If you’re like us, there is one primary obstacle to accomplishing everything we’d like to accomplish: that pesky calendar, which provides just 365 24-hour days each year. It’s nothing personal, really. God gives the same amount of time to each of us on a daily basis and commands us to redeem it.
How we do that is an individual matter. You’ve probably accepted the limitations of time and, for most, the demands of family – not to mention money, health and other circumstances – require you to make choices, and that your happiness depends on the quality of those choices.
If you’re a narcissist, however, you don’t have to accept anything. And believe it or not, there are employers who indulge such folks. We found an interesting example last week that got us to thinking about how the world sees balance, and how Christians might offer God’s insight into the matter.
The narcissist in question is Anne-Marie Slaughter, a tenured professor at Princeton University who recently served as a senior official in the Department of State in Washington. She’s also the mother of two teenage sons, and the tension between her career and her family life hastened her return to academia. Her thoughts on the subject are covered at great length in an article in the current issue of The Atlantic, “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All.” It’s been worth the magazine’s while to publish the article; traffic on its website apparently has hit record levels. But we wonder whether the majority of Atlantic readers are cheering the author on or wishing she’d grow up.
Essentially Professor Slaughter’s point – and she takes a long time getting to it – is, “Waaaah! I want a great job and a functional family, but it’s hard! Why does it have to be so hard? Someone make it easier for me, now!” Trust us, we just saved you the hour it would take you to read the article.
What the professor doesn’t seem to understand is that life is hard for just about everyone, whether we make good choices or not. A job with a lot of responsibility requires long hours at the office and, usually, time at home as well. Marriage brings another life role; no matter how well it works, being married is first and foremost an investment of time in someone else. The best-behaved and healthiest children will complicate things considerably. Throw in the variables of volunteer work an aging parents and it’s just about impossible to keep all the plates spinning. Even the most accommodating employers will, at some point, require that your work output be worth at least as much as they have invested in you, no matter who or what else places claims on your time.
We’d also agree with David French, writing in National Review Online, that very few of us hold jobs that are truly vital to society. When we choose to have children we assume great influence over a small number of lives. And the vast majority of jobs, at best, let us exert minimal influence over a large number of lives. The question, we agree with French, is whether we will allow ourselves to neglect our children to engage in work that is personally fulfilling but, in the grand scheme of things, not very important.
The conflicting demands of work and family have contributed to the end of more than a few marriages and innumerable health problems. But it seems to us that it doesn’t have to be that way. The world says women (and men, who rarely have any choice about where to prioritize their time) need to have it all. But when was the last time the world’s system ultimately worked?
What most high-powered career people we’ve encountered don’t seem to understand – and Christians should understand, but don’t – is that there is an even higher priority we are all called to serve: building the Kingdom of God here on earth. Some of us will do so by earning a good living and contributing financially. Some of us will do so by raising godly sons and daughters. But all of us are given a divine assignment by a God who knows what we are capable of and how we are equipped to handle our responsibilities.
The demands of work and family can be overwhelming at times, especially when we decide to take control over our own lives. But we serve a Savior who invites us, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30, ESV).
Ann-Marie Slaughter doesn’t need her employer or the government to make it easier for her to “have it all.” She needs to listen to the One who can lead her to a more fulfilling life than she has imagined. But don’t be too hard on her; lots of people sitting in the same sanctuary you do on Sunday morning need to learn the same lesson.