Archive for Work Life Balance

When the World Expects Too Much

I decided to take last week off blogging since it was the first week of school. Always a hectic time, it was particularly insane this year as I was opening a school library for my first time ever, getting out consumables (workbooks) for every kid in the school (4-7 books per kid for over 1,100 students), and I had to do it all on my own as my partner had transferred to a different school and they haven’t replaced her yet. I’m trying to give myself permission to say no to things more often, but it’s still a struggle.

The thing is that I care . . . a lot . . . about a lot of things. I care about my students and teachers. I care about my family. I care about my friends. I care about my community, especially the poor and underrepresented, the voiceless and the weak. I care about my fellow Christians. I care about my country and my world.

But it’s just not enough.

As much as I tried, I didn’t have time for a kind word to each and every one of my students, many who really needed to be seen and appreciated in the first week of school. Even though I worked for hours and hours on the schedule, I still made a mistake and was unable to accommodate a couple of the teachers right away. Even though I prayed for energy, endurance, and patience I still complained more than I should have, still struggled not to cry at the end of a rough Friday. Even though I wanted to spend time with my brother and his son, I sat out their zoo trip on Saturday and stayed home instead because I felt like a giant walking bruise. Even though I followed the news all weekend and posted condemnation of the racist violence of the alt-right and the equivocating weak rhetoric of our president, I couldn’t actually make anything better. Even though I wanted to try hard to get to know people at my old/new church, I felt closed off and defensive Sunday morning at a church which seemed to act like nothing had happened, like America hadn’t just experienced horrible sin and violence.

It’s just not enough. I’m just not enough.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how much our modern world demands of us and how much we demand of ourselves because of these expectations. As work got more and more stressful this week, I thought of every single person I know and realized not one of them has a job which is not frequently stressful. This brought up the question, are all jobs stressful? Is it a requirement to our survival (financial, physical) to be constantly stressed out?

Since Genesis 3 promises post-Fall humanity pain, sweat, and toil just for us to be able to eat, I suppose the answer to this is a resounding “Yes!” Which I find utterly depressing. I get that we can find rest in the Lord and all that, I even wrote a previous blog entry about that sort of thing, but some days I just can’t figure out how to practically do that in this difficult world of ours.

When I think about what the world expects of me and what I expect of myself, the only logical response seems to be feeling overwhelmed. Let’s break this down.

Expectations of the Awkward Spinster:

As a 39 year old, educated, Master’s degree carrying single adult woman

  • I should be doing quite well in my career by now.
  • I should be earning a decent wage with a retirement fund, savings account, and health insurance.
  • I should be either finished or almost finished with paying off my school loans and car.
  • I should be a leader or mentor at work at this point, helping newer younger coworkers find their way.
  • I shouldn’t just be writing a blog, but should be also working on my book and speaking career to go along with it.
  • I should have close relationships with the women in my church and be a vital part of a weekly Bible Study as well as my biweekly global prayer group.
  • I should be an involved aunt, a role model to my little loves, a reliable help to their parents.
  • I should be a helpful daughter to my mother financially, physically, and emotionally.
  • I should be a mature Christian woman who reads her Bible and has a significant time of prayer every day, memorizes scripture, journals, and processes it all.
  • I should somehow be both strong and meek, quiet and confident, submissive and yet a teacher.
  • I should be a dedicated biblical counselor, helping my church to set up a counseling training program, mentoring newer counselors, while counseling as many people as I can for free.
  • I should be active in my community, helping those in need with donations, volunteering, etc.
  • I should be an involved friend to those who’ve poured into me throughout my life, keeping up with them by writing e-mails, letters, text messages, social media comments, inviting them over, and talking to them on the phone.
  • I should be an involved member of the human race by keeping up with the news, being aware of what’s going on, and finding ways to help.
  • I should continue to be a passionate advocate for my former students and clients, encouraging them as they go off to college and careers and families, letting them know they are still loved and supported.
  • I should be an expert in my fields, keeping up with the latest in literature, writing, education, and biblical counseling.
  • I should be creative, writing poetry and journaling, blogging, and creating.
  • I should be a student of the world by traveling each year.
  • I should be a patron of the arts and news, things that matter to me and the world.
  • I should help around the house with cooking, cleaning, & maintenance. 
  • I should support my friends in the mission field through letters, prayer, and finances.
  • I should visit my friends and family out of state at least once a year.
  • I should spend time with my friends in LA by visiting once a month at least, and yet still be able to make new friends in my current town and invest in them too.
  • I should be a good doggy mamma and take him for walks and to the park.
  • I should keep up my geek cred by watching the latest Marvel or DC movies, reading the latest comic books, and going to a convention or two.
  • I should try online dating again and be open to possibilities.
  • I should lose weight, eat healthy, go to my doctor, and exercise daily.
  • I should march against white supremacy, protest the cruel regime shaping America today, stand up for the little guy.
  • I should, I should, I should . . .

