Many books have been written about how to handle finances, but few go beyond the nuts and bolts of managing money and making more money. Yet when families weigh how their money can best be used, they need an eternal perspective.

In this article, Russ Crosson helps us reach a balance between prosperity (the accumulation of goods on this earth) and posterity (the heritage we leave our children and the generations that come after us). – AP

When the boys were young, I walked into the house late from work one Thursday night. I could tell by the look on Julie’s face she was not happy. My mind raced back through the prior two weeks. I had missed dinner the past three nights due to some projects at work, but I couldn’t see how that would have caused her frustration. I had told her I would have some late days during that week, so she should have been expecting it. But as my eyes caught hers, she quickly began to explain how it appeared that I was never home for dinner, and the children were, as she said, “growing up without me.” I was incredulous, but as we sat down on the couch and began to talk, the reason for her frustration became clear.

Over the previous two weeks I had been gone at night, not only for work-related projects, but also for two functions at the church and for two men’s basketball games. In addition, Julie and I had hosted a school-board committee meeting in our home one night and had a young couple over on another night to help them with their finances. Fewer than half of the past 14 nights had been spent with our children. Since work was the culprit the last three nights, it caught the brunt of the blame. The issue, however, wasn’t just work.

Balance is defined as “the ability to keep in equilibrium, to estimate the relative importance or value of something.” Julie and I have found that it takes a constant effort to balance our lives and keep the pendulum from swinging wildly past center.

It can be a challenge to balance the components of family, work, church, world, and a relationship with God. It’s easy to get out of balance in any of the areas by taking time away from one of the other areas. For example, we could spend so much time involved in the church that we neglect our vocational work. Or we could spend so much time evangelizing the world that we neglect our families. Obviously, being out of balance in any area could make it extremely difficult to meet the challenge of balancing posterity (the heritage we leave) and finances.

Though imbalance can occur in any area, I’m convinced that in modern society the most common and greatest threat to a balanced life occurs because of the tension between family and work. In this article we’ll take a look at why this tension exists, primarily from the work perspective, and offer suggestions about how to deal with it.

Family and work

The tension between family and work is great because they both require a large time commitment. Yet the Bible is clear about our responsibility in each of these areas. For example, Deuteronomy 6:6-8 states that I’m to teach my children as I sit in my house, as I walk by the way, and as I lie down and rise up. Sitting, walking, lying down, and rising up require a lot of time! And 1 Peter 3:7-9 tells me that husbands and wives are to live together in a harmonious and understanding way. The Bible is also clear about our responsibility to provide for our families. The apostle Paul said if we do not provide for our families, we are “worse than an unbeliever” (1 Tim. 5:8), and if we do not work we should not eat (2 Thessalonians 3:10).

The issues related to our church, world, and government also require time, and they cannot be neglected in raising godly posterity; however, these components are typically less of a time drain than family and work.

Over the years, I’ve kept excerpts of articles that clearly point out this tension. This sampling shows the sense of loss when the components of work and family are out of balance:

  • Billy Graham, evangelist: “The greatest mistake was taking too many speaking engagements and not spending enough time with my family.”
     
  • Peter Lynch, author and legendary mutual-fund manager: “My problem is, I operate in only two gears, overdrive and neutral, and it’s all been overdrive since about 1982….I had to return from [a family ski trip] early and missed seeing my daughter in a race. I was in here at the office when the market was closed and the family was skiing and I said, ‘What am I doing?’.... I haven’t been there for my seven-year-old, either.”
     
  • Garth Brooks, country music star (commenting on his daughter): “She’s already taught me the greatest lesson in life — that nothing is more important than family…. I see that little girl and think, ‘You’ve been chasing stuff that means nothing, and you’ve been running away from this…. The one gift that I want to give this kid is the best gift that my dad and mom ever gave me — attention — to know that every time I looked up from that bench at any sporting event, no matter how far away it was, no matter if I was playing or not, they were there.”
     
  • Dan Stamp, president of Priority Management Systems: “People often say, ‘For now, I’ll focus exclusively on my career, but in the future, I’ll do more with my family.’ But by the time the future comes, by the time the person is ready to be a real parent, he may find that it’s too late. The kids are grown up — never to be 5 or 10 years old again. Once those years are missed, there’s no going back.”

