Work Life Balance IdolIf you were to ask a person in their 20’s what they value most when it comes to choosing a career, most will say that having a “balance between work and life is the number one factor…A job that requires us to be on-call or working more than sixty hours is not appealing.” [1]Thom S. Rainer and Jess W. Rainer, The Millennials: Connecting to America’s Largest Generation (Nashville, Tenn: B&H Pub. Group, 2010), Kindle Location, 676. This attitude doesn’t make people my age lazy, but it does mean that most prioritize leisure, personal development, and time with friends and family over work. For this reason, many accuse my generation of being lazy, but researchers claim that’s not the case; my generation “is willing to work hard, and we know how to work smart. We just do not want to work long.” [2]Ibid., Kindle Location, 682. This explains why the 4-Hour Work Week has become something of a manifesto for 20-somethings. We want to ensure our work isn’t just busy work, but that everything we do carries maximum impact.

work-life balance pictureIn principle, I agree with striving for a good work-life balance. After all, when I explain why I work at a Bible College, I remind people that there is more than one kind of currency! Although I would get paid more money working a different job, I place a premium on being able to eat lunch with my wife and children and desire to be with them in the evenings. However, I think that for some people my age, the phrase “work-life balance” has become a false god that demands allegiance, but can’t deliver. Just ask a young person how they are doing with work-life balance! You will likely get an answer tainted with guilt. It’s a challenge to spend appropriate blocks of time on work, sleep, meals, play, church, and friendship. In fact, this is impossible as a long-term strategy; “you can’t get an elephant to balance on top of a ball for very long, and even the best gymnast in the country will eventually fall off the beam during a routine.”[3]Craig Jutila, Faith and the Modern Family: “How to Raise a Healthy Family in a ‘Modern Family’ World” (Regal, 2014), Kindle Location, 563. The problem with the word balance is that it’s a static metaphor. “It doesn’t work, because life is too dynamic.” [4]Bruce Miller, Your Life in Rhythm: Less Stress, More Peace, Less Frustration, More Fulfillment, Less Discouragement, More Hope, Kindle ed. (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2009), Kindle … Continue reading A better word than balance is rhythm, when the rhythm comes out of your current life season:

“if we are to bear much fruit—if that’s the goal of the Christian life—then the best model for spiritual maturity is seasons. Fruit grows in seasons, and all seasons are necessary for growing it. And seasons are as much about what is not happening as what is.” [5]Ibid., Kindle Location, 439.

Nothing is better than knowing what your current season and living it out with enthusiasm.

Take vacations as an example. Would you admire someone who works hard at a resort? “During a vacation, you need to really rest, not balance rest with something else.” [6]Ibid., Kindle Location, 2523. Or consider a new mother, should we fault her for not getting enough exercise? The same goes for work. It is not made to be balanced! The author who has helped me to rethink the meaning of a work-life balance is Tim Keller. In his book, Every Good Endeavour, he reminds us how there are few things humans can do in great quantities without overdosing. Working is one of those things.

After all, “the Bible does not say we should work one day and rest six, or that work and rest should be balanced evenly—but directs us to the opposite ratio. Leisure and pleasure are great goods, but we can take only so much of them. If you ask people in nursing homes or hospitals how they are doing, you will often hear that their main regret is that they wish they had something to do, some way to be useful to others…The loss of work is deeply disturbing because we were designed for it.” [7]Timothy Keller, Every Good Endeavour: Connecting Your Work to God’s Plan for the World (Hodder & Stoughton, 2012), 404.

Doing work well gives meaning to our lives, and adds value to our leisure.

Yes, it is possible to become a workaholic and work too much. But I fear that many in my generation won’t be guilty of overdosing on work; rather, many will overdose on pleasure. Too much pleasure may actually be worse for our souls than too much work. Ravi Zacharias reminds us “that meaninglessness does not come from being weary of pain; meaninglessness comes from being weary of pleasure.” [8]Ravi K. Zacharias, Can Man Live without God (Dallas: Word Pub., 1994). Ultimately, both work and pleasure are designed by God, but this ratio isn’t balanced, its determined by the season you are in.

[Tweet “Meaninglessness doesn’t come from being weary of pain; it comes from being weary of pleasure. #Ravi”]

In my experience, those who are most exciting to be around never complain about their current season. My goal is to become like them, an Ecclesiastes 9:10 person, who says: “Whatever my hand finds to do, I will do it with all of my might.” If you long for this attitude as well, let me end with this word of encouragement: “Seize with gusto what God has put before you right now. You will find personal fulfillment and joy in living your mission in this particular time, no matter what it is.” [9]Miller, Kindle Location, 1299.

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Destroying the Work-Life Balance Idol

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10 thoughts on “Destroying the Work-Life Balance Idol

  • September 19, 2014 at 10:02 am
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    Before reading your article, I would say challenging and specialized work alongside competent colleagues. That is a career I could set my hat upon.

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  • September 19, 2014 at 10:11 am
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    Excellent thoughts Josh! Great to see the focus on pleasure being challenged. It’s interesting that the ‘pendulum’ seems to be swinging in that direction now. I will add Ecclesiastes 9:10 along Colossians 3:23, to help me focus on where I am.

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  • September 19, 2014 at 10:16 am
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    Nice, Jeremy M. Brauner. That is my other favorite verse on work! I quote it all the time to myself, especially when I think about the different kinds of currencies. I don’t work just for earthly treasure, but for the award my heavenly master will give me one day.

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  • September 19, 2014 at 11:04 am
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    Thanks Michael John Hoffort. Compliments like that are so encouraging. As Mark Twain said: “I can live for two months on a good compliment.”

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  • September 19, 2014 at 11:47 am
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    Thanks Carmen Bailey! This is one of the reasons I love the Internet. It is nice to hear that old friends enjoy the stuff we create.

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  • September 19, 2014 at 7:56 pm
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    I have a slight different opinion or a different perspective if I you allow me to state.
    Woking to live, that is practically getting a job to attain a certain amount of income for living, is still part of LIFE. I wouldn’t separate the terms work and life. In all of the aspects of LIFE that includes doing the best at my job, relationships, building strong family, and it goes on, I deal them with Kingdom principles. So, I agree with you we rest and enjoy as best as we could in our family leisure time, but that is not based on the fact that I work hard at my job. I work hard based on what God expects a human being’s LIFE to look like on the earth.

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  • September 19, 2014 at 8:52 pm
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    Thanks for that perspective Yoshito Hisamatsu! You are right, it doesn’t make sense to separate our life into too different of categories. I appreciate the reminder to think of all of life as belonging to Christ. As Abraham Kuyper put it: “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, Mine!”

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