BALANCING BETWEEN WORK AND FAMILY


Living the Christian life in a fast-paced society such as modern Singapore is an art rather than a science. If it were a science, we would simply need to follow some fixed procedures and all will be well. But the reality is that it is never so straightforward. Although the Word of God does give us numerous instructions and principles on how we ought to conduct ourselves, most of us still struggle constantly with our duties. Yes, if the Law of God were merely negative, and sin is only the transgression of the Law of God, many of us may be tempted to think, at the end of the day, that we have not sinned. But the Law of God is also positive, and sin is both a transgression of the Law and a want of conformity unto the Law of God. It is in the arena of positive duty that most of us fail miserably. It is in this aspect of our Christian life that most of us struggle most intensely. For sure, this struggle will remain while we live in this world. It is a sign of spiritual life, that there is any struggle at all; and it is a biblical fact that we will never be perfect in this life (1 Jn 1:8). Only Christ our Mediator and Substitute was able to live perfectly, and it is by His perfection that we are saved.


Notwithstanding, God does call us to perfection (see Matthew 5:48; 2 Corinthians 7:1; 13:11; Colossians 4:12), and gives us the means towards that end, namely His Word (2 Tim 3:17). Theoretically, if we are able to obey the Word of God perfectly, in every sphere of our lives, we will be perfect. But in reality, just to obey the Word of God outwardly can be a struggle even for the most godly saint living under the present circumstances because his time, energy and resources are limited. This being so, there is often a competition of interests among the different spheres of his life, so that he cannot be perfect in any sphere. This is why we talk about balancing.


The typical Singaporean Christian man spends most of his time at home and at work, and so it is crucial, as we walk our pilgrim journey, to seek the balance between family and work.


This balance is obviously difficult to find. But unless we seek to find it with some biblical principles, we will constantly be groping around, stumbling and wondering why our lives seem so disorganised, full of frustrations and failed expectations. This is what this article is about. We want to discover some principles for finding the balance between work and family.


Principle #1: Biblical Balance is Indefinite


This is a fundamental point. If we are looking for a mathematical or biblical statement on what is the proper balance between work and family, we will not find it. Indeed, it is also practically impossible for any family to claim that they have achieved a biblical balance, because in some sense it is impossible to define what is the balance: at least, not measurably nor objectively.


We may say that the balance between family and work is found when we are fully satisfied that we can answer with a clear conscience to the Lord concerning our responsibilities as they pertain to our role in society (or of making a living) and our role at home. As you can imagine, this balance will differ from person to person, and family to family. But as a rough indicator, we would know that we are far from a proper balance if we are properly instructed concerning our roles in the two spheres and yet feel that we are neglecting one at the expense of the other.


If things are so fuzzy and subjective, why do we talk about a balance? We talk about a balance not only because we can see and experience the effect of imbalance in our lives, and also because God has given us a conscience by which we know whether we have fallen short. And the conscience of the Christian, having been enlightened by the Holy Spirit and being instructed by the Word of God, is especially acute to see his failures. Thus, a Spirit-filled believer who is constantly aware of his union to Christ and the Lordship of Christ will ever desire after a Christian walk that is in-step with the Spirit of Christ.


Principle #2: Biblical Duties are Absolutes


While the biblical balance may appear to be subjective and elusive, the duties that are required of us are in no way uncertain.


When the Word of God prescribes duties, they are prescribed unconditionally and without regards to situation. Unless there is a physical disability to do what is commanded, to fail to do is to sin against God.


This is one point we must bear in mind at the onset if we are ever going to find the biblical balance between work and family. If we do not remind ourselves that God’s demands are absolute, we will be tempted to justify our fault and think that the imbalance in our lives is not that bad after all. And so we will be less inclined to take positive steps to correcting the situation in our lives, even when we detect an obvious imbalance.


On the other hand, knowing that God’s requirements are absolute, and that the balance between family and work involves loving obedience to God’s commands in respect to these spheres, will cause the child of God to seek to know these commands and to do them.


Principle #3: Husbands and Wives have Different Biblical Roles


The Word of God is very clear when it comes to the duties that are required of husbands and wives, or fathers and mothers, in the Christian home. The husband or father is the pilot, policeman, provider and pastor in the home. As the pilot, he steers the family ship and is responsible for all the major decisions of the family and the welfare of every member in the home. He must take the lead in maintaining the balance in the home. He must make the decisions. As the policeman, he is ultimately responsible for the discipline in the home. As the provider, he must bring in the daily sustenance necessary for the family. As the pastor, he is responsible for the spiritual welfare of his family through the maintenance of religion at home. He must call the family to worship and instruct the family on the Word of God. A very heavy responsibility is placed on the husband and father. He is the one who must take responsibility if the balance between work and family is not right.


