Six years ago this May I picked up the phone. It was my brother.
“If you want to see dad before he passes, you better come now; he’s losing ground fast.”
It wasn’t unexpected news but the kind that makes you drop everything. My wife offered to book my flight and the next morning I found myself on the shuttle to Sea-Tac Airport to catch a plane to Minneapolis. I rented a car for the three-hour drive to the southwestern corner of the state.
Neale E. Strom was accustomed to running the family business, teaching at church, serving on boards, cheering on high school athletes, and doting on us kids and our children. However in the previous year congestive heart failure and Parkinson’s gradually limited his strength and mobility. After taking a few falls he begrudgingly took to a wheel chair and eventually remained mostly in a hospital bed brought in to a main-floor bedroom.
My mom, Jean, remained at his side as his primary caregiver sorting medications, helping him dress, and getting him to and from the washroom.
My sister from Colorado arrived three days before me to support mom and help with dad. Dad had become incoherent and awake a lot at night requiring around-the-clock care. Just that week they finally got a live-in nurse.
I arrived at 6:30 p.m. to a house full of people. They cleared the way for me to spend time at dad’s bedside. I was thankful he rallied to welcome me warmly with clarity of mind.
“Are Shelaine and the boys here too?” he asked.
“No dad, just me.”
His eye-sight had become particularly poor the last few months so I moved in close and put his hand to my face. We talked a bit about my school-end push with marking exams and submitting grades, of our sons and their summer plans, of his tough go the last while and how he was feeling just now.
“Not too good,” he said. “I’m very tired.”
Around the corner mom and Jane prepared a meal for the gathering crowd, and at 7:15 we convened leaving dad to rest a while. We were not long when we heard him cry out, “Jeanie, Jeanie.” Mom rushed to his side and in a few minutes he was gone, his eyes closed and body relaxed. The clock read 7:30.
We gathered around his bed and mom wept out a prayer of thanks for Neale as husband, dad, grandfather, and follower of Jesus.
* * * *
The day before dad died he had one of his rougher days drifting in and out of sleep and mumbling. Jane was sitting by his side giving mom a break when dad suddenly sat up in bed, lifted his arms upward, and looked expectantly at the ceiling. He remained there a second, then turned his wrist downward, looked at his watch, and said to someone, “Not today? Tomorrow. 7:30.”
My faith journey is a relatively rational one as I prefer logical arguments for God’s existence, wrestle with theological issues, and prefer the life of the mind over experience to figure out how God moves among us. But when I heard my dad’s story the veil between earth and heaven thinned to a vapor.
Thank you, Dad.
And thank you God.
So you took the Work Addiction Risk Test from the last post, and discovered you’re borderline or full-on workaholic. This blog’s for you.
If you didn’t, but can answer positively to any of these prompts, read on. Do you:
If you answered “yes” to a few, consider this primer on creating career-home balance.
We can better harmonize career and relationships when we gain purpose and practice presence.
We gain purpose when we can see the reason for our work, and for our relationships, rather than feel they are meaningless going-through-the-motions. My conviction is that life is about loving God and serving others. This conviction drives my writing, teaching, serving and worship—not to every iota, but largely in the main.
What is your purpose in life? If it’s material gain or prestige, then perhaps that’s driving your career and muting your relationships. Or maybe you work to forget past hurts or to ignore current hassles. If so, then your workaholic tendencies may be driven by wounds.
Presence is the state of being fully aware of another person, their thinking and feeling, plans and fears, and responding relevantly and supportively face-to-face in real time. We give ourselves a chance at presence when we create margin—that wonderful gap between what is required of us and the resources we hold. When life’s demands overwhelm our resources, margin vanishes and we fail miserably at exercising presence.
So how do we gain purpose and presence?
1. If you’re concerned about career interfering with family, seek help. The key is that you’ve identified the pattern, and can point to feelings and behaviors you think indicate a problem. I recommend you find a friend, coach, mentor, or counselor if you identify with the indicators above. Getting it in the open will prompt change.
2. Realize that career hours encroach on relationship hours. In Choosing to Cheat: Who Wins when Family and Work Collide, Andy Stanley observes that all cheating is about trading one thing we value for something we don’t, and this normally entails trading an intangible virtue for some tangible reward. We are prone to trade off the less tangible virtue of “a quality relationship” for more tangible toys and promotions. I recall a busy medical doctor saying, “So my wife complains about my busyness, but hey, she complains in comfort” (referring to their lovely home). Ouch.
3. Recognize that relationships require work. Men in particular are prone to ignore or spurn this fact. We’re prone to think good relationships just happen. True, compatible partners experience less conflict than incompatible ones, but even a car that isn’t broken still requires gas, water, and regular maintenance.
4. Realize that workaholism hurts your loved ones. We’d like to think otherwise—that our spouse is strong, our kids resilient. Or we might think the benefits of our hard work outweigh its detriments. But facts say otherwise. Being emotionally “checked out” makes loved ones feel:
5. Negotiate your priorities with your partner and family. We show presence when we sit down and discuss life, together. We show it in partnering about decisions small and large. For example, what plans might you agree on for tonight? This weekend? Your next vacation? Or, how do you hope to spend that nest egg? Will it be to visit your folks, the in-laws, or time for yourselves? If we put similar effort into relating as to career or housework or busyness, we’re bound to build hope.
When I consider deep sources for purpose and presence, I consider Jesus who said, “Come to me, all who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11: 28-30)
Jesus isn’t promising a bed of roses when we give our burdens to him, but he says his way gives rest, yields life, for it means not chasing achievement and accumulation or ignoring hurts and wounds. His purposes provide meaning as we go about loving work and people too.
Bill Strom, Author
I am a believer by faith, a professor by vocation, a husband by choice, a father by blessing, and a friend by hanging out. Along the way I have learned about close relating through my experiences, biblical models, and social science research. Hopefully my ideas and encouragement show up here in ways meaningful to you.