South African Pastor Seeks Work and Family Balance

When Work and Family Collide, who Suffers?

By Gideon Mpeni, Pastor at Florida Baptist Church, South Africa

On the beautiful African sunrise, men and women get up at the crack of dawn, in our villages, from the sound of the cock in the morning, birds chirp and men whistle while carrying hoes on their shoulders. As they get to their farms, or in our cities, where the streets are full of mini buses, well-known as taxis in our South African context, the hooting from trains and cars, everyone looking all geared up to do nothing but work, in whatever capacity this is done, we see all men and women rising up to plow their vocational fields in order to produce a crop.

Presidents lead companies, homemakers manage households. Some love what they do, and others dream of something better. Whether reluctantly or zealously, many get up each day and work. Some have to travel just a few minutes from their loved ones and spend long hours at work, while others commute for hours to work and spend as much time there. Still others have to travel from one province, country, even continent, for days and spend months and years away from their families to be the bread winners that will support and sustain their loved ones.

An important question we must ask however is this; how can we be successful without sacrificing our relationships with those closest to us? Further still, how can one be a successful provider or bread-winner without neglecting his responsibility as a parent to his children and a husband to his wife?

The tension lies here and in this article my focus will be on the husband in a family who is constantly faced with these pressures, but the principles may also be applicable to the wives.

A Biblical Basis of Work and Family

When we look at this issue from a Biblical basis, one cannot escape the reality that we were created to work even before the fall (Genesis 2:15) and that ever since then, work has been a big part of our daily lives.

Marriage likewise was meant to be a perfect union between one man and one woman. Man was made by God and was given a mandate to manage and rule over creation (Genesis 1:26-28) and was placed “in the garden of Eden to work it and watch over it.” (Genesis 2:15 HCSB) and the woman was formed because man needed a helper as his complement.  

In God’s original plan, there was no conflict between work and family. But when sin entered the world, conflict was introduced into both environments. Man would henceforth struggle at work (Genesis 3:17-19), women would feel the pain of childbirth (Genesis 3:16), and men and women would struggle in their relationships with one another.

Looking at it from this side of Eden, you begin to see the conflict and struggles that exist between work and family, where one is perceived to be treasured or valued at the expense of the other, to the extent that we see many families falling apart, marital infidelity, children growing up with a single authority figure in the home or no authority figure at all, in cases where both parents are making ends meet.

You may rightly at this juncture ask, “How then do we strike the balance?” I believe that for leaders, professionals in all industries, pastors, teachers, homemakers, and parents, the issue is the same– we have a critical need to bring balance to our lives.

As a father of one and a husband, I have also struggled in this area and my attempt is not to give you a one-size-fit-all response to this question.

I would love us to consider what is the meaning of the word “husband” and the implications of that, then consider what the Bible has to say about our roles, then look at how we can allow our work to jeopardize the very family we presumably working for. The real challenging question we must ask ourselves is, how can we be achieving our goals outside the home when faced with the crucial task of partnering and parenting at home?

The general understanding of the term “husband” is a married man considered in relation to his spouse. But when you begin to uncover the meaning of this term, you will see that it is more of an action-oriented term than just a status or title. It has synonyms that include, to use economically, use sparingly, economize on, be frugal with, manage thriftily, conserve, preserve, save, safeguard, save for a rainy day, put aside, put by, lay in reserve, store and stockpile.

All these meanings have an implication that one who is to carry out these duties effectively is present, not absent, eliminating the common presupposition that one can execute his duties though he is away from his family.  

I would like to examine the biblical roles of a “husband” in their homes and how this can be affected if one’s focus is primarily on the role of provision. In Genesis 2:24, we see that this is why a man leaves his father and mother and bonds with his wife, and they become one flesh.

The current norms of work do violate this passage in this way– when you choose to move away from the person that you once had committed to be knitted to, through the bonds of holy matrimony, you willingly were able to “leave your father and mother” to become one flesh; but now in search of provision, you make another step but this time around, you “leave your wife and children” for work, and the logical progression is that your “oneness” is affected and you end up being disintegrated.

This disintegration opens such a husband to sexual temptations or sexual immorality, which is so common. In fact, it was because of this, among many reasons, that you decided to get married even as the Apostle Paul admonishes us that “each man should have his own wife, and each woman should have her own husband.” (1 Corinthians7:2).

Sexual temptation is a real struggle that a man will constantly face, even as it has been confessed by one of our church members, who is here in South Africa for work, but his wife and family is in Malawi. He points out that being accountable and knitted to a local church has been of great help to him and his work schedules enables him not to ponder his mind on that.

But still this a real struggle that ends up breaking the bonds of marriage. You cannot escape from the reality that a partner who is away from his wife or husband, is unable to fulfill his marital responsibility to his wife, and likewise a wife to her husband, and such depriving one another sexually, there by opening the relationship to Satanic temptation because of your lack of self-control (1 Corinthians 7:3,5).