What about the wife? The wife is to be an help-meet. She is to support her husband. According to the Scripture (e.g., Tit 2:4–5), she should be a homemaker, or at least be giving a lot of priority to looking after the home, her children and her husband. Now, although she is not the leader in the home, she has a crucial contribution to the degree of balance between work and family in her home. Remember that marriage is a partnership, indeed more than a partnership.


One of the fundamental biblical concepts concerning marriage is that the husband and wife are to cleave together and be one flesh (Gen 2:24). In some sense, they are regarded by God no longer as two individuals, but as one. They are heirs together of the grace of life (1 Pet 3:7). The balance between family and work must therefore be found in the teamwork between husband and wife, according to their different roles.


When we bear this in mind, we will realise that it is hardly possible for a family to walk along the balance of work and family when both are working to support the family.


It is the duty of the father to train the children and to bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. But if the father fails, it does not only reflect upon him, neither is he guilty alone. Remember that the father is also responsible for being the provider of the home, so his time is limited. If the wife is not supporting her husband, it would be near impossible for him to fulfil his role.


Principle #4: Time is Limited


It is always useful to rethink how we use our time. God has given us six days to do our work (Ex 20:9). This does not mean that we must engage in money-making activities for six solid days in the week, else we all sin if we work five days a week! What it means is that one day in seven is the Lord’s Day: the day belonging to the Lord (Ex 20:8). This day must be reserved for corporate worship and all things that pertain to our eternal life, except for acts of necessity, mercy and emergency. Six days are appointed for our own use. Six days means 144 hours. These 144 hours are for us to manage. We may use them to work to make a living (i.e., we sell our time away), to sleep, to rest, to engage in recreation, to worship privately and as families, to instruct the family, etc.


All things being equal, the use of these 144 hours may be seen as a measurable, though rough, indicator of the balance between work and family. This is not an ideal indicator as there are such things as quality time and time wasted. But a purposeful use of our time will certainly form the basis of returning to a proper balance between work and family.


Is it not true that so often, we feel guilty that we have not spent enough time at home or at work because we have squandered our time away? Because time is limited, some things must be forgone.


One of the great scourges of the church in our generation is the Television. Televisions are great time wasters. Someone called it the devil’s schoolbox. Well, I do not think it is always bad. It is a useful tool for documentaries and news. But I do think there is a lot of truth in the assertion that the TV is the devil’s schoolbox, for it steals our time from laying up treasures in heaven and teaches our children to be evil, by evil examples paraded as good.


If we are serious about striking a biblical balance in the use of our time, we will not want to remain ignorant of the fact that the TV is often a foothold for Satan to destroy our homes. Taking a positive step towards building a godly family may mean for some of us, more discipline in the use of the TV, so that when there is a choice between family worship or some meaningful activity, and the TV, that we will choose the former. For others, it may mean getting rid of the TV altogether.


Beyond that, it is wise to manage the limited time that the family can have together prudently. Activities which interfere with the growth of the family should be reduced. For example, many young families would go back to their parents’ homes for meals. This will drastically reduce the time that the family have alone: You cannot just eat and then leave! Time together must be highly valued so that as far as possible, the extra-familial commitments of the family should be planned not to coincide with the time when other members of the family are likely to be at home. A father who regularly goes out to play golf on Saturday when the rest of the family is available is not using his time responsibly. The same may be said of a mother who does her laundry and ironing when everyone in the family is available for family building activities.


Principle #5: It is Helpful to Demarcate our Time between Family and Work


It is a biblical principle to do well in all that the Lord calls us to do. Solomon, writing under inspiration, puts it this way: “Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might; for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave, whither thou goest” (Ecc 9:10). The Apostle Paul gives this injunction a Christological significance: “And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men; Knowing that of the Lord ye shall receive the reward of the inheritance: for ye serve the Lord Christ” (Col 3:23–24).


But our time is limited, and so sometimes when we perceive that we did not have enough time to do our work well in the office, we will be tempted to bring work home to do. Now, when that happens, it will be extremely difficult to work on any balance between work and family at all. It is like someone trying to sort out a crate that contains oranges and apples, but as he does so, he occasionally cast the apples to the box containing oranges and vice versa.


