The Gift of Balance: Work (Part 2)

(This is part two of the third topic in a series on the subject of balance. It being the holidays, we thought titling this series the gift of balance seemed appropriate. By “we,” I’m referring to the series contributors. Joining me in this series are Mark Stanifer and Tonya Waechter. At the end of this post are some suggested resources on this topic.)

Mark: One challenging mindset for balance at work revolves around the idea of wealth/power/status. That can lead to this lifestyle trap of debt and maintaining income to maintain a certain status. I can’t tell you the number of times that I saw people motivated to work extra hard because that’s what they were chasing.  But when they got there, they started chasing the next thing. To pull back from this chase, it would mean significant changes in their lifestyle.

Tonya: I’m wondering if that’s a deeper level of need for people to understand their values. Helping people understand their values and what it means to live out of them may be more challenging in the corporate setting.

John: Two words coming to me here are worth and success. Where are we looking for our worth, and what is the perception of success. “Is success what goes along with my values or is it based on something I’m chasing after that I don’t even know what it is or when I’m going to get there? I’m just following the flow.”

Mark: Being clear on your why is part of the practical step of maintaining balance. Sometimes it takes a little imbalance to remind you of your why. Or sometimes you have to go through something to realize this isn’t what you wanted. Values clarification can help define healthy balance and maintaining that.

Tonya: I’m always marveled by the fact that God’s ways are backwards and upside down from what we believe in the world.  When we put his values first, that may mean scaling back on work hours or spending more time in relations.  The world may say, “No way. You’re never going to build a business that way.”  Then God comes and blesses our taking steps back. I’m not trying to paint a picture it’s all good and roses, but God’s ways are much easier than what the world puts on us.

John: You just reminded me of a book called Upside Down Devotion. The point of the book was that we often don’t realize we are caught up in a thought that God doesn’t want us to be thinking or pursuing.

Mark: That plays along with another mindset regarding peer pressure to keep up with the Jones’s.  It’s a challenge sometimes to be comfortable and confident to know your identity enough to say, “I’m going to do things different than the world does, and I don’t care.”  That’s not a one-and-done decision.  It is a struggle to live according to the kingdom’s economics versus the world’s economics.

John: We can be drawn into trying to be someone that we are not. The struggle is similar to what Paul wrote about struggling between what I want to do and what I don’t want to do. We may find ourselves in this struggle until someone may smack us upside the head, maybe God, and says, “You’re trying to be somebody that I don’t intend for you to be.  That’s not even who you are. Why are you trying to do something that I didn’t design you to do?”

Tonya: I think it keeps coming back to knowing who we are, what are our gifts and passions.  They change too, through the years. You’re right, we do keep recalibrating. But getting our value in who God says we are is key. My husband and I are going through this time where we are tempted to come up with all the answers for college costs.  We are being reminded God is here and is in control. It’s a continuing growth and rebalancing.

Mark: I’ve been learning recently just how different we all are. Balance for one person could be working a paying job 20 hours a week and give the rest of their time to other pursuits. Someone else could be working 60-70 hours a week and still be in balance because of how they’re wired and driven and their circumstances. Balance is not a static definition, not a one size fits all. It’s a flow in life that we should all be evaluating and trying to achieve based on who we are, how God has called us and wired us, and what our circumstances are.

John: I like that because I’ve seen a lot of staff members wrestle with this for various reasons. Just because another person can work 50 hours and look like they could work 50 more doesn’t mean you have to work like that. And depending on your season of life, single or married, it’s going to shift, and that’s okay. Another thought is along the line of what you both are doing, and that’s moving into a new direction in your career. You better have your values straight or you’re going to crash and burn.

So not to miss this, one of my temptations that I’ve struggled with over the years is to not allow myself to be looking toward the next thing-the next job or ministry. If I was going through a rough season, I’d appease myself by going and looking at all the job postings out there and maybe even throw resumes around just to see what would happen. Often that was just to make myself feel good, not because the Holy Spirit told me to do it. The idea of staying present through the difficult and challenging times is balance.

Tonya: Both of your comments ring true with my heart. I’m also the, “We’ve been here for eight years. Let’s pull out. Let’s go.” The same thing with careers. “This is awesome, but I’ve got a few other ideas I’d like to try out.” Mark, it also flows from that I have lots of energy. I had to ask myself questions like, “Tonya, you could do a lot of things, but what does that do to your family?” When I got married and had children, my personal balance had to change based on how it impacted them. I had to slow down to live in my choices. I’ve looked at it as seasons from raising my kids to now they don’t need me so much and I have more time to do other things. In that time I had to reevaluate. Adding people into our life requires us to stop and recalibrate. I could probably do the 50-60 hours of work as a single person, but it would have impacted my relationships negatively. So one way to gauge this is to ask, “Is my spouse hurting? Are my kids getting enough of me?” For me, this required me setting a schedule, a very specific schedule that helped me stick with it.

