My husband works a demanding sales job in which he is compensated only with commission, and I stay at home with three small children. He misses dinner most weeknights, and if he isn’t gone on appointments on Saturday, he’s sometimes working from home “finishing up” for the week. Once or twice a week, he stays up until 3 a.m. to get everything done. While we practice a Sunday sabbath, it involves my husband collapsing on the couch after church.

We’d both love to hit the brakes and have him be home and more present, but it has proven challenging. We also want to glorify God and thrive in the circumstances he’s given us. How do we know, then, how much work is too much?

Work is a gift, but the toil of the stressful demands and long hours of post-fall work is a curse.

When God placed Adam in the garden so that he might work and keep it (Gen. 2:15), there were no thorns or thistles. Work was a joy and a blessing. Yet the ground Adam was called to cultivate revolted against him as a result of the curse given in Genesis 3:17–19. He would work by the sweat of his brow; it would be difficult and exhausting.

Though agriculture may not be our trade, frustrated sweat is the norm this side of eternity. So how can we find our way forward?

Placing Fences Where God Has Placed Freedom

Although Scripture doesn’t set a hard-and-fast rule of mandated work hours, or specify which particular vocations Christians should have, it is sufficient to guide us. The Holy Spirit works to illumine his Word and moves us to walk in a manner worthy of Christ’s calling.

What we do—and how much we do of it—must account for the attitudes, motives, and rhythms we find in God’s Word. If the focus of the long work hours are so that we may provide for the needs of our families and serve as unto the Lord (Col. 3:23–24), then we should work diligently within the appropriate boundaries God has given his image-bearers. If we focus on achieving a particular status or power, that is sinful striving. Long and grueling work can be done with Christlike joy; meanwhile, light work can be approached with curmudgeonly drudgery.

It sounds like your husband is putting in long hours for a good reason—to provide for your family—but that you’re all feeling things have gotten out of balance.

We are not promised easy work, vacations, or normal hours, but we are responsible for the way in which we steward our lives—stealing time or effort neither from our employers nor from our families.

Practical Steps Toward Wise Stewardship

To evaluate if a change should be made, it’d be wise to sit down with your husband and evaluate how your family is doing in several categories, including spiritual and physical health, marriage, family, and church involvement. While each family’s tolerance for such challenges differs, when absence results in neglecting your marriage, the emotional instability of your children, or failing to love and serve your church and neighbors, it’s time to reconsider how your family’s needs could be met in other ways.

For the Christian father, the key indicator of danger is an inability to lead the family spiritually by being an example of godly living, praying with and for them, and reading Scripture together. We will be held accountable for this responsibility; its importance cannot be overstated.

Evaluate how your family is doing in several categories, including spiritual and physical health, marriage, family, and church involvement.

For the family members of the worker, the red flags may be a little less overt, but still unhealthy. Often, behavioral problems at home or school may be the first sign of a needed change for the kids, while lack of communication and growing bitterness may be the first sign for the spouse. If these are beginning to appear within your home, it may be time to re-evaluate needs and budgetary constraints so that you may seek other employment, even if that means a lesser income. We must not forsake our most important assignments to succeed in a lesser one.

Once you’ve identified areas that may be suffering, consider four things:

  1. Don’t immediately jump to an extreme. Pursuing wiser stewardship doesn’t mean a new job is a necessity. It could mean renegotiating with your current place of employment, enduring a difficult season with a Christlike attitude, or exploring new opportunities. There is much freedom when it comes to a Christian choosing a particular job or vocation. Consider adjustments or potential solutions that could be more easily implemented, and try those first.
  2. Trust God’s provision to meet your family’s needs. God will do what he’s said he will do. He will take care of you. It may not look like you want it to, but he will.
  3. Seek wise counsel within the church. Talk to a trusted elder or friends who understand the situation, your commitment to Christ, and your responsibilities within your family.
  4. Most importantly, spend time as a family praying and reading his Word. Pray especially for your husband, that he would discern a wise way forward, and for yourself, that you would be both patient and also able to gently call for needed change.

No matter our job, hours, or stress level induced by our work, we are first God’s, seeking to obey him in all arenas of life, making the wisest decisions in light of what we know to be true about him and his Word. May we wisely steward the life, the people, the skills, and the time he has given for his glory.

Editors’ note: 

TGC’s “Thorns & Thistles” column seeks to apply wisdom with practical advice about faith, work, and economics. If you have a question on how to think about and practice your work in a way that honors God, let us know at [email protected].

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