When Family Pressures Threaten Your Ministry
It took a crisis in our home to make me stop and wake me up to reality
“Does your family demonstrate a spirit of peace?” I heard the preacher say. “No!” I yelled inside myself. Little did anyone know, our family was in a state of crisis. Our oldest son’s behavior was getting worse every day; he was finally diagnosed with oppositional defiant disorder, ADHD, and depression; and our three-year-old was picking up on our older son’s negative behavior and attitude. Having the diagnosis was a relief, but we still had no idea how to deal with our son’s mental state and bring love and peace back to our home. Our marriage was suffering as a result of exhaustion in dealing with it all. To say our home was void of peace would be an understatement. It was in shambles.
All of this was happening while I would be traveling to speak at various conferences and events, writing articles, and producing shows in my city on social justice issues. Projects that usually would energize me were exhausting me of all I had, leaving me wanting to avoid family issues when at home.
There’s a great ending to this story. Let me tell you how God is restoring peace back to our home. I wouldn’t want to give the impression that we have it all together at present. We are still very much in this even as I write, but I have a whole new perspective and action plan that have put us on a path back to health.
Questioning Our Ministry Culture
Here's the problem: how do you know when you need to focus on your family’s health? How do you balance ministry tasks with family? What are the signs you can respond to before it gets out of hand? In my situation, it was obvious we needed to regroup when our son’s behavior started to spiral downward, but it’s not always clear.
Upon discovering our son’s mental issue, I started reading all I could about it. Through my readings, I discovered an interesting thread running through them: our children’s need for connection and the disconnect we create through busy lives. I could relate instantly with this.
Now if you ask me if I make time for my kids on a regular basis, I would say, “Yes, of course!” I’m a “doer,” so connecting with my kids usually includes “doing” something: an activity I have chosen like visiting the homeless, going to a play place so they can burn off energy, or going on some outing. I realized the connection time was rarely led by them. In the book The Connected Child, Karyn B. Purvis mentions children’s need for us to enter their world for child-led play. Time taken each day to sit down and interact with the child in their world is important for them to feel connected.
While I was reading this, I decided to fast for my family. I knew I needed God to give us a breakthrough in our home. But when I would go to pray, I would hear God say to me, “Go and be with your kids.” But God, I prayed, How am I supposed to get a breakthrough in this fast if I’m not taking time to pray? Interestingly, the fast turned into a fast of my time more than anything. I turned off social media, took a break from work, and allowed my children to lead in whatever they wanted to do with me. It brought more healing than I ever could have imagined.
I realize we can’t always do this. Work can’t always be pushed aside for us to make a living playing with our kids. Ministry needs direction, and our attention as well, but through this experience I’ve started to question ministry culture. We ambitiously build for the kingdom, but are we building something because “ministry culture” has told us to? Is it really necessary? Do I really need to slave away my time, energy, and resources on these things, or is reevaluation needed? This is a personal question only we can answer for ourselves as every situation is different. We need to look at what we do from an outside perspective to see if our work is producing the fruit God desires and if it creates health for our families or if it doesn’t.
Connection can be a reality in families, even in ministry, but it takes intentional decisions to make it so. We need to be sure we are truly connecting with our children and not just sending them off to activities such as soccer, piano, choir, or even church, thinking that keeping them busy is going to fill their need for connection. We also can’t assume that family devotional time is the only point of connection needed. Our children need to engage with us in all aspects of life, not just spiritual.
I’ve spoken much of connection with our children, but this doesn’t dismiss the great need of connection with spouses. We need to make sure we have time to connect with them and lean into one another during times of crisis and times of blessing. The time each season lasts will vary. We need to ask God for the wisdom to know our season and respond accordingly. We can build the most amazing ministries in the world and lose our spouses and families. In the end, would that be worth it?
I have found the answers in getting back to cultivating my relationship with God first and foremost. I didn’t realize how independent I had become in my relationship with God and with my family. My spiritual health was also at stake, and I didn’t realize it. It took a crisis in our home to stop me in my tracks and wake me up to reality. This year I have decided to scale back on things God has revealed he wants me to put aside for now to focus on connecting with my family and being able to do the things in ministry that will bring fruit that will last.
Connie Jakab is author of Culture Rebel: Because the World Has Enough Desperate Housewives. She is active in poverty reduction in her city and the founder of WILD (Women Impacting Lives Daily) as well as Mpact, a dance company that produces shows based on social justice issues. Connie is an active speaker who lives with her husband and two boys in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. She can be found on twitter @ConnieJakab.