Book: When Work & Family Collide by Andy Stanley

I was excited to see this book available for review recently.  Andy has a way of conveying Biblical truth in a way that connects to the struggles of day-to-day life.  This particular struggle, balancing family and career, is one I believe to be of great importance in our success-driven society – and in my own life.


When Work & Family CollideThe book begins with Andy offering context to those of us who are workaholics or who struggle with prioritizing the demands of work with the needs of home.  Essentially, he wants us to understand that when we choose to work long hours, even for good purposes, we are putting work at higher priority than spending time with loved ones.  And the message to those loved ones resonates at a deeper level than we might realize.

Andy proposes two solutions.  First, honest communication.  Ask family members how they feel about your work schedule or when you miss their events.  Second, action.  Make a deliberate and calculated schedule change that glorifies God by emphasizing family.  I should note that Andy focuses the book mostly on the impact time away at work has on those closest to us, but it also has a significant impact on our service to God.  Andy does spend a good amount of time explaining that we are to honor God with our time, but in this book, the focal point of that desire is expressed through interaction with loved ones.

One thing I appreciated was how Andy defined the problem of time commitment:  “Your problem is not discipline. Your problem is not organization. Your problem is not that you have yet to stumble onto the perfect schedule.  And your problem is not that the folks at home demand too much of your time.  The problem is this: there’s not enough time to get everything done that you’re convinced – or others have convinced you – needs to get done.” (page 14.)

Throughout the book, Andy says you either “cheat” your family or you “cheat” work.  I’m not a huge fan of this sort of language, but I understand what he’s trying to say.  In essence, there simply is not enough time in the day to do everything work requires and meet every need or desire of your family.  I’ve lived with that tension for my entire career.  Even though he says you need to “cheat” work, Andy’s solution of prioritizing time is predicated on open and honest communication at work, too.  In that respect, I quibble with the use of the word “cheat.”  His main goal in using “cheat” seemed to be to emphasize how we treat our families when we don’t make them the priority, and he certainly is not advocated doing anything unethical to your employer.  I just felt the language was clumsy on this issue.

But his conclusions are powerful, as are some of the examples in the book.  I was shocked to learn that in his own life as a church planter, Andy committed to spending no more than 45 hours per week at work.  In fact, I can hardly fathom that he was able to build such a strong ministry with that sort of time commitment.

And there is the rub with our earthly thinking: Andy did not build that ministry.  God did.

Likewise, God ordains the paths of our lives and, if we are to believe the Bible, is sovereign in all things.  This means we can expect God to bless our commitment to follow His leading and His paths, such as investing time with our families.  Andy showed the provisional side of God’s character throughout the book; and God truly will fill in the gaps when we are committed to following Him.  The issue for many of us is that we believe but do not truly trust, so we try to handle things ourselves.

I heard a pastor recently tell an analogy that lined up perfectly with this truth.  He talked about a rappelling trip he took when he was just a teenager.  Although he was afraid, he forced himself to lean back on the rope and repel down the mountain.  His friend, try as he might, could not will himself to put all his weight on the rope, so the friend tried to climb down using the rope as a safety net.  Unfortunately, that’s not the way rappelling works, so the friend was unable to get down and had to climb back up.  The friend was exhausted, had not accomplished his goal, and was now embarrassed.  These are the same consequences we often face when we refuse to lean fully on God and try to do things ourselves.

When we spend long hours at work, our spouses shut down because they don’t feel prioritized in our lives.  Everything in a marriage becomes harder.  We become ashamed.  Our children may lack feeling truly loved, causing them to seek the wrong sort of attention or – even worse – viewing God’s love as conditional or limited, like ours.  They lack direction and focus.  These are things that happen because we think we have to “get it done” at work ourselves rather than fully trusting God to provide for our families.

One thing the book does not do is promise some sort of pie-in-the-sky response by God.  Andy clearly says you may make less money if you work fewer hours.  He clearly says you may have to give up some of the “toys” you thought you wanted.  But he also very clearly says God will honor your commitment to following Him.  It is not the prosperity gospel, but it is the truth of attaining an abundant life, and Andy is clear that we also honor God by providing for our families (in case anyone thought the answer was simply to abandon work!).

Andy encourages us to trust God.  He gives some specific steps for how to trust God.  And then he gives a general plan of action for how to properly prioritize family rather than just follow some general sense of work-life balance.  Andy encourages us to 1. Make up your mind to quit “cheating” at home; 2. Come up with a plan for how to handle a transition (and also communicate it to the appropriate people, including your manager); and 3. Set up a test period to see how well it works.

One last note, since I just alluded to the concept of work-life balance: A friend saw me reading When Work & Family Collide, and we had a brief discussion about the subject.  He said he had been to a work seminar recently in which the theme was not just work-life balance, but “work-life integration” – as in, always being available for work.  My friend rightly scoffed at this concept, but I have to guiltily admit this same concept has often been my attempt at finding a way to spend more time with family; just bring the work with me.  Unfortunately, distracted time causes the same frustration to those around us as lack of time.

My point being, don’t try to half-step your way through it, like I have done for years.  Pray.  Do your best to discern God’s leading.  Commit to following that lead.  Communicate your intentions, and then do it.  I am attempting to apply this lesson in my own life; I encourage you to do the same.

In closing, Andy had one final bit of encouragement that I also want to relate here.  While we can quibble with some of his assumptions, the conclusion seems sound:

When successful men and women reminisce, their defining moments professionally are never related to how many hours they worked. And I’ve never heard of a business failure attributed to a work schedule.  Success is always related to good decisions, unexpected opportunities, market conditions, and a host of other things that nobody really had any control over. The sixty hours you work this week may not reap nearly the same productivity as the sixty hours you put in next week. Why? Because of things you have no control over. …

But the opposite is true in family life. Happily married couples never attribute their success to unexpected opportunities, market conditions, luck, or good timing.  You’ve never met a healthy family who chalked up their success to being in the right place at the right time.  With family, success is always related to time. In the world of family, you have far more control over the things that really make a difference.  (pages 102 – 103.)

Final: Love

Disclosure – I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review.


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