Some readers may be further along in life and have already discovered what those busy people discovered — that we should have balanced our lives a little more. If this is the case for you, let me encourage you that it’s never too late to build posterity. Even if your children are grown and have children of their own, you can still spend time with them. You can try to help them avoid making the same mistakes you may have made, and you can encourage them with their posterity.

Variable-time vs. fixed-time vocations

I’m convinced that we should earn our money by working hard, by doing our best at the vocation God has equipped us to do during our allotted time here on earth — while at the same time allowing appropriate amounts of time to be with our families.

Newly married individuals without children typically have more time available to work vocationally because the person’s only other responsibility is to a spouse. If you have young children, their needs, as well as the needs of your spouse, are more acute and the amount of time available for work is squeezed. As the children grow up and move out of the home, your available time to work is once again expanded.

Your allotted time to work will be a function of whether your vocation is what I call a variable-time job or a fixed-time job. In a variable time job you do not punch a time clock. These vocations are typically not 8-to-5 types of jobs but rather work that has fluctuating hours. In my job, I’m not required to punch in and out each day, but I have certain performance standards that must be met. Some days may be 12 hours long; others are much shorter. Through it all, however, there is always more to do than can be done in a reasonable day, so the pressure to spend more time at the job always exists. This is the open-end characteristic of a variable-time job. The salesperson could always make one more sale, the doctor could always see one more patient, and the business owner could always help one more customer. More can always be done! The question is, “Where do we stop?”

Conversely, the fixed-time job is the 8-to-5 type of work that neither requires nor expects much involvement beyond the time spent in the office or shop. The factory worker, secretary, nurse, and some jobs in larger companies are examples of fixed-time vocations.

At our firm we work primarily with individuals who fall into the variable-time professions — business owners, entrepreneurs, doctors, dentists — since the variable professions typically generate the most income. On the surface, it seems that variable-time workers have it made. They have time and money for vacations.

In reality, these individuals have a challenge in building posterity that fixed-time workers do not have. They have to constantly guard against overworking. I define overworking as any situation in which a person is spending hours on his or her vocation to the exclusion of other priority areas, such as family, church, and personal time. The fixed-income worker punching a clock doesn’t typically have the pressure to overwork. Most days, he or she puts in eight hours and goes home. However, on the surface what appears to be a positive of the variable-time job — the higher income — is in many cases a detriment to spending time with family and training up a godly posterity.

Business owners are a case in point. In most situations, they are not only the visionaries of their businesses but also the primary decision makers. Though they usually have sufficient income to buy “freedom” by hiring others to do some of their work, they are typically hesitant to do so for fear of losing some control. They simply can’t let go of the decision making, and, as a result, their time is not free. It’s not their own. They are the ones with the cell phones glued to their ears or next to them on the bedside table. They may be physically away from the office, but mentally the office streams through their consciousness. As the business succeeds and generates more income, the opportunities to grow increase and their freedom is reduced even more. They may have more financial capital than ever, but spend less time with their families.

The medical profession offers vocations that are held in an esteemed position in the minds of most people. They typically generate significant income and appear to allow for a lot of discretionary time for workers to be with their families. However, doctors are on call at night and on weekends, an arrangement that can present significant challenges to spending time with family, especially in the early years of their practices.

What about salespersons? Their income is a function of their own efforts, and typically the more time they spend at their jobs, the more income they can make. And their companies usually impose sales quota pressures (or they do it themselves). They want to constantly sell more and more.

Many jobs seem to have no boundaries on the time that can be spent working. Most vocations that tend to generate the greater incomes also tend to exert the greatest pressure on the person’s time. If not handled properly, this pressure can steal the time necessary to raise godly posterity. Vocations that put the least stress on the person’s time tend to produce less income and can put more stress on the financial side.

One final comment about overworking. Many persons may overwork, not because of the money, but because their identities and self-images are tied to what they do. We must recognize that our self-image is a function of who we are in Christ. It should not depend on our vocation. We need to keep our egos out of it and realize that God “resists the proud” (1 Peter 5:5).

