As the summer months draw to a close, do you find yourself dreading the fall, with its increased number of church events, rehearsals and concerts, all culminating in Christmas? Do your kids seem to take on two new activities with the beginning of each new school year? And what about the responsibilities of running a house, often complicated by both spouses working outside the home?
The autumn months can take a tremendous toll on ministry families. Take some time now to evaluate how you and your spouse will juggle the busyness. It can be done, and in a way that will strengthen your relationship.
Recently my husband, Bill, and I met for our annual planning day. As I sat with a deck of well-worn 3 x 5 cards in my hand, I smiled, remembering the year Bill had fought for my attention and won.
"What are you grinning about?" Bill asked.
"I'm just remembering how this got started."
For years, all our conversations sounded the same. One of us would broach the taboo subject of being too busy as we drove to yet another ministry event. And each conversation would usually escalate in emotional intensity, rise in volume, and then end in stubborn silence. We'd both feel hurt, unappreciated, frustrated and angry.
"We can't keep going this way," Bill finally said. "It's bad now, but the boys' schedules are only going to get more challenging as they get older. We just keep adding one responsibility after another."
"I've got an idea," I said, "but it might seem kind of wild . . ."
When I was a little girl, I played a parlor game called "Pit." It was a mock version of Wall Street trading. In the game, players try to gather all of one commodity. They trade with other players for the commodity they most desire. One player might trade four wheats just to get two corns. That's exactly how Bill and I decided to tackle our responsibility dilemma.
We took a set of 3 x 5 cards and wrote down everything we were responsible for: our ministries, children, home, volunteer, efforts and other activities. Next, we rated the cards with an A, B or C priority level and explained why we rated a responsibility as we did. Then we began to negotiate, assessing all the A priorities first.
"I'll trade you child care on Mondays and Thursdays if you'll do this stack of errands. I hate errands!" Bill said.
"That's fair. Since I'll be running back and forth, I'll pick up the boys from school. That way you can have some uninterrupted time to work on the yard and pay bills."
I looked at my A pile: romance for Bill and me, the boys' activities and daily homework, writing, women's ministry, various volunteer works, exercise. It would be tough to get all the A's accomplished if I didn't set up some boundaries on my life and protect my time. I readjusted a few of the A's to the B pile and some B's to the C. pile. Bill did the same.
We had a sense of renewed hope as we made our way through that stack of cards.
"Who's going to take this stack of responsibilities?" I picked up the C cards that neither of us wanted, but knew had to get done. "Let's see. What's in it?" I showed the top card to Bill.
"The boys' special projects, like science fair. I'll take it," he said.
"You've tried to take it on before — and it always lands back in my lap. What makes you think it won't this time?" I could sense some defensiveness coming on. "Sorry, Honey. I didn't mean to hurt you by saying that."
"It's true. If I take it, it's a risk."
"Bill, we're both committed to the boys. Let's divide it up. You take the reports, and I'll take the projects."
"How about this stack of ministry priorities?"
"Let's pray over them this weekend. We need to decide which to do now, which to delegate to volunteers or hire out, and which are great ideas for the future."
We also make a list of privileges, responsibilities and activities for each child. The idea is to arrive at one dove-tailed life.
We've finally found a way to negotiate all our responsibilities and activities. No longer do the deadlines and to-do lists feel like a whirlwind attacking our marriage and family.
"Hey! Who's going to take the windows?"
We both pointed to each other, then shook out heads no.
"Back to the bargaining table."
Life Objectives: How Do You Rank 'Em?Find a few moments to take the following quiz with your spouse, each of you marking on your own separate page. Rank each item with a 1, 2 or 3 according to how important the item is to you (1 being vital, 3 being not so important).
Compare your lists. Talk about why you ranked each item the way you did. If you ranked something 1 and your spouse has the same item as a 3, that's an emotional hot spot to talk through. If something important (like paying the bills) is rated as a 3 by both of you, that's another important place to negotiate a new plan.
One minister, two jobs and the family that's at the top of the list. The number of bivocational ministers, those in full- or part-time ministry who carry an additional job, is estimated by some researchers to be as high as 30 percent of ministers nationwide.
Both spouses have jobs in more than half of ministry homes. How can they keep their lives in balance? In most ministry couples, it is the minister's spouse who is asked to be flexible. But more often, it is easier for the minister to adjust his schedule.
Thursdays were my day off. Save for a member's severe sickness or death, I would let nothing pull me back into that church office. When at the church, I focus on finishing tasks such as preparing lessons. If I fall behind, I go in early on my regular workdays rather than saving the work for my day off.