By Ryan C. MacPherson
When a boy becomes a man he learns that life can be busy, sometimes too busy. So many responsibilities, and so little time—what is a person to do?
Balancing Work and Family?
As I’ve received the joy of marriage and the bounty of children, I also have come to know the struggle that so many men have faced before me—how to be a faithful husband, a loving father, find time for myself, and also fulfill my responsibilities at work? The key, according to many voices in our culture, is balance: strive to balance work and family.
As in so many other aspects of life, Scripture and society disagree. The Bible does not teach that I should balance work and family, but that I should prioritize family and recognize that my work is for my family (as well as for the community I serve).
The Bible does not teach that I should balance work and family, but that I should prioritize family and recognize that my work is for my family (as well as for the community I serve).
In God’s Word, one does not find the metaphor of “balance” applied to the hours of the day; rather, when Scripture speaks of a Christian’s proper attitude toward time, the image is one of “redemption”—of buying back what once was lost, cherishing it, and devoting it to the Lord’s work.
Redeeming the Time!
Twice St. Paul advised Christians to “redeem the time.” He exhorted the Colossians to devote themselves to prayer so that the gospel ministry would prosper and that they themselves “walk in wisdom toward those who are outside, redeeming the time. Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt” (Colossians 4:5-6). In other words, don’t waste an opportunity to share with others the joy that you know—the joy that you want them to know—that in Christ all has been forgiven and we have peace with God. Similarly, St. Paul admonished the Christians in Ephesus to “walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise, redeeming the time, … speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs” (Ephesians 5:15-16,19). There is no command to balance our time, but rather to redeem all of it, putting all of it to the best use.
When God made me a husband, he called me to love my wife self-sacrificially ... prioritizing her needs above my wants, even as Christ humbled Himself to give His life for our salvation.
When God made me a husband, he called me to love my wife self-sacrificially, as Christ has loved the church (Ephesians 5:25-29). This means prioritizing her needs above my wants, even as Christ humbled Himself to give His life for our salvation (Philippians 2:5-8). When God blessed us with our first child, He called me to “bring [her] up in the training and admonition of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4). As God has added more children to my “quiver” (Psalm 127:5), it has become all the more important that I “redeem the time”—not merely “balance” time between family and work, but prioritize my family and in particular seek to share with my children the good and gracious things of the Lord.
A Real-Life Example
How does “redeeming the time” work in practice? The reality is that I, like many husbands and fathers, spend more waking hours during the week at work than at home. And that’s not wrong in itself. My employment as a college professor is a Godly vocation, to be prized and esteemed—though my vocations as father and husband should nonetheless receive priority. But how?
Below I summarize a typical day in order to provide an honest picture of what I have come to experience. Not everything here deserves to be emulated by others. Perhaps the future could be better. But this was my life in the recent past, and I am thankful for the blessings God has bestowed thus far. I also hope that this personal case study shows skeptics that a wife’s Christ-centered submission to her husband does not at all resemble enslavement, nor does a husband’s Christ-like headship in the home involve any hesitation to perform housework.
Arising in the Name of Jesus
I arise before dawn to stretch and exercise. A half hour later, I bring our youngest child to my sleeping wife to nurse. Then I shave and shower, returning to change the baby’s diaper. While my wife takes a morning walk with a neighbor lady, I pray the Office of Prime aloud, so that even at ten months of age my son can begin to become familiar with the rhythm of God’s Word. (Lately I’ve been reading one chapter per day from the Book of Proverbs.) After our devotion, we roll around on the floor together and then I entertain him by putting away the dishes that have dried overnight. Meanwhile, my wife returns from her walk to shower and I review the day’s schedule, update my “to do” list, and help my son learn to walk. By 7:00 a.m., my wife is making breakfast and I am getting the older children out of bed. I coach them through the process of dressing themselves, and coax the potty trainee to use the toilet even if she doesn’t think she needs to. (She tries, and almost always discovers that she did need to go.)
We ask God’s blessing upon our meal and talk about the day ahead while we eat.
We ask God’s blessing upon our meal and talk about the day ahead while we eat. By 7:30, I’m finished with my breakfast and read our morning devotion while trying to keep the children’s mouths occupied with their breakfasts so they can listen quietly to God’s Word. (Sometimes we read a chapter of Scripture each day, progressing sequentially. Other times I choose a theme, such as reading a different parable of Jesus each day.) Afterward my wife plays a hymn on the piano while we sing along—our oldest child practicing to read the lyrics as she sings. Then my wife rehearses a hymn for the following week while I coach the children in clearing their places, let them brush their teeth for practice, and then brush their teeth myself for thoroughness. I wash the dishes while my wife nurses the baby again. Then he’s off to his morning nap. I kiss everyone goodbye and begin my one-mile walk to work.