Mark: What I hear in there is being clear on your values. What you said was, “I am making my children and my family a priority, and here is how I’m going to find balance for this season.” You are illustrating the use of boundaries, how far can work go into your non-work life. Like technology for instance. It makes it very easy for you to bring work home with you. There is the expectation because of access to email or work that you are always on demand. Is that okay with your boundaries? Spending time determining your boundaries and being willing to defend them is difficult but practical to maintaining the balance you are seeking.

Tonya: I remember when the kids were young and I started homeschooling having to learn to leave the cell phone in the bedroom or leave it off. That phone can be an amazing tool and an amazing distractor. People today have to really work on that one. All of us grew up in an era where we didn’t have that. We managed then; why do we feel like we can’t now? For me, along with this is focus on time, knowing what distracts, especially since I’m working from home now.

John: Going down that thought of time at home, when I feel most balanced is when my morning has good margin before I even leave the house. Like if I’m running that morning and I’ve planned to run for an hour, do I leave myself enough margin after showering and eating so that I’m not just running out the door? If that’s true, then I’ve started my day all about me. Even though I’m doing a good thing by exercising, where’s God at the beginning of my day? I can get caught up in that quite easily. I don’t have to worry about getting the kids ready for school, or there’s five people trying to use one bathroom. I still have to make sure the margin of time I give myself before I even go to work has my mind ready by inviting God into the day.

Mark: So starting your day with your key priority in mind.

John: Right. That flows from my values.

Mark: That’s an interesting and different take on balance. Instead of only defining balance as working too much, you’ve brought into the conversation that balance is also about making sure that we make time for other important things, in your case, your time with God.

John: And I say that because I’ve played around with that. Do I do that in the morning, is it at work, is it in the evening, again, because I can. Not being a morning person by nature, I used to be very sarcastic and harsh toward people who said they couldn’t start their day without their time with God. And I realized that was something God was telling me. “You’ve put me in a box over here. You’ve determined when you are going to spend time with me. Get over yourself. Your day is going to go better if you do start it with me.” That was a strong shift that I personally had to make. When I maintain it, I show up better to the office.

Tonya: Same thing for me. I had to realize for me I had to start my day with God. In that book Emotionally Healthy Leader, he talked about the daily office. That challenged me too. He talks about having that time again 15 minutes at lunchtime to refocus through scripture. I like that because you can have an amazing time with God in the morning and forget all about him by 1 o’clock. That’s a practice I’m working on.

I also love what you said on margin. I live in California, and people are crazy. Every time you get on the highway, people are going way too fast, just racing and racing. They have no margin, which is critical to balance in your whole life and to having peace of mind.

Mark: If you know you’re out of balance and need to do something drastic, you have to be willing and to allow yourself to believe there is another way. A real practical solution is to initiate change by walking away from the imbalance, seek a different circumstance or scenario that would give you that margin, that balance, the ability to reset, to hit the reboot button and start over, to clarify what’s important and put in the boundaries and structure and routine to help maintain that.

John: What you just described is someone that could benefit from a mentor or a coach. They may not know how to pursue what you just described on their own. Who are the people in their life or people they may need to hire to speak into their life to help them make that change happen. Another thought on that same line is to look at mentoring someone themselves, someone who is younger or newer in their field. Our investing in other people keeps us accountable to our own balance. When we talk to others about their balance, it challenges us about ours. Talking about balance, whether it’s to someone I’ve hired or someone I’m speaking into their life, is good, self-imposed accountability.

Tonya: I started doing something a while back that worked for me. I’d take a paper plate and write down “everything on my plate.” And then I would ask the Lord, “What is on this plate that is not from you? It might be good, but it’s distracting me from what you want.” That was a good way to cross off those things that weren’t coming from him.

Mark: One of the books I appreciate and have found recently is Essentialism. The tagline is the disciplined pursuit of less, but better. It’s the idea that just because something is good doesn’t mean it is beneficial for you to be doing or it is yours to do. There is this myth that we can do everything, we can do it all and should. It takes a large amount of self-awareness and courage to step away, admit being out of balance, and to let go of something that’s good for something better.

John: What you’re both describing is the need to walk in a listening mode. We have to be open and not defensive when we hear a nudge from the Holy Spirit. Stop and check the validity of it. We have to allow the Holy Spirit to tell us when to stop, to say whatever he needs to say. Our hearts have to be open and ready to receive and do the action that he tells us to do on a daily basis.

