Time Management: Balancing Act

How to ride a teeter-totter without falling off. (Balancing the Ups and Downs of marriage, ministry, and everything else.)

(This article is also featured in The Journal of Student Ministries as "A Little Eavesdropping" by Titus)

We’ve all heard the horror stories—families in shambles, ministries crumbling at their very foundations, and kids, the dysfunctional by-product of a life poorly balanced. I heard them growing up from my preacher. I heard them in the classroom in Bible College. I’ve witnessed them with my own eyes as I’ve seen acquaintances, friends, and even mentors lose their grip and hit bottom hard. 

• Is there a greater danger to our effectiveness as spouses, ministers, as disciples of Jesus than an
   un-checked lifestyle? 
• How can we handle the ups and downs of marriage without becoming a discouraging statistic?
• How can we plan our lives so that our identity is less about what we do and more about who we are? 
• When does more become too much, faster too fast, extra become extreme? 
• How can we be sure we’re not going to fail?

I don’t know if there is any right or wrong answer to those questions. My suspicion is it is different for each person, each married couple, each ministry context. When I was single and in college, I could pour a lot more of myself out than I can now that I am married and have two kids. When I was just the guy running a small church youth ministry, I was way more strained than now, where I work in a larger setting with a layered youth ministry staff. But while there may not be a true or false, an all or nothing answer to those and other balance-related questions, one thing that cannot be denied is that those questions need to be addressed by all of us. Male or female, married or single, paid or volunteer—as the old saying goes, “if you don’t check yourself you’re gonna wreck yourself.” I, for one, don’t want to be wrecked. I would do myself, my family, and my God little good by allowing that to happen.

So I thought I would let you in on an ongoing conversation between my wife and I on this very topic. My wife, let's call her Katie, is a busy gal herself, a registered nurse, a volunteer in our church’s worship ministry, and a mother of two children. Our little girl is three and our little boy is only a few months old.  Needless to say, my wife would be overwhelmed no matter who she was married to. Getting hitched to Mr. Youth Minister might not have been the smartest move for her, but I’m sure thankful for her lapse in judgment.

So let’s pretend we’re all at a coffee shop and you’re sitting at the table next to us. You can’t help but eavesdrop into the conversation being had by the stunningly good looking couple in the next booth.  Here’s a little bit of what you would hear…