Practical steps toward balance

Regardless of your vocation, consider the following observations as you struggle to balance your work and your need for time margin for training your posterity.

  1. Find a vocation you enjoy and are equipped for, and then live within the income it provides. It’s your responsibility to work hard and well at what God has called and equipped you to do (Colossians 3:23), realizing that the income you generate is no surprise to Him. He sovereignly ordains it through your employer or through the clients or sales He allows you to have in your business.
     
  2. If you are in a fixed-time job that has limited income, don’t think you would be better off in a vocation that paid more money. It may be easier for you to raise godly posterity because of fewer time pressures than it would be for the person who has the variable time job and greater income. Although less income may result in more financial pressures, lifestyle — not income — is often the reason for financial pressure. Therefore, control your lifestyle, live within your income, and be content in the vocation for which God has equipped you.
     
  3. Be aware of the different time demands at your family’s different stages. The needs and time demands are the greatest when the children are young. Those demands usually subside somewhat through the teenage years and into college.

    Let’s look at how this works out practically. If you’re starting a business and you don’t have children yet, project what your time commitments will be later in the business as you start a family. If the growth of the business reduces your time commitments, that’s good. But if business growth will require more of your time exactly when your children need you, you may want the business to grow more slowly, hire a key assistant, or stay smaller longer. If you’re in one vocation and are considering switching to another, be careful to evaluate the impact of the change on your time.

    Also evaluate where you are in the different stages of your family life. If the children are young, you may be better off waiting a few more years until they’re teenagers to make the switch. Or if they are teenagers, you may want to wait until they graduate from high school.
    I know this concept of slowly climbing up or even getting off the ladder of success is a difficult one, especially for some men. In such cases, I always try to remind my clients what really counts for eternity.

    I must add a comment lest you think I’m leaving God out of this equation. What if God “calls” you to another vocation at what appears to be a wrong time? For example, when a new job would take you away from your children. Using 1 Corinthians 10:13 and 1 Thessalonians 5:24 as cornerstone passages, I’m convinced that God is faithful and will not call you to do something He won’t also give you the ability to handle. In this case, He will give you the ability and energy to stay balanced. It’s hard, however, to fathom God calling someone to a job that would dilute His ministry in people’s (and children’s) lives.
     
  4. Don’t be in a big hurry to retire and quit working. Extend your work horizon. One of the biggest obstacles to keeping work in balance is the “hurry up and retire” mentality. In our business, we’ve found that regardless of how much money a person has, in most cases, he will continue to work. Work is good, and it brings fulfillment (Genesis 2:5,15). Man was created by God to work, and if he doesn’t work he may be quite miserable. Many men grow bored quickly after they retire.

    You have your entire lifetime to work, and only 20 years to make the primary impact on your children. Therefore, earn your income slowly. Spread your earnings over a 40- to 50-year period. You don’t have to be a millionaire by the time you’re 40, nor do you need to retire at 55.

    One of the greatest causes of midlife crisis is that many men work so hard and go so fast they accomplish all their goals by the time they’re in their 40s. Then they wonder, “What’s next?” What’s next is what they forgot. They forgot to spend time with their kids and wife, and by then, in many cases, it’s too late.
     
  5. Only change vocations to better fulfill your purpose and maximize your time flexibility — not to make more money. As Solomon said, “He who loves silver will not be satisfied with silver; nor he who loves abundance, with increase. This also is vanity” (Ecclesiastes 5:10). A change in vocation will by necessity require a greater time commitment. You must invest time to learn the new job. This may be all right if the investment of additional time doesn’t last too long and will result in more time, flexibility, and options later. However, many individuals change vocations in pursuit of more money, only to find that the cost to the family wasn’t worth it. Also, making the change often takes so much emotional energy that the additional income isn’t worth the effort. We have only so much emotional energy. If we spend it all on job changes, we don’t have any left to apply to raising our children.

    This is not to say that no one should ever change vocations, but the costs need to be carefully weighed. It may be that you would be better off waiting and earning less income at the old job until your children are at an age where a job change wouldn’t be so disruptive to them by taking you away from them.

