In a recent radio interview, I was asked if “work–life balance” was just a myth.
This is an interesting question because often in our society the idea of work–life balance is held up as the secret to joy, contentment, and peace of mind. Yet, in our consumer culture, material gratification is continuously encouraged, we feel a sense of discontent, and success is measured more by what you have than who you are.
A Different Way of Looking at Our Lives and Our Work
At IFWE, we are inspired by the work of Protestant reformers Luther and Calvin who argued that the scriptures taught that all work was sacred. Martin Luther told us that the work of the milkmaid is just as important to God as the work of the priest.
Luther and Calvin saw the Apostle Paul’s charge to, “Only let each person lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him, and to which God has called him…” (1 Cor. 7:17), as a call to live out our current life situation before the Lord. In the broader context of 1 Corinthians 7, Paul applies this principle to those who are married or single, slave or free.
Pastor James Harvey, in his blog, speaks to this verse when he writes:
One of the most prized aspects of modern life is the ability for us to make changes that suit our preferences. However, this promise of change for fulfillment remains elusive for many. Pastors can testify of the deep struggle that people feel with their place in life, especially when it comes to work and marriage. Few are fully satisfied with their work life. Many who are single long to be married. Many who are married struggle for joy in their marriage.
Harvey goes on to suggest that this struggle drives us to one of two things: an attitude of resignation or idealism. Neither delivers the hoped-for return.
Resignation accepts the status quo and doesn’t make any effort to make things better. This fails to recognize the gospel-powered command to subdue the earth (Gen 1:28), making the world a place for God’s images to flourish. As Harvey suggests:
This work requires preparation, planning, and action—all of which are contrary to the disposition of resignation to accept things as they are. Resignation stops praying, stops hoping, stops believing.
Idealism, on the other hand, is a lie that says if we just had XYZ, we would indeed be content and happy. It is a quick-fix mentality that is really idolatry.
Contentment Not in Things or Circumstances, but in a Relationship
What Paul is trying to tell the Corinthians and, by extension, us is that contentment is not found in our circumstances, but only in our relationship with Jesus Christ.
As Sarah Donaldson, associate Prof. at Covenant College, writes:
…when we settle for temporary happiness, we look to earthly stuff and circumstances for our contentment instead of being fully content because of the everlasting joy and peace that are available to us in Christ.
When the Apostle Paul says that he has learned to be content in every circumstance (Phil. 4:11), it is because the source of his joy, peace, and contentment is found only in his relationship with Christ, which is eternally constant regardless of the circumstances. God’s call on his life leads and empowers him to live an active life of obedience, which is the great source of his happiness.
We need to think about this idea of “life” balance from a different perspective. Typically, life balance is understood as balancing the demands of work and family, church, or other aspects of our lives. What if we define life balance as integrating all that we do under the lordship of Christ?
A helpful model may be to think of life balance from the perspective of when not what. We all know people who live in the past. It is often their past experiences that lead them to an attitude of resignation in the present. We also know people who live most of their lives in the future, idealistically looking for some future change to provide the contentment they so earnestly seek. As a result of both of these approaches, their work in the present suffers, and they are continuously disappointed.
Present in the Present
As followers of Christ, we need to live fully in the present, engaged in our calling to bring flourishing to the communities that we presently serve. We should not ignore our past failures and successes, but instead learn the lessons that God has taught us through our experiences to further equip us for our present mission. We also expectantly look toward the future with great hope and expectation of what God will do through us to continue to fulfill this calling on our lives.
Yes, we prepare, plan, and take action with the future in mind, but we hold these plans loosely, understanding that we will do these things as God wills. As the prophet Jeremiah tells the Israelites in captivity,
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (Jer. 29:11).
Life balance is not about what we do. It is about a relationship. Once we realize the importance of that relationship to everything else we do, we see Christ as the counterbalance and we know that the scales must always be tipped in his direction. When they are, we will know contentment and more.
…Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well (Matt. 6:33).
Editor’s note: Learn more about finding contentment in God’s kingdom purposes in How Then Should We Work?