 A conversation between a Youth Minister and his spouse  

Me:What do you like about being married to a youth minister?
Katie: I like that there’s flexibility in your job. It’s not a 9 to 5 necessarily. If you need to go in a little later or come home a little early, it’s okay. I like that you have a weekday off.
Me:What do you not like?
I don’t like that you not only work hard during the day but that you also work a lot of evenings. I wish sometimes that when you had to work an evening you’d come home earlier in the afternoon for a while.  I don’t like that you go on a lot of trips away from me.
Me:Do you feel a lot of pressure to go on trips and be at church every time I am?
No, but only because I feel like right now my job as a mother is more important than my job as a minister’s wife.
Me:I like that answer.
Katie:Thanks. Being your wife and being a youth minister’s wife aren't necessarily the same thing.
Me:Is that a philosophy you’ve acquired or one you had before we were married?
Well, I think in what I saw growing up and just all the stereotypes of being a youth minister’s wife I thought it was important (to be at everything all the time), but in learning how to strive for our own balance as a family, I just realized it wasn’t that important.  Not that I didn’t want to do it or didn’t enjoy it but I was in school, we had babies, and to try to do it all didn’t make sense.
What are some things that I do as a husband that you really appreciate? What do I do that makes you know I care about you and our kids more than the church?
Katie:(Long Pause)
Me:If the answer is “nothing,” you can say “nothing.”
(Giggle, which I hope means the answer is not “nothing.”) Um…Most always you come home at a decent hour. When you come home you’re done working. You’re not doing stuff all through the evening. You don’t routinely go in on your day off. I appreciate when you ask me to go to lunch. You don’t do it that much but when you do I appreciate it. I appreciate that you have never griped about sharing responsibilities with our kids. We do what works. We don’t focus on what is equal but what works best. I appreciate that you aren’t the kind of man who assumes I take all the responsibilities for our kids.  When you do go out of town you make contact every day. That tells me you don’t enjoy being away from us and that you miss me.
Me:Is there anything I do that makes you wonder if something is more important to me?
Katie:Um…(another long pause, which makes me feel relieved).
Me:Because I think everyone says their family is more important because they know that’s the right answer, but not everyone really lives like it.
Well, I know you well enough that I can tell when something is on your mind. It’s not often that I find you to be preoccupied with work when you’re with me. When you’re here, you’re here. I think that shows me you care about us more. You love what you do and you do it while you’re there, but it doesn’t consume you. I can tell you wouldn’t rather be with middle schoolers than with me.
Me:Do you think I say yes to other people more than I say yes to you?
Sometimes, yeah. You’re a people pleaser, and unless you know something will really upset me you say yes to others all the time.
Me:Can you think of an example? 
I think back to VBS. That’s a big event with you taking a lot on. I understood you were busy but sometimes it was frustrating that when you were home that you were on the phone figuring out things, and I just wanted you to be with me. When you’re in a meeting that is running late and you don’t stop to call me to say you’ll be late, you’re saying yes by being there for them and saying no by not even letting me know that you’ll be late.
Me:What’s good phone etiquette for people like us?
Maybe if you’re on the phone when you come home and you know the phone conversation isn’t done you could stop the conversation and ask if you could finish it later. Or maybe if you just let your calls go to voicemail when you’re home and just tell me that you need to make some phone calls between seven to eight then you can return all those calls later. Sometimes, I feel as though you are not willing to make other people wait, but it’s always okay to make me wait. You never make people at church wait on a resource or a lesson, but if there’s something that needs done at home it doesn’t always happen as quickly. You’re way better at that than you used to be, but a few years ago that was very frustrating to me.
Me:How well balanced do you think I am as a person?
I’m not going to say you’re perfect but I think overall you’re pretty good. On a given day, it may not be that good, but week-to-week, month-to-month, it’s pretty good. I think you could organize your life a little better and communicate with me your schedule. Giving me a heads up that busy times are coming would really help. I wouldn’t be so surprised. Those are the only times when I feel as though things are out of balanced, and that's not very often, so it’s not a problem for me.
Me:What else should we talk about?
I’m not sure how to fix this, but I feel like we go to church independently of each other because you’re doing stuff other places.
Me:I feel that way too. I hate it.
Katie:Sometimes it makes me feel like if I were serving with you it would be better, but I don’t think it’s healthy for us not to be together in worship and stuff.
Me:Can you say something positive here at the very end because based on the last fifteen minutes I feel like I really stink as a husband and father.
If you were standing in front of a room full of youth ministers and you could tell them what I did that they should copy, what are some things that you really value?
Don’t limit me to just three because then I’ll feel like I have to pick the best three and it’ll be too much pressure so let me just say what comes to mind. I’m not like you, I can’t come up with three great points for everything.
You don’t tell me too much of what’s going on at church to the point where I’m frustrated about things going on. You do tell me enough to where I don’t feel out of the loop, though. There’s a fine balance between those two and it’s probably different for every couple. You have a consistent, predictable, come-home time. You try your best to write stuff on our calendar. You speak well of me from stage.  I probably would rate that number one.  You don’t illustrate your point with something that might embarrass me. In front of kids and sponsors, you demonstrate your love for me. I think you love your kids better than I could’ve asked for. You don’t love other people’s kids so much that you don’t have any left for your own.
I’m perfectly okay that we’re not always hanging out with high schoolers. Our home is for our family. That might sound selfish but I don’t mean it that way. But if the home is not sacred, then where can a wife have her husband all to herself?
Me:Well, I’m only disappointed in one thing.
Katie:What’s that?
Me:In all our conversation you didn’t say that you like it when I make you breakfast.
Aaaawwwww…just the other day when you were cooking us breakfast I was sitting there thinking about how good I had it. When I come home from work and you make me supper, I really like that.
By the way, thank you for taking out the trash today, but you forgot the bathroom trash, and the two trashcans downstairs are full.
Me:Yes they are.

As you have overheard, my wife and I don’t have it all figured out, but I’m learning that it is probably more important that we’re working on it. If you haven’t asked yourself some tough balance questions lately, you should. Better yet, ask your spouse.  If you’re not married, ask your senior minister or an elder what he or she thinks. Ask a friend if you’re working too much, and give that person permission to help you set some boundaries. 

At the end of the day, we have one life to live, and a life fractured into a thousand pieces will probably not be very effective.

Some Practical Perspectives

• I want the people who know me best to respect me the most.

• If I work over fifty hours a week that means I am spending almost half of a five-day span at work. That’s too much.

• I am the only dad my kids have and the only husband my wife has. The students at my church have two paid youth ministers, two interns, and dozens of volunteers looking after them. To whom am I more valuable?

• I need to work harder at home than I do at church, not vice versa.

• Watching ESPN while my wife folds laundry on the couch is not quality time. (I actually don’t have cable on purpose to avoid that distraction. Unfortunately, there are plenty of others at my disposal.)

• Date Night are two words which should never been forgotten.

• Vacation must be used. Church camp is not vacation.

• Cooking breakfast on Saturday morning is a good thing. So are reading books before bed time, singing in the car, and going to the park.

• Fantasy Football is not more important than doing the dishes. (I don’t play fantasy football, but you know who you are.)

• I gave my wife permission to ask me to quit ministry. She only gets to ask once, and I promised to do it if she asked. 

• I hope never to be so consumed by youth ministry that she has to ask.


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