Fundamental to working on a balance between family and work, therefore, is an attempt not to allow work to intrude into your family hours. We do not say, not to allow family matters to intrude into working hours simply because most of us simply do not have the problem, whereas many of us take our family for granted and so bring our work home to do or we work longer hours than necessary.


Principle #6: The Family Must be Given Priority


When we talk about the balance between family and work, it may be tempting to think that we should give equal time and priority to both. Well, I do not think so. I believe the family should be given priority so that if there is a conflict of interest between the family and work, the family must come first.


I say this: Firstly, because the family is for life while work serves mainly as the means of sustenance for the family for a period of time. Secondly, while work forms a contrasting backdrop for the concept of salvific and eternal rest in Christ, the family is God’s appointed illustration of the relationship between Christ and His Church. In some sense, work is to the Law as the family is to the Gospel. Both are necessary, but the latter is the goal. Thirdly, while work often provides the opportunity for Christian witness, the family is one of the most important of God’s appointed means for enlarging the Church. Experience shows us that it is in the Christian home that the most faithful and fruitful of Christ’s sheep are nurtured.


Now we say all these not to implicate that work is not important. Rather, we are saying that contrary to our cultural expectation, career must not take priority over the family. You can rebuild your career if for some reason it crumbles, but it is far, far more difficult to restore your family to a Christ-honouring one if it crumbles. If you fail in your career, you will likely be the only one directly affected for a time; if you fail in your family, every member in your family will be affected for life and perhaps for eternity. Yes, the temptation will be great to give priority to your career because it is visible to the world, and there are immediate returns to enjoy, but would you not do what is right in the sight of God?


Principle #7: Godliness and Contentment are Indispensable


The Apostle Paul teaches us: “But godliness with contentment is great gain” (1 Tim 6:6). This principle is known by every Christian. But unfortunately, it is not easily held to in reality in competitive Singapore.


Is it really of necessity to keep the job to work very long hours every day, or is it because a failure to work long hours may mean lower promotion prospect? Is it really necessary for the wife to work, or is it because our personal standard of living and expenses are simply too high? Is it simply prudence and planning to relocate and live near a good school so that our children may have a higher chance of being granted a place in the school? Is it for the good of our children and the church that we allow them to take this or that CCA, or force them to learn music and dances?


Some of these things may not be wrong, but I am afraid that many of our decisions are made on the basis of covetousness and ‘kiasuism’ rather than godliness and contentment. I am afraid that many of us are not only in the world, but of the world, when it comes to the way we use our time and manage our families.


How to walk along the tight rope of balance between work and family? I believe we must first begin by taking a hard look at our lives to see if we are truly content, and whether our decisions are made on godly principles or are we drifting with the tide and expectations of the world. How can we possibly have a biblical balance between work and family, if we are living according to the principles of the world?


God has only given us a limited amount of time, energy and resources, to live our pilgrim lives until we enter heaven’s portals to begin a new life altogether. We do not have the time, energy and resources to live two lives.


Often it is between having a very successful career and a godly family. I pray you choose a godly family. If you are a five-talent man, yes, you may have a very successful career and a godly family at the same time. But most of us are two-talent men. We must not compare ourselves with others. Now, if we can only do very well in one, I pray it is going to be our family and church, rather than money and enjoyment. Yes, in regards to our work, we must perform heartily as unto the Lord; but can we say,—with a clear conscience,—that we are working heartily unto the Lord when we are neglecting the family that Christ has given us? Let none of us hide our covetousness under the guise of bearing a good testimony for Christ at work. We will either love the world and hate Christ, or love Christ and hate the world. I trust that every true child of God will know the mind of Christ and so gravitate to the biblical balance between work and family.


Conclusion


The biblical balance between work and family is not easily expressed in words, not to mention in actual practice. Each one of us must seek the Lord’s wisdom and the illumination of the Holy Spirit in order to put the biblical principles we know into practice. When we do so, we will realise that the balance that the world talks about is quite different from what the Word of God teaches us. The world speaks about achievement in the world and about good feelings in this life; but the Word of God speaks about laying up treasures in heaven and manifesting and cultivating the love of Christ. The world tends to give priority to career, but the Word urges us to give priority to family. But then, the world walks in bondage to Satan, along the broad road; while the obedient child of God walks with Christ along the narrow road of freedom that leads to life.


May the Lord grant us help and strength to so walk that we may best glorify His Name and in the process, prepare ourselves and our families for our eternal home.


J.J. Lim