability that stops rebalancing, it’s unwillingness. But we dress our won’t up in can’t clothes to excuse ourselves and shift the blame to others.
Yes, these steps and this wall require hard and painful decisions in the short-term—both at work and in the rest of life. But not making them will just make life harder and more painful in the longer-term. In reality, you’re not only avoiding hard decisions, you’re just making decision-making harder. Let’s be honest with God, ourselves, and others. Let’s be courageous and clear in our decision-making. Let’s do what’s right and wise and trust God with the consequences. You’re not a passive victim. There are decisions you can take to change the balance in your life and work.
If 2019 was a miserable year because of life-work imbalance, work through these four steps each day of 2020: have a holy calling, accept holistic reality, build a high wall, and make hard decisions. In doing so you will not only find more life/work balance, you will increase God’s joy, the joy of others, and your joy at work and in life.
David Murray is the author of Reset: Living a Grace-Paced Life in a Burnout Culture.
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