It’s easy, as a dad, to come up with all sorts of reasons why spending time on work is a top priority. We can easily forget that one of the primary purposes of work is to ensure health and well-being for our families. And we can wind up allowing the goodness and excitement of work itself to eclipse the goodness and excitement of family life.
Of course, there’s no shortage of articles reminding us that this is a bad thing. So I won’t add my voice to the chorus. Instead, I’ll offer a few thoughts on resolving the problem in a different way: namely, by learning to view our work not as something static, but rather as a dynamic feature of an integrated Christian life.
Perhaps the biggest temptation in our technocratic culture is the suggestion that unless we’re masters in our professional niche, we’re hardly doing all that we can. This can create real tension in our role as husbands and fathers: if there’s something more we can do for our families, shouldn’t we do it? This is where the “work-life balance” debate comes in. It’s about as far as we usually get — and where we usually end up failing.
On the other hand, what if the very suggestion of technical mastery is misleading? What if we could avoid the “work-life balance” problem altogether? Wouldn’t that be a better plan? Our wives and children say, yes! So at least for their sake, let’s take a look.
Our desire, as fathers and as men to excel in our skill sets is one of the most laudable traits of our masculinity. Rome wasn’t built in a day; but it was built by a collection of the most skilled soldiers, politicians, and tradesmen the world has ever seen. Indeed, our work can produce wonderful things — things that do indeed give glory to God and that enliven mankind.
It’s curious, then, that such a colossus of human achievement as Rome was the seedbed of the early Christian faith. The consuls dispatched men to build up the empire; Christ dispatched his men to give it purpose and meaning. From the very outset, Christian masculinity has been something other than just living the status quo. It entails not only professional zeal, but reflection, adaptation, and extreme courage in living it out.
While the Lord is happy to use our ability to work for his glory, he does not call us merely to be good workers — even if working includes the drive to better the lives of our families. There’s something fundamentally countercultural about the Christian vocation. In fact, maybe better, Christianity in today’s world is the sole remaining bastion of culture. This is hardly surprising, as it was the Church herself who gave us the West and its culture as we know it throughout history.
Although at least some good things are required for building up a Christian culture — decent food, shelter, clothing, etc. — a critical component of culture, and one that’s all too often overlooked, is the element of leisure. Not to be confused, of course, with simply bumming around on a couch in front of the TV, leisure in the Christian sense (from the Latin licere, “to be allowed”) involves the interaction of human beings on a deeper level than just functional cooperation. It’s an indicator of our unique freedom as children of God, and an essential part of the Christian life.
When we’re caught up in our work — weighing the “balance” between time spent in the office and time spent with our families — it’s easy to believe that such leisure is our ultimate goal. The litmus test of our faith, however, is whether or not we’re making time for living such leisure each day. As long as “allowing” ourselves to participate deeply in family life is on the horizon, it isn’t part of our daily life. Building up a Christian culture at home isn’t something we must aim for; it’s something we must do repeatedly, and despite all odds.
Learning to appreciate our work as fathers as a dynamic, active component of Christian family life is the single greatest thing we can do to achieve “work-life balance.” It allows this, since it permits us to throw the whole silly notion out the window! After all, Jesus never preached about “balance” — he did preach about love, which is something far more desirable and redemptive. When our work includes apostolic love, it also necessarily includes other people. In this way, our work can be truly sanctified, and can offer a glimpse of the Kingdom of Heaven — that aim of all work — which, we must not forget, is already among us.
This article originally appeared on Fathers for Good and is used with permission.