Tonya: Yep. Being FAT-Flexible, Adaptable, and Teachable.

 

Suggested Resources:

Mark’s

Tonya’s

John’s

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The Gift of Balance: Work (Part 1)

(This is part one of the third topic in a series on the subject of balance. It being the holidays, we thought titling this series the gift of balance seemed appropriate. By “we,” I’m referring to the series contributors. Joining me in this series are Mark Stanifer and Tonya Waechter. We talked in and out of two thoughts, so this entry will be the first half of the conversation continuing tomorrow with the second half.)

Mark: I believe work is beneficial and important, but it isn’t a separated secular and sacred thing that our Christian community has made it out to be. Work isn’t the end all to be all, so the balance is valuing it correctly.

Tonya: Everybody benefits from work.  You feel better about yourself, and scripture backs that up.  My perspective on my work is that it is my calling and ministry. I feel passionate about it and called to do it. Even so, it’s not what gives me value. My work flows out of my “being,” who I am in Christ.  So my work gives me satisfaction as it flows from that place.

John: So is the question how to have balance or how to avoid being unbalanced?

Tonya: I think they flow together. My work is my calling, but there are those who think their work is their means to provide for their families and they don’t connect it with a calling. Colossians 3:23 helps us, whether we see work as a calling or a means to provide, to approach it as unto the Lord. Finding satisfaction in that is important.

John: One way I believe we can get unbalanced in our work is by compartmentalizing life in such a way that we leave God out of our work life, like you were suggesting Mark. For the person who hasn’t grabbed a hold of the fact that God is with us 24/7 and cares about all details of our lives, it’s a challenge to stay balanced because God isn’t acknowledged in all areas of life. He doesn’t have full access. That’s a temptation.

Mark: I see two tempting thoughts there. There’s the “I don’t know how or I don’t want God in my work area of my life.  I’ll keep him contained to my religious area.” The other aspect has to do with understanding the idea of sacred versus secular, like Tonya was talking about.  Maybe that distinction is a myth, and we just need to go do what God has given us to do with the skills we have. Regardless of what that is, it’s opportunity that we don’t have to describe as sacred versus secular.

Tonya: That’s makes me think of Brother Lawrence who talks about being in the presence of God even while he’s washing dishes in the monastery. How do we give God glory in whatever our work is? I think you’re right in saying we as the church have led that in the wrong way with the idea that if you’re called to ministry it looks one way.  We are all called to ministry. What does that mean in your everyday work life?

Mark: That leads into a thought that if we view something as “God’s work,” we can do it 24/7 and get out of balance because it is my calling, it’s sacred. That’s not healthy and particularly in the scenario of when it leads to neglecting your spouse, children or other key relationships. That’s a temptation people can fall into.

John: Is that a misdirection of someone trying to find their identity and worth and using this work as a deflection?

Mark: That’s certainly part of it. They can also be taking on too much responsibility for accomplishing God’s purpose and trying to own too much of it. Other important things in life suffer detriment.

Tonya: I see this happen a lot with the pastors I work with. I think it comes from a misguided understanding of priorities. Every minister can spout out the priorities of God>family>ministry, but their practices don’t always match. There is a confusion between what is my time with God and what I do for God.

I like where this is going because if we go back to what was said at the beginning, a well-defined idea of work will help us across the board. If the most important thing is to understand who we are in Christ first, then what we do comes out of our being. Whether we are a pastor, a doctor, or a garbage collector, everything we are doing is under God’s glory. Our work isn’t where we find our value or who we are. The work flows from who we are. I can’t work to the point I’m neglecting important relationships, my body, or my personal time with God. So for me as someone building a coaching practice, I have to set my hours ahead of time. Otherwise I will allow clients to dictate my schedule. That wouldn’t be good stewardship and balance.

John: This circles around the mentality, “it all rests on me.” Someone can take the savior mentality that the success of the company or ministry is all on them and they have to make it happen. That imbalance is another way of squeezing God out.

Tonya: Like in our coaching practices, “I have to build this. I have to make this happen.”

John: And subtly, we don’t even recognize that we are doing it.  There’s a check on who’s running the ship. “How much control do I have or should I not even try to have?”

Mark: There’s a phrase that I read a while back that has stuck with me. “Do what is yours to do and trust God to do the rest.” We can only do so much. Coming to that conclusion is easier for some than others, but if we simply do what is ours to do and trust God to do the rest, then it’s more likely to work out the way he wants it to work out. It may or may not be what we had laid out, but it will be more aligned with his plan and purpose.