Here is a description of such an incident–“Mr. Katswiri” (Malawian Chichewa name which means, The Experienced One) comes to South Africa in search of good perks while his wife and family are on the other side of Zambezi River. He decides to reside in a township where he then meets a South African girl “Amanhle” (Zulu name for The Beautiful One, The Prettiest, The Finest.). Forgetting the family back home, Katswiri falls prey to the seduction of Amanhle to the point that he starts an adulterous union, and he forgets the very purpose he came–to support the family– and hardly communicates with his wife “Odekha” (The Patient One), even to the point of no return.

This uncovers the reality that it will require Godly wisdom and obedience in order for one to be able to achieve his goals outside the home as he is faced with the crucial task of partnering and parenting at home. Whether in the city or village, we must ask ourselves the question, “How can we be successful without sacrificing our relationships with those closest to us?”

Living with Your Wife as a Co-heir of the Grace of Life

As seen in the passages above, scripture mandates and implies that a husband is to live with his wife, while complementing each other to the God-given task for that family, or meeting the marital responsibilities.

To sum up that point, as a husband, you are mandated to “live with your wives” with an understanding of their weaker natureyet showing them honor as co-heirs of the grace of life, so that “your prayers will not be hindered” (1 Peter 3:7). The living with your wife here negates all manner of abiding somewhere else far from your wife, whether physically or mentally.

In Paul’s words to Timothy, it is expected of both elders and deacons that they “must be husbands of one wife, managing their children and their own households competently.” (1 Timothy 3:12). I will go on to argue that although this is talking of these two groups in the church, it implies that this should be a standard by which every Christian husband is to be measured on. The ramifications are that one cannot be an effective husband to his wife in absentia, or even be able to manage his children and household by correspondence. He is expected to execute his role in his household “completely“.

What Price are you Willing to Pay?

In the words of Jesus Christ concerning eternal life, he asked a profound heart-searching question to those who pursue worldly treasures at the expense of their own souls. He asked, “What will it benefit a man, if he gains the whole world and loses his own soul, or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Mark 8).

I would contend that family is vital to any man and it must be said, using that principle of Christ, that a godly man who makes choices in his own life will endeavor to never sacrifice his family for success. If he wins the world but loses his family, what has he gained?

Sadly, although we rise on the corporate ladders, something has to give and it’s often the family that gives.The sad reality is that while each of the promotions takes the family a step closer to reaching their financial goals, everyone of the steps on that ladder takes one away from that same family that he or she is making strides for. Each of them will also demand more of our time as well–time that a husband and wife know belongs to their beloved family, including the kids.

Here are some of the key realities you must remember as you chase after the well-being and financial sustainability of your family.

  1. Do not be obsessed with your provisional role.

As the husband, you find yourself chasing after the fortunes, the wife might be perceived as embracing her role with the same tenacity you are exhibiting in the marketplace. She might be seen as committed to being a team player. She might not always like the hand she is dealing with, but she accepts it and does the best she can. She holds down the Homefront while you work to build a bright future for the family. But there is always the frustration, the loneliness, and at times, the anger. Your roles of protecting, managing, leading, parenting and fulfilling her sexual needs cannot be executed in your absence. You are more than just a provider, you are a husband.

  • Your family sees your actions, not your heart.

The conflict here is that we want to provide for our families, so that we give them protection or security for the present and the future, and any man will tell you that this is done out of love. But as is common, good intentions are not always good enough. You might profess to loving your family with your mouth and in your heart, but you don’t love them in your schedule. And they can’t see your heart. Whenever you compromise the interests of a family member in order to fill gaps somewhere else, you shuffle your priorities.

  • Don’t take your wife’s loyalty for granted.

Our family’s willingness to carry out the responsibilities for us is born out of their desire to please us. Part of their reason for wanting to please us is that in pleasing us, they hope to gain what they value most, and that is our acceptance. They say “yes” with the hopes that their sacrifices will result in a deeper sense of appreciation and love. Their hope is that if they please us, we will find them even more acceptable. Taking “compensating for our busyness, putting up with our absence” is a way to capture and maintain our affection and loyalty.

Your wife may seem so loyal, but you husband with the realities of temptation and work schedule, there is not one ounce of loyalty from you. The loyalty that was intended for a loved one gets displaced and given to someone else. However small, it increases the emotional load they must carry. It may not seem like a big deal. But it sends the message, you’re important but right now something else is more important.

When we take advantage of their willingness to support our dysfunctional schedules and mis-prioritization, we send a message of rejection. When you take loyalty that belongs to your family and give it to someone else (your boss, manager, supervisor, coworkers, potential clients, investors, or even that girlfriend Amanhle), family members don’t feel your loyalty.

What you’ll see in all this is that its the family that loses in this collision and the damages caused cannot be repaired by the monies accumulated or the time spent on other endeavors. In so doing, one denies themselves of a God-given opportunity to be a blessing and to invest an eternal and godly heritage of faith to the upcoming generation.

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