I read that Australians and Europeans think we Americans are nuts. Nuts about our work schedules, time schedules, the way we rush around all day long like the world depends on our high blood pressure. India apparently sees us the same way. And what of the famous Latin siesta? Everybody takes them, and no reports are in of death due to a lower stress or Gross National Product. Come to think of it, the Protestant work ethic is a decidedly American phenomenon. If you look at the earth’s population, we over-hurried Americans are just a small slice of the whole. Nobody else does what we do! Nobody else kills themselves trying to achieve, or cram their calendars. Does anybody else justify turning backs on family for the sake of retirement?
I remember clearly when my reputation took a dive. I remember it, because it happens to coincide with getting my life together for the first time in a long time. And for the most part, that meant being Australian in the midst of time-crunched America. Two years into my first ministry, I assumed a 70 hour work week was a pastor’s natural habitat. It never occurred to me (has it to you?) this was anything but good for my soul, and good for my ministry. In fact, I was taught more equals more! A widely held virus known as the Protestant work ethic infiltrated and distorted my vision of reality. This is the same virus that controls our PDA’s and family calendar, the same virus that sends us scrambling from morning till hoped-for early retirement, and the same virus that judged me not on the quality of work I put in, but on the quantity of work above and beyond expectation. The judgment was unfair, but real. I was perceived to be less a man after I got my hours under 50 (I was being paid for 40) than I was scatter-brained at 65. Didn’t matter that I finally felt in control. Didn’t matter that my quality control meters went off the charts! Didn’t matter that real ministry started happening. Or that I began having a healthy social life. Or that others were being included in ministry more. Or even that in living a less hectic schedule, I now had more time for God. None of that mattered to those demanding time, time, time.
For places like seminaries, churches, and businesses (and darn it to all if schools aren’t catching on!) a 40 hour work week isn’t just bad for business, it’s heresy!
I couldn’t care less if its heresy or not, what really stops me short, is knowing that greatness generally only comes to those on the rat race. I’ve always fancied myself as being a real leader when I grow up, maybe even have a bit of a legacy . I use to say I’d love to see my face on a bobble-head, that’s when I’d know I had arrived! Or at least give me a by-line. Now all of a sudden, I’ve got a family. That changes everything. Every possible calendar event available to help me take that next step towards genuine leadership or notoriety, is a step away from family. Every career-furthering decision is a (necessary?) decision against family, albeit in the short term. I don’t doubt that most successful men and woman, if not all, have as their highest desire the security of their families. Perhaps they say to themselves, “I know I’m gone a lot, and that I work many hours. But I’m providing for them long term.” Is the “but” designed to be some magical incantation that eradicates the missing relationship? Or maybe it’s more practical, “In my career the company prospers on the backs of the new guys. I don’t have a choice! But one day it will get better.” But isn’t not having a choice our choice?
The real heresies are the myths we live by
I’m becoming ever more suspicious to say that long term is more valuable than short term. Show me where this has worked? Find me a 20something young adult glad dad traded genuine relationship for college tuition. Or better yet, find me an incredibly successful church man who is known for his incredible love of his family. Billy Graham? Nope. James Dobson? Nope. Isn’t our society and youth culture in particular a screaming testament to the terrible myth of long-term payoff? By then, for far too many families, it’s too late. Everybody has to choose which is more important: family, or personal career.
I think I’m all fired up about this these days as our family is growing. I’ve been married for eight years. During those years of ministry, I’ve experienced nothing but pressure to put ministry first, and have caved too many times. And I guess when it really comes down to it, it’s not that I even feel I have to choose between family and career. If it was, I’d choose family (leave saving the world to others less aware of their own God-complex). But it’s not. It’s more a choice about priorities, and who will get my greatest energies. But it’s also a choice about health. How can I stay healthy so I’m happy and healthy in both areas of life? I’ve got to believe that good pastors and business people don’t have to equal overworked pastors and business people. And just because that’s heresy in the US, doesn’t mean it’s not right for you and I.