What I’ve Learned about Family

I’ve reflected recently on discussions from the ATS seminar in Chicago for new faculty, blogging on various challenges new professors face and for which they’re largely ill-prepared.

One thing I haven’t mentioned, but one that I’ve given more thought to than any other is the relation of my career to my family.

I’ve thought about this dynamic constantly over the last year or so, mainly because things have changed with our kids getting older and now heading off to college. And a great conversation last weekend with two good friends indicated to me that this issue’s signal importance is completely out of proportion to the attention given to it.

People in every career need to face this and likely encounter different pressures. But here are just a few thoughts from my situation and I’d love to hear from others, too:

  • I need to keep in mind that what I do (biblical studies) is the discovery, analysis, and embodiment of the dynamics of the Kingdom of God revealed in Scripture. I reflect on how individuals and communities can flourish under the reign of the Lord Jesus and develop strategies for drawing upon God’s own life by the Spirit. I can never, then, imagine that my responsibilities to my family are in competition with my career goals. Rather, I must be enacting these dynamics in my own life and participating in them along with my family, seeking our common flourishing.
  • I need to be vigilant about my desires, knowing that my heart (like everyone else’s) is an idol factory. The particulars of my career (improving my teaching, furthering my publication goals, giving papers at conferences, achieving tenure and promotion, etc.) are goods in themselves. I need to be watchful, however, about my tendency to establish my identity or personal value based on these things. If these are no longer vocational activities that I enjoy but must do in order to feel significant, then they become idolscruel taskmasters that prevent my flourishing and my being a life-giving agent to those nearest to me.
  • I said previously that I’m the only person who will guard my research and writing time. There are many and varied pressures trying to take up my time and no one else will protect it but me. In the same way, it’s my responsibility to give myself fully to my family and to protect the time devoted to them. In fact, it may be that the biggest pressure I need to resist is my own tendency to be distracted and my temptation to seek significance in other activities and other spheres. The commendation for a publication or a class or some other public service must be regarded as infinitely insignificant when it comes to my personal value. What is of incalculable significance, however, are the efforts taken to enjoy conversation with my wife, to give sustained attention to my kids, and to otherwise creatively develop relational postures and family patterns that generate life-giving dynamics because of the sustaining power and presence of God in Christ by the Spirit.
  • I’ve spoken to my father and my father-in-law about these things and they’ve both said that no one ever says on their death-bed, “I wish I would’ve worked more.” In the same way, I’m confident that I won’t say, “I wish I would’ve published one more journal article.” We know in theory that our careers pale in significance to our families. It’s up to us, however, to embody that conviction with intentional practices and purposeful patterns of family life.

There are many anecdotes and stories behind what I’ve learned over the last few years, but I’ll keep those to myself. We’re enjoying a wonderful season of flourishing these days and that’s mostly due to the grace of God and the sustained attention we’ve given to the things that matter most.


2 thoughts on “What I’ve Learned about Family

  1. Tim Cole

    Another worthwhile post, Professor. Thanks for a mid-stream perspective on vocation/ministry and family. You are spot-on. Stay on such a course. You will not regret it.

    My own perspective is rear-view mirror oriented. Two words communicate: mulch and much.

    Career and professional accomplishments are like the autumn leaves in Michigan: captivating to the eye for a week or so, the red and orange leaves soliciting ooh’s and aah’s. But just as quickly, they fade away and then fall to the ground only to be mulched. No lasting meaning or satisfaction.

    But children are a much different story.

    We have three grown sons: But two examples will suffice to bring much credibility to your point: Our oldest son is a Congressional Attorney charged with investigating the National Security Agency. He loves God and his neighbors. Our middle son is pursuing a Ph.D. at U. of Edinburgh and will be reading a paper at SBL later this month in Baltimore. He, too, loves God and his neighbors.

    My wife and my response? Well, words fail us both. Much satisfaction. No mulch. Our early values and priorities in parenting -from the perspective of the rear-view mirror–are much confirmed.

    My ministry or professional accomplishments? Only mulch for the bushes.

    Psalm 127; 2 John 4; 3 John 3-4

    May Christ grant you and your family His abundant favor.

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