Anyone who has been to a recovery group of any kind probably recognizes that opening sentence and some form of the second sentence as well. For me, those are not just words, but a living testimony. I admit it. I love to work. Part of it is that I love what I do. It is not just a job; it is a calling from God to build His Kingdom. But honestly, it is more than that. For me, work is almost a compulsion.
Though some people may work a lot because they want the money, in my line of work (which happens to be vocational ministry) I make the same amount of money no matter how hard I work. Since ministry outside the Bible Belt is a notoriously underpaid profession, in my case, it is clearly not about the money.
Though it took me a long time to admit it, part of the reason I work so much is because it makes me feel good about myself. I can see how my work makes a difference in the lives of others, which makes me feel good. Both what I observe about the result of my work, and what others tell me about what they observe about my work, combine together to build up my self-esteem. Therefore, the more I work, the better I feel about myself.
Though feeling good about one’s job is not necessarily bad, it can become bad when it becomes a person’s primary motivation for working. Our primary motivation for working should be to bring honor to God, not to feel good about ourselves. If feeling good is our primary motivation, what will we do when our work no longer makes us feel good? After all, we all have bad days. No one’s job is “fun” all the time. And even if we did find a job that was fun every day, if the job becomes our entire life, instead of just being a part of it, we will quickly find ourselves out of balance. We will focus on our jobs while neglecting our families, our friends, perhaps even our own health. And when that happens, families fall apart, health issues arise, friendships end. No job is worth that.
I came to this realization five years ago under the strong tutelage of Dr. Jim Wideman, the Executive Director of the Baptist Convention of New England. Dr. Wideman was also my field supervisor for my doctoral studies.
After observing my behavior for a period of time, he refused to pass me along in the next phase of my studies unless I learned to take a day off.
Learning to take a day off was by far one of the hardest lessons I learned in the process of getting my doctorate. But without question, it was also one of most important and life-changing lessons I learned. I am grateful to Dr. Wideman for holding the line so tight on the need for a regular Sabbath.
My resolve was severely tested one recent Saturday because the ministry organization I lead was holding its annual meeting on the same day as the Senior Day for my son’s football team. My son is one of the captains of the team and a senior in high school. He, along with all the other seniors, was to be recognized at the start of the game. The old “workaholic” urge quickly rose up in my spirit and I was so tempted to skip the game and stay for the entire meeting. It was easy to justify in my mind. It seemed “reasonable.” Surely my son would understand. But after considering what would bring glory to God, I am happy to say that I resisted the urge and left the meeting at noon. I made it to the game 20 minutes before it started and was there to stand on the field with my son when he was recognized. I was further rewarded during the game when my son scored on an amazing 74-yard touchdown run during the third quarter. Those kinds of touchdowns are once-in-a-career kind of moments and I am so thankful that I was there to witness it.
Yet, I must admit that I wondered what some of my peers thought of me for skipping the second half of an important meeting with an important speaker. Would they understand how important it was to support my son? I found out the next day. I received two different emails from two different leaders in our organization, both commending me for making the “right” choice. They both mentioned how it honored God for me to be a good father and thanked me for setting the right example. I was touched.
My encouragement to my fellow workaholics is to take a day off. Spend some time with your family. That project will be there tomorrow, but your son only scores on a 74-yard touchdown run once in his life!