The Work God Sets before Us
I am thankful that my wife stays home with our children during the day. As they grow up, she is phasing into home-schooling. My own mother was similar in these respects, and I am blessed to have a wife so much like her. Without my wife’s help, our family could hardly approach the Word-centered lifestyle recommended in Deuteronomy 6:6-9. She continues to redeem the time while I am at work, reading not just children’s storybooks but also Bible history, and having a prayer and devotion during lunchtime. We also strive to discipline in a manner that emphasizes God’s expectations for both parents and children. We recognize that “to discipline” means “to train,” not merely “to punish.” We also have discovered that the most effective way to train our children also is the most difficult and humbling: we must model for them what it means to love and honor each other. We soon find ourselves also modeling for them what it means to confess our sins and rejoice in the forgiveness won for us by Christ.
[F]atherhood has changed me. When meeting one-on-one with students in my office, I often imagine my own child in that chair.
While at school, I also seek to model for my students what it means to be a lifelong learner, a researcher, a writer, and a public speaker. I have found that fatherhood has changed me. When meeting one-on-one with students in my office, I often imagine my own child in that chair. The Golden Rule says we should treat others as we would like them to treat us, which as a father and professor I have expanded to mean that I should treat other people’s sons and daughters as I would want my own to be treated if they had gone off to college. I would want their professor to redeem the time, and so that must be my goal each day at work.
Eating Bread That Does Not Spoil
In the late afternoon, I try to slow down so that I can walk home at 4:45, arriving by about 5:00. Then my wife prepares supper while I play with the children. We eat at 6:00. Our evening devotion focuses on a section of Luther’s Small Catechism—such as a commandment, a petition from the Lord’s Prayer, the significance of Baptism, or the blessings of the Lord’s Supper. Between taking bites, my children practice their memory verses while my wife and I foster discussion to apply Biblical lessons to our lives. Then we discuss ideas for prayer, hold hands around the table, and take turns thanking God for one of the blessings we’ve received or asking Him to address a particular concern for us. My wife and I thus have discovered the joy that even a two-year-old can pray for Grandma and Grandpa to have a safe trip home. We also have come to know the humility of hearing a child’s prayer that mommy or daddy won’t use such a loud voice when the children are naughty. As we talk about why what they did was naughty, and how we would rather not have to raise our voices either, we have the opportunity to model for them what it means to confess one’s sins and ask for forgiveness. It is our hope that open communication of this sort will bind our family together, preparing for healthy relationships as the children enter the too-often turbulent transition to adulthood.
[O]pen communication of this sort will bind our family together, preparing for healthy relationships as the children enter the too-often turbulent transition to adulthood.
After supper, I help the children change into pajamas while my wife clears the table and stores away the leftovers. She shops only once or twice per month (except for bananas, which barely keep for a week). Through diligent effort, she has developed some standard operating procedures that help us get maximum value for our grocery dollars and enjoy well-balanced meals and healthful snacks that last until the next scheduled shopping day. I’ve learned to entrust the matter entirely into her hands, eating whatever she sets before me and saving whatever she has reserved for a future time. With the leftovers in the refrigerator and the children in their pajamas, we are ready for a bedtime hymn and prayer—hopefully by 7:00 p.m. Somewhere along the way our children developed the delightful habit of marking our foreheads with the sign of the cross and saying, “The Lord bless you and keep you,” as we tuck them under their covers. I suppose they learned it from us, but I still feel like I am the recipient of their greater love.
Now it is my time to wash the dishes. My wife keeps me company and we begin our hour together to talk about the day. Realistically, this gets interrupted by a child who won’t stay in bed or a phone call from a friend in need. Still, it is our aim to have that hour together every evening and also to schedule a regular date so that dad and mom can remain husband and wife. This, too, requires that we redeem the time, and it is one of the greatest gifts we can offer our children.
Resting in the Lord’s Peace
My wife and I end the day rejoicing in our baptismal grace, knowing that all our sins have been washed away and that we are new creations in Christ Jesus.
We read our Bibles in bed, often pausing to share a particular insight with each other. More nights than not, as I reflect upon my day, I have regrets. A moment when I should have been more patient with my children, an occasion when I should have listened better to my wife, a frustration that the big sister and the little sister have not been getting along—such thoughts consume my mind. I go visit their room. My hand rubs their backs and caresses their faces. Then I kiss them each once more on the forehead. “The Lord bless you and keep you,” I pray—sometimes dropping to my knees and lying prostrate in the presence of God who has blessed me beyond deserving. I pray that God would forgive me for my failures, that He would bless my children through me or despite me (whatever it takes), and that He would bless other fathers and mothers and children throughout the world. At peace, I return to my bedroom. My wife and I end the day rejoicing in our baptismal grace, knowing that all our sins have been washed away and that we are new creations in Christ Jesus (Acts 20:23; Ephesians 2:8-10). Lord willing, we’ll arise in the morning to do it all over again—redeeming the time for Him who has redeemed us.
Dr. Ryan C. MacPherson is the founding president of The Hausvater Project. He lives with his wife Marie and their children in Mankato, MN, where he teaches American history, history of science, and bioethics at Bethany Lutheran College.
Suggested citation: MacPherson, Ryan C. “‘Balancing Work and Family’ vs. ‘Redeeming the Time.’” The Hausvater Project, Jan. 2011. www.hausvater.org.