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].
Should I prioritize family over work? My quality of work suffers, but my spouse and kids rely on me.
I understand the tension here. I’ve felt it myself. In fact, about 10 years ago, I got tired of the tension and finally landed on what I was certain would honor God the most: God first, family second, and work third. (These were even listed on our ministry website when we first launched.)
And while I wouldn’t say I disagree with that order now, here’s what I’ve learned: whenever I try to seek the Lord and anything else (family included!), chaos follows—and quickly.
If you try to prioritize loving God, being a good spouse and present parent, and finding fulfillment in your career, you’ll quickly find anxiety and discontentment.
My colleague Somer Phoebus and I shared what happens next in She Works His Way: A Practical Guide for Doing What Matters Most in a Get-Things-Done World: “To escape those feelings, you’ll try to work harder, do more, and be better in all the ways the world tells you to because that is the promise culture makes us: More self-care, self-study, ambition, and all the good vibes you can muster up will bring you the happiness you desire, the success you deserve, and the balance you’re desperate for.”
But the world never delivers what it promises, does it?
Jesus put it this way: “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matt. 6:33).
Simple, Not Easy
I get it if it sounds too simple. It is simple—but that shouldn’t be confused with easy.
Whenever I try to seek the Lord and anything else (family included!), chaos follows—and quickly.
I’ve seen it over and over: When I’m at my best as a wife, God is first. When I’m experiencing the most joy in motherhood, God is first. When I’m content in my work and seeing God do more than I can ask or imagine, God is first.
But anytime I try to strike just the right balance, I’ve overstepped God’s role in my life—because lordship means I’m not in charge anymore. Following Jesus means I’ve given him dominion over every area of my life. My faith should be activated even in the simple, everyday parts of life, like family and work.
And when I put him in his rightful place, my family and work are no longer in competition. Everything I do is an overflow of what God is doing in me—instead of me attempting to micromanage my every step.
You don’t have to figure out the juggle between family and work. You simply need to keep God first, and he’ll order everything else.
I love practical steps, though, so here are two to keep in mind.
1. Recognize the lifetime assignments God has given you.
Work is often defined in two categories: part-time and full-time. But there’s also a third category: lifetime. Family is a lifetime assignment, and the role you have is an exclusive one God has just for you.
When I’m at my best as a wife, God is first. When I’m experiencing the most joy in motherhood, God is first. When I’m content in my work and seeing God do more than I can ask or imagine, God is first.
I’m all for you capitalizing on the gospel opportunity at work. Go all in! But I also don’t want you to get entangled in the lie that climbing the corporate ladder is always the most meaningful way for you to increase the influence God has given you in your earthly life.
If you’re married, God chose you for your spouse. You’re the only one he entrusted with that assignment. Same for your kids. He chose you alone as their mom or dad. You don’t need a fancy corner office to be “chosen.” God has already given you an exclusive assignment at home. See it that way, and ask him for the wisdom and courage you need to obey him in those important roles.
2. God is the provider for you and your family.
To be clear, providing financially for your family is good—in fact, it’s a biblical imperative (1 Tim. 5:8). To that end, giving your best effort at work is not only a biblical command (Col. 3:23-24) but it is a crucial way you are loving your family, especially if you are the primary breadwinner.
In your situation, it would be wise for you to sit down with your spouse to pray and think together about the way you can best use your time. Are there other ways your spouse and kids can get the support they need? Are there ways you can be more efficient with your tasks? Could you seek help from your extended family, friends, or church community?
Through those conversations, remember this: You are not your provider. God is.
In Matthew, Jesus uses the examples of how God feeds the birds of the air and clothes the lilies of the field, acknowledging how God takes care of them, and he reminds his disciples, “Are you not of more value than they?” (Matt. 6:26–34).
In the same way, God delights to provide for you. It may be in the form of flexible work hours, increased stamina, or a mother’s helper. Or it may be a raise at work, a supportive church community, or multitasking. Trust that he knows what you need before you even ask (Matt. 6:8) and that he will supply every need “according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:19).