    A friend of mine decided to change jobs. Although his motive wasn’t more money, he underestimated the emotional cost. Not only were his financial pressures increased, but his time commitments increased as well. His wife needed to work because he was having trouble financially. This wouldn’t have been a significant problem if the children were older, but they needed mom and dad then — not in three to five years when less time and energy was demanded by the new job.

    I remember when I was teaching school right out of college and decided to change jobs. One of the teachers commented that I could make a change relatively easily at that point because I had no children, but that it would be harder if I were further down the vocational road. I didn’t know what he meant then, but I do now. It would have been difficult to spend the time necessary to start my financial-planning career if I had had young children. If I’d had children at the job change point, I might have been better off staying in the secure, lower-paying teaching job with less emotional and time pressures. This isn’t to discount following God’s call about changing jobs. It’s just that flexibility to meet other objectives needs to be a high consideration.
     
  6. If you are in a variable-time job, set your time parameters and do what you can do. Then trust God to do what you cannot do. If you’re a salesperson, specify a reasonable number of hours you’re going to devote to your work. Set an amount that will allow you to provide for your family’s needs and work hard during those hours. When those hours are up, stop working and spend time with your family.

    If you’re in an unavoidable situation that requires you to spend a large block of time at work, try to make up for current overtime through future extended and relaxed times with the family. As an example, I once had a really tough week. I had three out-of-town trips in seven days, including four nights away from home. However, since I knew this was coming, I planned to take some relaxed time with my family the week after the trip. I didn’t schedule any early-morning meetings so I could have breakfast with the kids and a cup of coffee with Julie.

    When work does get out of balance, make plans to bring it back into equilibrium. Put time with family in your business calendar just as you do your work appointments. Develop the good discipline of planning to build margin by coming home early or going in late a couple days a week.
     
  7. If you’re in a vocation that is currently generating sufficient income, be careful to evaluate additional time spent to earn more income, especially if your children are young. If you have the opportunity in your vocation to opt for less income or to freeze your income and get more free time when the demands of your family are the greatest, consider doing it. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking, I’ll work really hard now and make a lot of money, and then I’ll spend time with the children. Remember, the children’s first 10 years are the most critical. If you’re making enough now, the extra time may be more valuable than the extra money.

An article in Money magazine illustrated this point quite nicely. The author wrote, “Once you’ve reached a certain level of comfort, the return on extra earnings begins to diminish — particularly if the extra work erodes your quality of life…. You may be able to improve your life by reducing spending.” Here are practical ways to implement this observation:

  • Opt for a slower career path, and plan to work until you’re 70 or 75. Although some corporations aren’t concerned about family and may label you as disloyal if you take this option, there seems to be more and more flexibility on this front. In today’s economic environment, many companies are looking for creative ways to compensate employees other than with salary increases. Some of the ways they’re doing this are by offering flexible time schedules, alternative work schedules, and more vacation time and personal days. Don’t hesitate to negotiate with your employer.
     
  • If you’re the boss, consider reducing your income so you can hire someone to free up some of your time. For example, a friend of mine didn’t need the six-figure income he was making, so I suggested he use the extra income to hire some help. He did it and had more time with his children at a very strategic time in their development.
     
  • As a trade-off, opt for more vacation time instead of salary increases. Some Fortune 500 companies allow employees to elect “vacation days” as part of their benefits package. The employee “buys” these days through reduced salary.
     
  • Offer to work four-day weeks rather than five for 80 percent of your current salary.
     
  • Offer to work 6- or 7-hour days versus the traditional 8- to 10-hour days for less salary.

Of course, to successfully implement this observation, it’s important to make good financial decisions and control your lifestyle so you don’t need to earn more and more money.

Balance is the key

No good comes from overworking, especially when the cost of the overwork is the family. We Christians should be at the forefront of the movement to balance life and integrate meaning into our lives.

We must be prepared to handle the peer pressure of the world and even of some well-meaning Christians who will not understand us. “Why,” they will wonder, “are you slowing down your climb up the ladder? Why didn’t you take that job with more income? Why do you drive that old car and live in a smaller house?” The answer is that we look to the end of our lives and realize we must make the tough decisions now.