I Feel Torn Among the Demands of My Family, Work, and Church. How Can I Find a Balance in Using My Time Wisely?

I feel torn among the demands of my family, work, and church. A couple of times I've been asked to serve as elder and said no because I’m already busy. But I also feel guilty because others in similar situations have said yes. How can I find a balance in using my time wisely?

Ah, for a magic formula into which you could plug your distinctive set of circumstances—gifts, abilities, obligations, and opportunities—and out would pop the things to which you should say “yes” and those you should decline! But no such formula exists. It is a matter of discernment, best achieved in conversation with people whose insights you value and those affected by your decisions.

We have more potential callings than our time and energy allow: vocational/occupational, educational, civic, familial, and so on. Some of these, such as parenting, can’t be set aside or compromised. They are nonnegotiable commitments.

As for the others, we need to listen to the promptings of heart, mind, and community as well as to echoes from prayer. It’s difficult not to have guilt or social pressure play a role. But allowing these to be the determining factor in our decisions can lead to other forms of guilt as well as burnout.

Three suggestions to consider: First, pay close attention to the ebb and flow of anticipated responsibilities. These change from year to year, even during children’s school-age years. There may be a window of opportunity for a period of leadership service. Second, consider sharing a leadership position with someone in a similar situation. Especially if work demands ebb and flow (for example, a tax accountant or a seasonal worker), pairing with someone who can cover during busy times may allow you both to serve without overburden.

Finally, creative scheduling of meetings or other responsibilities might make it possible to carry out the tasks you are gifted for in a way that creates less conflict with work or family demands. Church leadership, if open to nontraditional meeting times and methods of meeting responsibilities, can support this as a possibility.

About the Author

Rolf Bouma is an ordained pastor in the Christian Reformed Church who teaches religion, ethics, and ecology in the Program in the Environment at the University of Michigan.

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