Guilt is a powerful emotion.
For years I have struggled with either feeling guilty that my ministry focus was impacting my family or feeling guilty that my family focus was negatively impacting my work.
Every day I felt torn. Every day I felt like my goal should be a better balance between family and ministry.
And, consequently, every day I felt like I failed.
The greatest lesson I’ve learned over the past two decades of ministry is that the true balance we envision is simply unobtainable.
A lot of the guilt we struggle with is based on the false idea that “balance” means all time has to be evenly divided. If I spend four hours with my family, I need to spend at least four hours on work.
There is a continual guilt because life just doesn’t divide into halves very well. And even if you do think you’ve figured it out, VBS week comes along and any hope of balance goes quickly out the window.
Instead of struggling with trying to make sure everything is even, I have learned to focus on creating a rhythm that meets the needs of my family and allows me to accomplish the tasks of ministry.
Rhythm focuses on making healthy choices and intentional plans for each day.
Twenty-hour workdays are not part of a healthy rhythm. Lack of sleep, neglecting sabbath rest, and skipping meals are not healthy rhythms—and they eventually have significant consequences.
Identify Your Priorities
Finding a rhythm that works for you is critical.
So how do you do that? First, identify your priorities.
Have you seen (or used!) the object lesson with the rocks, pebbles, and sand? If you are trying to fit large rocks, small pebbles, and sand into a jar; you can’t start with the pebbles.
If you do, there’s no way to get the larger rocks in the jar. However, if you start by putting the large rocks in first, the pebbles will slide between the rocks, and the sand will fill the gaps—everything will fit.
Too often in our busy lives, we try to fit our greatest priorities in around all the minutiae that fills our day. We have to take control of our schedules.
Set Your Schedule
Determine what is most important and then make a plan because if you don’t determine your own schedule, someone else will. Jim Wideman taught me this principle years ago.
It may seem silly, but you literally need to write down what you want each hour of the day to look like.
Which hours are focused on your family? When are you investing in your personal relationship with God?
Which hours are focused on work? Have you carved out time to relax or exercise? What about time to dedicate to friends?
Look at what you’ve written down and evaluate what you’ve scheduled.
Does this rhythm meet the needs of your ministry, your family, and you? Remember, we aren’t looking for even distributions—we’re evaluating to ensure we’ve scheduled time for our priorities.
Have you planned enough time to fulfill your ministry responsibilities?
Have you planned enough time to truly invest in your family?
Is your plan sustainable? If you’ve scheduled three hours of sleep, the answer is “No!” If you don’t allow yourself downtime, you will burn out.
Let Tomorrow Worry about Itself
Here’s the beauty of a rhythm. When it gets interrupted—because of course it will—you know that there is tomorrow.
If you had to spend one less hour with family today, you know you have a plan to spend time with them tomorrow. If something changes with work, you know that tomorrow is another day and you have a plan.
Creating a rhythm allows us to take Matthew 6:34 to heart, “Therefore don’t worry about tomorrow, because tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”
In addition to determining our rhythms, we also have to recognize that ministry life has its own seasons.
If you’ve been in children’s ministry long enough, you could probably list these seasons—and more!—off the top of your head: promotion, Christmas, Easter, VBS, recruitment, and then repeat.
Ecclesiastes tells us, “For everything there is a season.” Ministry is no exception.
One of the things we need to keep in mind about the seasons of ministry is that we don’t have to be all things to all people in all seasons. For that matter, we can’t be all things to all people in any season.
I can do a lot more now in ministry than I could when my girls were babies. If I had tried to do everything I do now in that season of my life, I would have completely worn myself out.
So, I had to accept that for a season, I was limited in the time I could devote to ministry because my family needed more of my time.
Eventually I realized that I would be in ministry long time, but my kids would only be babies for a little while. As my kids have grown, I have had to learn to adapt to each season of their lives as well.
Hard seasons get better.
There are also different seasons throughout the ministry year. VBS week and camp week are completely unfair to my family.
Any rhythm that I’ve created is wrecked during big events. We call it “big event mode” in our house, and, honestly, it isn’t anyone’s favorite. But it is just a season.
I can let myself be wracked with guilt. Or I can recognize that this is a brief season, and I’ll return to the normal rhythm I’ve established as soon as possible.
I can also anticipate these seasons and plan for them. And I can ask for help—preferably ahead of the onslaught of “big event mode.” I am not called to do this on my own. None of us is.
In the same way there are hectic seasons of ministry, there are other times throughout the year when ministry is slower.
This is the season when we need to invest more time in our families and ourselves. Take vacations or plan special fun times right before or right after busy ministry seasons.
When I remember that the craziness is temporary, I can do what God’s called me to do without battling guilt.
It is our responsibility to make sure the crazy seasons of ministry are temporary. No one else is going to do that for us.
We can get sucked into unhealthy schedules where every week is a big event week. That’s not healthy for any of us. And it’s not healthy for our congregations or volunteers either.
Follow God’s Lead
Prioritize and streamline what you do so you can do it even more effectively. Schedule what is truly important. And keep going back to the healthy rhythm you’ve established.
It is also our responsibility to discern what God wants each of us to do in the season of ministry we’re in now.
He loves our families and our ministries more than we do. Only by following His lead can we serve both well and keep our sanity.