This list never ends. I’m sure if you make a list for yourself, it will be just as long and overwhelming. Now, many of these expectations come from the world around me, what people expect of me, while some of them are what I expect of myself. It’s hard to parse through this list and separate them as many are intrinsically linked; I expect things of myself because I think others expect them of me.

It’s too much.

Wonder Woman #15 art by Terry & Rachel Dodson, story by Gail Simone

After a weekend like this one, when I wish I could just chuck everything else and go be a freedom fighter for a few months, I don’t even know where to start.

Which things are the most important of all? I am a finite human and cannot do everything. So where do I begin? In Mark 12:28-31, a scribe approaches Jesus and asks him,

“Which commandment is the most important of all?” Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”

Since many, if not most, of the things on my list of “shoulds” are related to trying to love God and love others, I’m still struggling my way through these top two commandments. The practical application of theology is rarely straightforward. This is not one of those blogs where I post a question and then answer it at the end. I’m still scratching my way to the surface on this one, still overwhelmed, still confused. Just thought I’d put this out there because I’m pretty sure there are a lot of us in this predicament.

So, if you’ve got any answers for me, please comment away. In the meantime, I’ll be looking through this list of mine trying to figure out where these expectations come from, which ones really matter, and which ones take priority. Prayers, encouragement, British chocolate, and scotch are appreciated along the way!

Don’t Just Bide Your Time

I’m meant to be working on another draft of this second blog in the “What Do You Believe About Singleness” series, but instead I am distracted, scrolling through all my friends’ Mother’s Day photos on Instagram. In my family, over the past 3 years since we’ve had the little ones around, we celebrate mums, grandmas, and aunts. Pretty much all the women who love the littles, and the not-so-little-anymores. And this means the world to me. As a woman who very likely will never have or raise kids of her own, being part of the team that raises my nephews and niece, my godson and goddaughter, my friends’ children, and my students is incredibly special to me. So here’s to all the mums and all the other women who raise up kids in this world, who teach them to love God and love each other, and hopefully to love reading and bugs and bubbles and space and fake tattoos and adventures while they’re at it.

I’m also texting (and praying for and weeping for) my friend whose mother is currently in hospital dying, at a loss for the right words as there are no words that can make death right. So here’s to everyone who has lost their mothers, or never had them in the first place – may God grant you strong women to hold you up when you are broken, to laugh with you until you cry, and to remind you just how loved you are by God.

You see, my first point in looking at singleness based on the theological view presented in my last blog is that we need to choose not to just bide our time as singles until we’re married. We need to use our time well. And, in this season of my life, being part of this semi-connected family currently celebrating or grieving their mothers is my world. Father’s Day will come soon enough, and I’ll be among the mourners, and I will need my brothers, and brother-in-law, and best friends, and pastors, and other guy friends to remind me to carry on as much as I need to celebrate the women in my life today. That’s how this works, this living in community thing. We get through it together, the good, the bad, and the ugly. So singles, if you haven’t surrounded yourself in a community like this yet, it’s time to build one.

