Not long ago I had lunch with a close friend who runs a million-dollar overseas missions ministry. Before he had to leave for Sudan one weekend, we met for some great BBQ, talked about our ministries, our struggles and victories over the previous year, and caught up on some personal issues. At the end of our time together, Craig asked me, “How can I pray for you in the next few months?”
My mind raced. Our retreat was coming up. And our biggest fundraiser/service project was about to start taking shape. After that, we’d be recognizing our graduates, and launching off into the mayhem of summer. Beach Break. Camp 7.8. Middle School Mondays. Road Trip Tuesdays. Mid-week activities. Student conferences. Then…back-to-school events and football season. Ugh. I struggled to condense my mental mayhem into something verbal and…intelligible.
“Balance”, I said. “I’ve got so much looming over the horizon, I’ll neglect my family and friends if I’m not careful. I love our ministry–but it can completely consume my life sometimes. Well,…most of the time, if I’m honest.”
Behind his Prada glasses, I could see his eyes were already shrink-wrapped in tears.
“Tell me about it.” he said. “God has blessed us so much this year, it’s been phenomenal. But just this week, my 16-year-old son asked me if he could be home-schooled so that he could take these trips with me. I was excited, so I asked him if he felt God was calling him to missions. You know what he told me? He said, ‘I don’t know…I just want to be with you.’”
His voice cracked. “What do you do with that?”
The conversation that followed was worth more to me than gold. As we talked, I found my mind wandering back to Proverbs: “He that troubles his own house will inherit wind.” (11:29) I began to recount men and women I’ve known in ministry that have lost or sacrificed spouses and children to build a ‘kingdom’. Instead of inheriting an Abrahamic blessing of a godly family, they’ve inherited wind.
At one particular ministry I served in I travelled a lot. A LOT. Which left my wife home alone with our 3-year-old and newborn sons. I was busy ‘building the Kingdom’, in and out of cities, living out of a suitcase, and racking up frequent flyer miles. Things began to be tough at home, so I invited Heather and the boys to come to Dallas for a few days while I was working, thinking we could at least be together in the evenings after work.
While driving through traffic one night, our oldest son caught a glimpse of a Holiday Inn out of the car window.
“Look, Mama!”, he exclaimed, “I see Daddy’s house!”
My heart stopped.
One day soon after, it was announced that I would have a new ‘boss’. Preparations were begun, speculations were made about who it just might be, and we were all buzzing with hopes for a new vision for our ministry areas. I’ll never forget when our director introduced him to us and to the board of trustees.
“He’s a fantastic servant of God,” he announced. “He’s served in ministry all across our state. He’s a workaholic, and a great man of God you can be proud of.”
My stomach turned. What had long been unspoken expectations in ministry had finally reared its ugly and verbal head. In an instant, the tables had turned and I had become Alice, trapped in the rabbit hole, afraid I would never get out of Wonderland. I was surrounded by those who were destined to inherit wind. Unfortunately, I was on the same pension plan.
It’s tough to find a better metaphor for a disciple than that of a tightrope walker. I am always amazed when watching them gingerly step out onto the rope, as if testing it’s surety. Step by step they methodically walk across the cable while gravity eagerly awaits their first misjudgement.
Jesus’ life is a beautiful blueprint for balance. He walked a fine, narrow course with the legalism of the Pharisees on one side and the hopelessness of “sinners” on the other. Of course, Scripture recounts how Satan was there eagerly awaiting a fall.
As disciples (not as ministers or leaders or workers or ___________), we are called to live a life of balance. A life of work and rest. A life of recreation and re-creation. A life in which I pour in to my own kids as much as other kids. A life of community that connects with other disciples in which we can share our struggles and pains and joys and victories. Because falling off the tightrope is much easier than walking it. And much more fatal, too. It’s not the wind I want to inherit. It’s the joy of reaching what’s on the other side of the cable.
Over 20 years of ministry, I’ve seen a definite pattern. God plants within us a seed of desire and passion. A good seed. A good desire. That drive stimulates us to do what we were born to do, whether it’s student ministry, teaching 3rd graders, fixing cars, or selling insurance. And because that seed has been hardwired in us, it permeates everything we do. We lie in bed thinking about ways to grow our ministry, see our 3rd graders excel, fix the transmission, or sell more insurance policies. We attack this passion with fury and determination–which is a good thing.
But soon we grow tired and in order to keep pursuing this ‘calling’ with the same intensity, we let other areas of our life slide and refocus the efforts on our seed. Without healthy balance and rest, we turn to unhealthy behaviors to make our spiritual and emotional ends meet. Before long we’re turning to those unhealthy options more regularly…and we grow more tired. And, once again, we gird up our determination to water our seed and see our God-given passion grow and produce fruit. Unfortunately, by this point, we’re trapped on the hamster wheel of this cycle without even knowing it.
So, what are we to do?
How do you balance your life and your ministry?
What lessons have you learned that you'd be willing to pass along to the rest of us?