Don’t Let Your Job Own You

By: Donna Lee Schillinger

Do not wear yourself out to get rich; have the wisdom to show restraint.
Proverbs 23:4

There’s something about spring that puts a little more pep in my step. As I emerge from my psychological hibernation of the dark winter months, I feel anew, like taking on the world. I may sign up for something new, volunteer to organize something and try out a new exercise plan, but the greatest risk of over-committing myself comes at work. That’s because I have overachiever tendencies. You too?

On opposite ends of the spectrum of personal industry there are those who are in danger of never doing anything significant with their lives and there are those who are in danger of doing so many things that they bring themselves to ruin. We don’t want to be either. We want to find the middle way – the way of balance.

In our youth, we have a lot of energy and it doesn’t feel like much effort to work 12 and even 15-hour days. If we love our jobs and there is opportunity to advance, we overachievers are more than willing to work, we become almost possessed with work. Amazingly, overachievers often find just enough time to develop a love relationship, marry and procreate before we have to get back to work. Then, this beautiful little family we’ve formed is like a plant in the corner that we dutifully dump a glass of water on every now and then to keep it alive. We love the thought of our family but don’t take much joy in it. We get more joy from our work. Our family loves and accepts us and we know and appreciate this about them. Isn’t it great? We’ve got it all.

Neglected families, like neglected plants, can live on for years, but what kind of life is it for them to be stuck in the corner? Our Heavenly Father wants more for them and us. Our familial relationships have so much potential for learning, character development and love. They should take priority over work in our lives. Even if we can’t give them as much time as we give to work – we can give them the best of us and let work have the rest of us.

This is agreeable enough if we’re talking about flipping burgers or answering phones at a call center. But what if we’re making the world a better place – working on a cure for some heinous disease or ministering to people in need? Our work, besides paying the bills, may be God’s work, as well. Maybe we have a job in the Heavenly Family business. Being called to work for our Heavenly Father is so exciting and that work brings true joy. But does that mean it should be a higher priority than our families?

My grandmother was called to work for God at an early age. I believe she spent every day of her life since age 11 in the work of the Heavenly Father. “Committed” hardly begins to describe her. Her faith was so strong – incredible faith. I really admired her and she has been a major role model for my life. However, I wouldn’t do everything just as she did. If you would ask her adult children what family life was like for them, you would get ambivalent answers. Though they are quick to acknowledge her love and good example, they also have to acknowledge her absence from the home, her preoccupation with work and the feelings of neglect they had.

Grandma used to tell a story about a time when her son, then two, stepped on a rusty nail. A brownish streak ran up his leg and he got sick. But she didn’t take him to the doctor and didn’t even stay home from work to be with him. She had to finish proofing a newsletter or something. She said it was the hardest thing she ever had to do – go back to work not knowing if her baby was going to die. She prayed for a miracle as she worked on that newsletter. Well, she got one. When she went home that evening, her son’s leg was normal and he said he felt, “Alwite!”

This story was, for her, a witness to the healing power of God. However, to me, it revealed something that I need to be wary of in myself. What kind of person leaves their possibly dying son to stay on track for a newsletter deadline? In this case the scripture comes to mind in which Jesus says, “Whoever loves father and mother more than me is not worthy of me” (Matt. 10:32), note that in this context Jesus was talking about putting family above salvation, not above a periodic deadline. I believe my grandmother lacked restraint when it came to work.

We may never reach that extreme, but this story is a good reminder that even though we may have found our purpose in life, family comes above work. Most of the time that’s not so hard to keep in mind, but around deadline time, when we are just shy of our quota, or we’re about to land that big deal, things get crazy. Our houses get messy, we skip exercise or hygiene practices, we go to bed late and get up early. We become somber, if not downright cranky. Our greatest challenge is to remain civil when our blood pressure spikes at a half-dozen different things gone wrong at once.

Sadly, at those times, I can remain civil and even chipper with people on the other end of the phone – maybe even the very ones who are kinking my hose – but when my loved one is slow to move or asks me a redundant question, my tone of voice can be severe. What I feel for the hose-kinker is projected on to my loved one! This shows a lack of restraint in work, as well. On any other day, when the pressure is not on, I wouldn’t react that way. The difference is work, and it’s not fair, it’s not right – let me say it for what it is – it’s sinful for me to redirect the frustration I feel from work to my family. And it’s even worse to expect them to expect that from me when I’m under stress.

Whatever our industry – student, salesperson, teacher, researcher, missionary, customer service representative – we must control our work and not let it control us. Between us and work, we are the boss.

Hold this thought: My closest family and friends deserve the best of me and work can have the rest of me.

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