You see, singleness is not the waiting room for life, for growing up, for being wandering lone wolves; it IS life. It’s neither a time to sit back and think, “someday, when I’m married, then I’ll . . .” or “when I have a family, then I could . . .” James 4:14 warns us “yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.” My sister discovered a giant dead moth in my niece’s fairy garden this afternoon. What a juxtaposition of life, this gorgeous creature that lives for such a short time, next to the beautiful imaginary world of my 3 year old little love! And we were reminded, this, right now, is the life God has given us on earth. How are you going to use yours?

Single people are some of the busiest I know. Or maybe that’s just because I spent the last decade in Los Angeles, where singles lead rather hectic urban lives. We work, and we work hard, often putting in more hours than our married-with-kids counterparts. You won’t see most of us calling in sick because we have to stay home with a sick child, or leaving work early because we must carpool with our spouse when the other car’s in the shop. The single childless professional doesn’t need to rush off to pick the kids up from school or take a long lunch to get them to the dentist. We just work long hours. We rarely take time off. We tend to come in even when we’re sick rather than use sick time. Yet, like our married counterparts, we still need family time. Our family time may look a bit different, more like basketball every Thursday evening with the guys, Happy Hour Wednesday after work with the girls, hours babysitting the niece and nephew, watching MST3K with the besties, or Skype dates with the parents, but it is still family time for us. It is still necessary for a full, God-glorifying, sustainable life.

It is easy for us to get caught up in the day to day plans, the minutia of life as it is in this moment, but we can’t keep waiting for big life events to change how we are living. We need to stop and take stock of our lives frequently. We need to pause and figure out what our goals are for this season instead of waiting for another one before we fulfill them. We need to spend time in scripture and in prayer to reassess what our goals should even be. And, we need to be willing to make some big moves, deep commitments now, not in some far off tomorrow.

One of the coolest things about singleness is often being a bit more open to what God has for us. While we should still seek wise counsel and make careful decisions, ultimately the choice of what we do with our lives rests on our shoulders, not someone else’s. Are you using this freedom? Or are you wasting your time?

Here are some questions to ask yourself about your current season in life:

  • How can I be part of a family with people I can care for who will care for me?
  • How can I be lifting up God’s name at work, with friends, with family?
  • How can I not just be busy, but use my time wisely, including rest?
  • How can I be involved in a ministry for which God has suited me?
  • How can I better love the people in my life? In my city?
  • How can I develop gifts God has given me into skills?
  • How can I ENJOY God today?

The Westminster Shorter Catechism is a favorite of mine, beginning with:

Question 1. What is the chief end of man?

A. Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.

So what are you doing today to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever? What are you doing to help others do the same? Don’t just bide your time, thinking one day in the future I’ll rethink my life, because it’s not just the Steve Miller Band who think “time keeps on slippin’, slippin’, slippin’ into the future.” Let us live our lives today in a way that we, like Christ, can say to our Father in heaven “I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do” (John 17:4).

Embracing Being Human

When I stepped out of the taxi into the English rain, I took a deep breath to calm my nerves before walking through the front door of the manor house labeled with a small sign that said “Welcome, L’Abri Fellowship, Please Enter.” I was exhausted from so much more than jetlag. 15 years of working in industries that care for and help others, often in the hardest circumstances of life, had worn me down so much more than the jetlag ever could, and I was seeking rest. Leaving my bags in the front hall, I did as I was told on the phone and headed toward the voices I could hear floating from the dining room. I walked into the wood paneled room, shaking with nerves as my social awkwardness hit its peak (no matter how many times I enter a room all on my own, it still freaks me out), to see smiling faces look up at me, and multiple voices in accents from all over the world offer me a seat, a cuppa tea, and a bowl of warm homemade soup. This was to be the beginning of my self-funded sabbatical, a time for God to teach me how to accept help from others, how to rest, slow down, and how to find the beauty in being human.

