Over the last month I’ve seen several articles online that dealt with work-life balance in the high tech space. It seems that the older folks like me are burning out and the millenials are rightfully asking, “What is wrong with this picture?”
Even Fox News ran one article recently entitled, What Does God Say About Work-Life Balance. That was a very interesting article to me if for no other reason than I know it is a dangerous thing to dare to speak for God. And yet the author, Christen Limbaugh, did a solid job representing a biblical point of view… well, at least for a Fox News article.
Even so, I think the matter bears a bit more exposition and thought. And for reasons I will explain as we go along, I’ve had a lot of time to grapple with this very subject–35 to 40 years, in fact, depending on when you start counting. I have felt called to write on this topic for a long while, and now I’m certain that time has come.
So let’s jump into the deep end.
Note: Unless otherwise noted, Bible references are from the New International Version.
Part 1: The Foundation
Trying to understand God’s perspective on work-life balance is fruitless unless we stand on this strong foundation: God loves us, and He is willing to go to extreme lengths to have relationship with us.
I find it odd that many church attenders give heart-felt assent to the fact that, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son…” (John 3:16) and yet fail to comprehend the true intensity and absolute perfection of that love. It is clear from scripture that if you are truly a follower of Yeshua, God will not allow you to persist in damaging your relationship with Him without correction. Indeed, even in the grace-filled New Testament we find many verses that testify to that very fact.
Hebrews 12, for example, has major chunks devoted to that concept. Verses 5 and 6 are just the beginning:
“My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son.”Hebrews 12:5-6 (NIV)
But wait, there’s more…
Revelation 3:19: “Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent.”
Proverbs 3:12: “…because the Lord disciplines those he loves, as a father the son he delights in.”
So it is very evident that God disciplines us. This could be downright scary unless we view it through the lens of our foundational understanding of God’s motivation, i.e. pure and perfect love.
I also think we sometime fall into the trap of believing that God’s discipline is to make us “better”. Beware–that thought potentially reveals a “works” mentality (meaning that we are either trying to earn our salvation–God forbid–or earn God’s love). As far as our relationship with God goes, we do not need to be better–Christ made us blameless before God. What we need to be is closer… to God.
Trust me–if we hang out with Jesus all day, we don’t need to worry about how good we are. He kinda rubs off on us, anyway, and the main thing is just the wonder of walking with Him.
If God the Father was willing to give His only Son to be crucified in our place for the purpose of bridging the gap between God and man–that is, establishing a relationship–it is a vile deception of hell to believe that God is not still passionately interested in pursuing that relationship with you.
Let me rephrase and emphasize that point: God is passionately pursuing relationship with you.
The discipline Solomon, Paul and even Jesus spoke of in the verses above is about pruning away all that damages our daily walk with God. The reason that is often a painful process is that we allow ourselves to get distracted by the things of this world. In short, we buy into what the world is selling.
When I was in my teens, my pastor at the time used to say that,
“If a man starts to feel that he’s finding his place in the world, there’s a good chance the world is finding its place in him.”Wallace Wilson, founding pastor of Highlands Community Church, Renton, WA
I think pastor Wally was on to something. Unfortunately, giving up what we “bought” from the world can be painful.
But I can testify that once we get past the pain of the discipline–which will be unique to you and your circumstances–there is immense joy and satisfaction on the other side. Our relationship with God is like that. Thankfully, He is not some all-powerful Big Meany. He is, rather, the One who made us. He is the one who loves us. He knows us better than we know ourselves, and He definitely knows what we truly need and what is best for us.
I guarantee that His way is the best way.
I have always wanted to run my own company. It probably has something to do with the fact that my father had his own television repair shop in downtown Seattle during the 1960s. I have fond memories of that old shop, and can still smell the solder and dust in that creaky old building.
As a teacher with a strong technological bent, it made sense for me to teach others how to write software. For almost a decade I ran Ariel Publishing, publishing several newsletters and a magazine as well as utilities for Mac programmers. We had some good years, but with a 100% focus on Apple Computers, our fortunes mirrored Apple’s.
People forget that Apple almost cratered in the mid-1990s. They lost 700 million dollars in a single quarter and over a billion in a single year. They were dying, and our bottom line cratered worse than theirs did, at least relative to available resources.
In desperation, I tried to work us out of the hole. All-nighters were standard operating procedure. After many long months, my family was essentially crushed from neglect and my wife instinctively knew that I loved the business more than I did her.
And for a time, sadly, I did. I would have argued otherwise and steadfastly maintained I was merely trying to provide for my family–and I could even quote verses that, out of context, seemed to support my insane work schedule.
But the truth is, my motivations were not really all that honorable. I was fearful about the future and afraid nobody would hire me. The Macintosh was going down the tubes with all of Apple, and there were truly no jobs to be had programming that computer. Even worse, a friend jokingly asked me, “What are you going to do when you’re not famous anymore?”
Looking back, I have to admit, I enjoyed being a big fish in a small pond. I was rubbing elbows with luminaries in the industry. It deeply hurt my pride to shut down my business. I was no longer one of the “cool kids”. Isn’t it interesting how so many circumstances in adulthood have such strong parallels to junior high school?
But through tough confrontations with both my pastor and my wife, I was finally convinced I needed to change both my operating procedure and my heart. Neither happened overnight, but slowly, things changed. I shut down the last magazine as gracefully–and quickly–as I could.
First, God provided a job, and then a publisher surprised me by buying all rights to a Mac utility product I wrote. That, in turn, gave us a decent down payment on a house in a bigger town where there were more jobs and better transportation options to metro areas. Shortly thereafter I even contracted with Microsoft for a time.
God provided, and I had surprisingly little to do with any of it. The only thing I did that was difficult was purpose to make God’s priorities my priorities.
If you’re serious, a decision like that has implications. It meant taking time for my relationship with Him. It meant taking time for my relationship with those He had entrusted to my care. It meant being wholly present and in the moment, focused on those around me and not the work that was waiting for me. It also meant taking care of my body and getting some sleep and exercise.
Spoiler alert: In future installments we will dig into the nitty gritty of what it means to “provide for your family”, but I’ll say this much now–your family needs you, first and foremost.
It was hard. If we had smartphones back then, I’m sure I’d have been checking it endlessly as many in high tech do. I had to create several disciplines for myself such as an inviolable “date night” with my wife every Friday. Oh the horror of not being productive for an evening! The over-achiever in me was a quivering mass of Jello.
It wasn’t long, though, and Friday date nights became my favorite part of the week. I now consider it a reward for my labors, and woe unto anyone who tries to infringe on that priority. My entire perspective changed. My first worldly priority did become my wife, and it was not a conscious decision. I just fell in love with her all over again.
Curiously, that small act of making my wife my highest priority for that block of time did wonders for our relationship, too. She could see that I actually had fun telling people why I refused to travel or work on Friday’s after 5:00 PM. That was her time.
I’m not a Pharisee with respect to specific details of how you implement God’s priorities in your life, I’ve just shared a bit about my journey. My plan is to share more, hopefully on a weekly basis. Work-life balance is a hard task in any industry in the USA, but especially so in technology. Nevertheless, I believe that understanding and remembering the fundamental principle of God’s desire for relationship with us truly helps us keep our perspective.
Of course, not everyone will agree with your changed priorities. So be it. As they used to teach us in Fellowship of Christian Athletes, “You play for an audience of one.”
Besides, I’ve run across a few wonderful companies in the software world, and I’d be happy to share their names. Very few are “Christian” in any intentional way, but they are definitely the sanest I’ve found when it comes to work-life balance. Leave a comment below if you’re interested.