670394I gave her full marks for her honesty. When the CEO of a Multi National Company was interviewed, this is what she said about work-life balance. (She is a mother of two.)

The fact is there are certain times in your career when your family will have to take the back seat,” she said. …a career woman needed to have “super discipline” to strike a balance and that rarely happened in real life. As long as you know your family is paying the price, don’t moan over it and try to offset your absence with money or expensive stuffs,” she said.

Let me say up front that this is not a woman issue. Children, for example, need both fathers and mothers. Indeed it may very will be the fact that the CEO was a woman that the work-life balance question came up at all. The interviewer may not have even raised the issue if it had been a man.

I also credit her for acting intentionally. She knew what the costs were for herself and for her family, and she had made her choices. Many would have ended up doing exactly the same thing blindly, going with the flow, unthinking.

But is the balanced life really an unachievable ideal meant only for a few super disciplined people? For most of us it certainly feels that way. Everyday we are torn by demands from all quarters and feel, well, quartered.

Every once in awhile we make a fresh resolution to live a more balanced life. Such resolutions usually last until the next crisis at work or at home.

Time management seminars only add to the guilt. Time management gurus at expensive seminars hold before us the holy grail of the balanced life. They teach us how to find that grail. We leave such seminars energized and hopeful. Until our next crisis at work or at home.

In a lead article in FAST COMPANY (October 2004), Keith H. Hammonds, deputy editor, tells us to forget about the balanced life. He says:

“The truth is, balance is a bunk. It is an unattainable pipe dream, a vain artifice that offers mostly rhetorical solutions to problems of logistics and economics. The quest for balance between work and life, as we’ve come to think of it, isn’t just a losing proposition; it’s a hurtful, destructive one.”

He goes on to say that:

“Life is about setting priorities and and making trade-offs; that’s what grown ups do. But in our all-or-nothing culture, resorting to those sorts of decisions is too often seen as a kind of failure. Seeking balance, we strive for achievement everywhere, all the time — and we feel guilty and stressed out when, inevitably, we fall short.”

I like a lot of what Hammonds says. Indeed, if a balanced life means having it all, it sounds more like a desire to be god-like, living without limits, than a desire to work towards a biblical understanding of shalom.

But what Hammonds seem to go on to say is that since a balanced life is a myth, let’s live an unbalanced life and ditch the guilt. He goes on to point out that there are happy workaholics out there whose lives are totally unbalanced and that is perfectly acceptable as long as they are happy.

I am sure Hammond would applaud the CEO mentioned earlier, who had also given up any attempt to live a balanced life. For her, as for many others, work came first. Family can and indeed should be neglected at this chapter in their lives.

What is a Christian to say about Mr. Hammonds’ analysis about the balanced life?

For one, I found that Mr. Hammonds doesn’t seem to work out of any sense of a commitment to authoritative revealed truth. If he is a Christian, he doesn’t show it. For him, humankind is finally answerable to no one but themselves.

Yes a balanced life is unattainable but it is up to you to decide what areas of life you want to neglect at any point of our life. You are the boss of your own life. You decide and there is no need to feel guilty about whatever or whoever you are neglecting.

(I guess we can’t completely get rid of guilt since even the CEO interviewed felt the need to compensate her children for her neglect with ” money and expensive stuffs.”)

Well, if a balanced life is unattainable, what is a Christian to do? I suggest that instead of chasing some impossible balanced life, we work towards living a responsible life.

In the book of Ephesians, Paul talks about the various responsibilities of a Christian.

*Towards the church (4:11-16) *Towards spouses (5:22-33) *Towards parents (6:1-3) *Towards children (6:4) *Towards masters/bosses? (6:5-8) *Towards slaves/subordinates? (6:9)

I know it is difficult to translate ethical injunctions from Paul’s time to ours and I am sure the list is not meant to be exhaustive. For example, we also have responsibilities to our friends, to our country, to the environment, etc., But Paul’s approach is clear. Life in Christ is defined by a number of key roles and the responsibilities that come with those roles.

Therefore, as I seek to live a responsible life, I will first list down all the key roles in my life. (Stephen R Covey suggests that we have a maximum of seven key roles.) As I look towards a coming week, I ask myself, what are some things I need to do for each of my key roles, for me to continue to be a responsible person accountable to God?

For example, in this coming week, as a father, what are some things I need to be doing with my boys to qualify as a responsible father? As a responsible son to my widowed mother, are there some things I need to do? As a responsible teacher and writer for God, what do I have to do this week?

This was how some of the questions were answered this week. No. 2 son was down with a fever. I had to get him from school, take him to the doctor, sit up with him, pray for him. No.1 son had just started his university studies. I grabbed him for a quick chat about how he might want to manage his time now that he was starting university.

I called my mum in Penang as I normally do every Monday evening. I noted that her cough was still bad and that she had had it for more than a month. I nagged her about getting an x-ray.

I did some writing for my Doctor of Ministry final project. And then there were two sermons to prepare for. And this ecommentary to write.

Was it a balanced week? No. There were a number of people I needed to call. I didn’t. There were a number of emails I should have replied. I didn’t. And I didn’t get to enjoy the new DVD player that a good friend had given us. I didn’t do many other things I should have done.

I take it that there will be no perfection this side of heaven. So I try not to feel guilty that there were a number of things I had neglected. But I had tried to live responsibly.

The quest to live responsibly can be sabotaged by perfectionism as well as by sloth. I take it as a given that some weeks will be better than others. As in many things, learning to live a responsible life will be a life long journey of growth in wisdom. And we will need the help of others.

Still, desiring to live a responsible life sure feels much better than say, ignoring my boys for six months while I try to finish my final project. That would be plain irresponsible.

It would be irresponsible to seek to be perfect in the performance of any one role (work? church?) to the total neglect of my other roles. Such irresponsibility is no expression of the Spirit filled life (Ephesians 5:18).

God wants us to live better. He wants us to be responsible.

Your brother, Soo-Inn Tan