Growing up in the church, we often look at our humanity with all its limitations as fallen, broken, messed up. We can spend our lives trying to overcome it, trying to be better than human. When we have the perfect God-Man as our example, asking questions of ourselves like “What would Jesus do?” can become more than inspiring, it can become a obsessive search for perfection. Verses like Matthew 5:48, “you therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” weigh heavily. Even when we’ve had it explained in a complete biblical context, it can be the refrain in the back of our heads, impossible and crushing.

We are taught that God came for the broken, that he loves the lost, that we can never be perfect, we will always fall short, which is why we need God in the first place. Yet, this is often not the way the church actually lives. There can be an unspoken pressure placed upon each Christian to somehow be more than human. The “Puritan work ethic” comes to mind, as we learn from youth that “all hard work brings a profit, but mere talk leads only to poverty” (Proverbs 14:23). We’re taught the Proverb of the sluggard and the ant, which ends with “a little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest – and poverty will come upon you like a robber and want like an armed man” (Proverbs 6:10-11). We are told by parents, teachers, and pastors alike “whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men” (Colossians 3:23). Even in the best of circumstances, when we are taught these things in balance with the rest of scripture, it can be hard to not focus mostly on this part. The work hard part. The never rest part. The give 110% to everything you do part.

As a single person at work and in ministry, I expected to be able to work and serve non-stop. I remembered hearing “if you work in your own strength you’ll get tired, but if you work in God’s strength, you won’t ever get weary!” I remembered Ephesians 6:7-8, saying “serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not men, because you know that the Lord will reward everyone for whatever good he does.” Paul, one of our examples of those in ministry, made sure to point out that he worked a day job while he preached, saying “we were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone’s food without paying for it. On the contrary, we worked night and day, laboring and toiling so that we would not be a burden to any of you” (2 Thessalonians 3:7-8).

I don’t know about you, but after reading all of these verses, I almost despair because it seems impossible. I’m exhausted just thinking about them.

I think every Christian deals with this at some point, but the single Christian has a particular expectation. We are meant to minister. This is why Paul says, after all, that singleness is better, “to secure your undivided devotion to the Lord” (1 Corinthians 7:35). I sometimes felt I was expected to work longer hours at my jobs, show up to more things, always be on time, never leave early while my married coworkers had to race off to pick up sick kids, or come in later because their spouse had their car, or drop out of a weekend event because of family priorities. Instead, I had “free” time and everyone knew it. If we aren’t using every moment of our “time off” for work or ministry, we can feel judged, guilty.

So what happens when you already work with kids all day and just don’t have it in you to work with more of them on the weekend by helping in the church nursery? What happens when you are just exhausted? What happens when you really need time with friends or family or just to rest?

I realized during my time at L’Abri that a lot of these expectations were actually placed there by me. Somehow, after years of hearing in church and in staff meetings that we needed to work harder, this became the Main Thing in my brain. I don’t think my pastors and bosses meant for this to be the Main Thing. But I’m like the stressed out straight A student in a class of non-motivated underachievers, when the teacher chews out the whole class, it’s kids like me who will get anxious and feel they have to work even harder, even if that isn’t the teacher’s intention.

Some of us need to hear the “work harder” message repeatedly, but some of us need to hear the “rest in his grace and mercy and love” message every day. Every moment.

Last winter, I set out to study rest and discovered, to my surprise, that humans, limitations and all, were created that way Before The Fall. It seems that needing to sleep and eat, only having a certain number of hours in the day, and needing rest, are NOT actually the result of sin and death entering the world. We were, in perfection, created to need rest and community. We were created to be limited. We were not created to be little gods, but to be echoes of His image. We were created human, and it was good. Then, if we add all the new limitations to our humanity after sin and death entered the world – health issues like illness and injury, more laborious work, mental and emotional health struggles –  we need to remember grace all the more.

