Too Busy to Play?

“Everyday I can’t finish my work so I have to bring it home,” a young pastor named Eric shared in our group. “But my four-year old son wants to play with me. Most of the time I have to tell him no. I’m just too busy.”

“Thank you for your courage to be vulnerable with us,” I smiled. “In your heart you want to set more limits on your work and to save generous amounts of time and energy for your family — that’s why you’ve shared with us.”

All of us in the circle of pastors and leaders listened with understanding. We could relate. We felt for this pastor and his son and were honored to pray for him.

I could relate to Eric. As a young father there were too many times that I was too busy to play.

One example was when we had two pre-schoolers and I was writing books while holding down two jobs with high responsibility. This left our kids disappointed and was quite stressful for Kristi. It took a series of conversations with her tears, frustrations, and strong feedback to wake me up. Then I said no to writing a third book to make more space to hang out and be emotionally present with our little children.

Part of me died when I set that boundary because I stopped using my gifts as a writer and speaker. I stepped out of the spotlight with fans and onto the floor with my kids. I needed to grieve. But I soon discovered that dying to my ambition and ego gave the relational side of me more space to flourish and I was more alive and joyful.

I was so gratified when our son, the oldest and three-years old at the time, started calling our family room “the happy room” because that’s where we played blocks, legos, and all sorts of fun games together. We all loved to get down on the carpet, roll around, cuddle, and play.

I said to the young pastor and father, “My children are adults now. They don’t come running to the door when I come home from work anymore. I sure don’t regret any of the limits I set on my work to make more time for my family.”

Like most of us who are busy, this pastor thought he had to work so hard to accomplish all of his work. But I knew his Senior Pastor and he put top priority on family and was not riding herd on his staff. He would not want Eric taking work home at night and being too busy to play with his children. God certainly wasn’t expecting that.

When we overwork we think we “have to work that hard,” or “it’s just a season,” or “I’m providing a better life for my family.” But most of all, our family wants our attention and best energies. Overworking is usually something we do for emotional reasons like to boost self-esteem, cope with anxiety, or avoid conflict or disappointment at home.

In group we affirmed Eric for sharing and asking for prayer. He wasn’t making the mistake that so many Christian leaders and caregivers fall into of flying solo and being too busy to pray or too busy to play with his children.

After group he and another pastor in the group began meeting monthly as soul friends to support each other with empathy and encouragement to maintain healthy limits on their ministry work in order to give time and energy to their intimacy with God, soul care, and family.

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Listen to this week’s SoulTalk: “The Unbusy Person” Workaholism and people-pleasing are well-worn paths that inevitably lead to burnout. Jesus offers a different way! Being overly busy steals your peace and joy, and affects those around you. But following Jesus’ way of working brings renewed peace and strength even in the midst of hard things.

Bill & Kristi extend an invitation to live “unbusy” and “learn the unforced rhythms of grace” (Mt. 11:28-30 MSG) Jesus demonstrated in his life and ministry.

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