Yes, we ought to implement the principles found in the verses above and work hard, but we must also embrace our limitations. Humans need moments of rest and relaxation, that ever-elusive “balance.” These are gifts to help us enjoy God and each other all the more.

Consider God’s institution of the Sabbath. I don’t think I really understood what a true Sabbath was until I spend some time in Israel with modern Jews who still honor this day wholeheartedly, preparing in the days before so they could do no work but spend time worshiping God and enjoying their families and friends. Exodus 10:9-10 says “six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work.” and Mark 2:27 tells us “the Sabbath was made for man.” Hebrews 4:4, 9-10 claims “for he has somewhere spoken of the seventh day in this way: ‘And God rested on the seventh day from all his works.’. . . So then there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his.”

The Sabbath was a gift to us, and though we no longer are under the Old Testament laws that require us to eat a certain way, celebrate a certain way on that day, the idea of one entire day of complete rest, without ANY work, is beautiful and good and meant for man’s good and God’s glory. True rest is necessary and good, not just a day we go to church, then race home to run errands, clean house, carpool the kids to 5 different activities, answer texts and emails, or in my case – blog or work from home, then end the day by plopping down on the couch to watch Netflix. I’m not saying doing these things is wrong, sin, but I am saying we need to reassess what is actually restful to us. And we need to realize it’s not just okay to rest, but it is good. We’re created for it. For lazy days of family conversations, reading books, watching TV with our roommates, taking walks, exploring the new eateries in town, and letting our minds wander to God.

I am a broken human. I am limited. I get tired, overwhelmed, and sometimes a bit lost. But I have a Father who says to me “come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30). I have a Savior who, in the midst of one of the busiest, most successful times of ministry, told his apostles to “come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while. For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat” (Mark 6:31). In fact, Christ himself frequently took times of rest alone, going to the mountains to talk with his Dad. And we often find him reclining at table with friends, eating, drinking, and discussing topics of the day. Much of his ministry seemed to be quite personal, just hanging out with people.

One of the best lessons we can learn by embracing our limitations as humans is that we need God. When we are busy every moment, it is tempting for us to think we have some kind of control over our lives, our futures. This can lead to arrogance and a ton of anxiety. Stepping back from it all to rest reminds us that we’re not actually the ones in charge, reintroducing humility and also the peace and joy that flows from allowing God to be in charge. Paul wrote of his limitations to the church in Corinth and, instead of talking about how awful they were or how he was trying hard to overcome them, he rejoiced. 2 Corinthians 12:9-10 states “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

So, no, we don’t have to agree to do every single thing asked of us. We don’t need to add extra pressure onto ourselves, expecting to be able to work 15 hours a day, 7 days a week and not wear down. We don’t need to feel guilty when we are sick or tired or just want to relax for a few hours. Yes, this can be taken too far and there are indeed those who are sinfully lazy, but the single people I know who live in LA and the surrounding area tend to be the opposite. We tend to work and work hard, with our careers becoming our identities. We can put pressure on ourselves to do more, be more, and our bosses and friends and families and churches can often play into this by adding more demands, more expectations. Since we don’t have to leave work on time to get home to husbands and wives and kids, since we live alone or with roommates instead of people for whom we’re responsible, it’s easy to feel like taking time out to rest is bad. But that Wednesday happy hour or coffee break with the girls or guys during which we discuss how we’re doing, hold each other accountable to living godly lives, and encourage and lift each other up is just as important as the married couple’s family dinner. We should be using up all of our vacation days, not buying into the workaholic culture that so often prevails in America today. We need to stop bragging about how much overtime we work, how many jobs we have, how many hours a night/weekend we spend on jobs and start encouraging each other to rest. To heal. To recover. To focus on God’s grace and glory.

Stop expecting humans to be more than we can be. And stop expecting singles to give everything we are to our jobs and ministries. Allow for rest and joyful times with family and friends. Eat great meals together. Actually get enough sleep. Remember, God created us this way – limited and yet somehow still beautiful.