When I have read Psalm 127, I have found it hard to connect its first and second half. The first half seemed to focus on the humility that human workers should have in light of God’s sovereignty, saying, “Unless the Lord builds the house, the builders labor in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the guards stand watch in vain. In vain you rise early and stay up late, toiling for food to eat—for he grants sleep to those he loves” (v. 1-2).
But as I began to meditate on this, thinking about what this could look like in my own life, the passage seemed to abruptly change its subject. “Children are a heritage from the Lord, offspring a reward from him. Like arrows in the hands of a warrior are children born in one’s youth. Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them. They will not be put to shame when they contend with their opponents in court” (v. 3-5). While there is no rule that the Bible must always immediately make perfect sense to our human minds, looking at the first and second part of this passage together helped me to better understand something I have been thinking about a lot lately: a Christian perspective on work-life balance.
Work-life balance. It’s definitely a buzzword, but, even so, it is something I hope to have as I begin my career. As an associate in a fast-paced, high-pressure startup environment, I have struggled to balance longer work hours with classes, church activities, and the myriad of other activities in a full life. Of course, I don’t even have a family of my own for which I am responsible yet, so my own 22-year-old work-life balance dilemmas surely pale in comparison to those of my coworkers who have families. As I explore how I should go about being intentional with my work and time now and in the future, reading Psalm 127 has helped me to start seeing work-life balance in a new way.
I have always taken the word “balance” in a very literal sense. I saw work-life balance as an attempt to properly manage working with excellence while also making time for the other aspects of life that also matter. I still think there is nothing wrong with a healthy striving for this balance in our lives. However, Psalm 127 provides Christians with a beautiful picture of another way to see the ever-elusive concept of work-life balance. It does not give us set percentages of how we should allocate each block of our time. Perhaps this lack of specificity is more truthful than unhelpful, because a picture of work, family, children, etc. as separate balls to juggle is incorrect. There is no prescription for a perfect work-life balance, because the word “balance” implies balancing separate things. Simply put, real life is messier than that.
If a husband neglects his family life and starts a fight with his wife, he might look a bit more haggard in his important work meeting the next morning. A mother on maternity leave who prioritizes her newborn child and leaves work might be passed over for a promotion. The categories we attempt to make neat and tidy all run together at some level. When they inevitably run together in my own life, it’s my hope that I would look to Psalm 127. It encourages builders to work hard at their jobs, but reminds them that is truly the Lord who is sovereign over the construction of a house.
In the same way, it tells a man who has children that he is blessed and will not be put to shame. But it also stresses that a man’s children are gifts from the Lord – not his to control alone. Here, the tension between the Lord’s sovereignty and our human responsibility is clear. As I remember this tension, it is my hope that I ponder it when I face choices of what I will prioritize as my career begins. Working hard as if for the Lord, but also resting in His ultimate control over my job. Devoting myself to my family and friends and loving them like Jesus did, but also remaining open-handed in those relationships. This, I think, is an incredible gift—a lasting freedom rather than a temporary balancing act.
Where might God give me the freedom to make the choices I need to in my career and life?
Kate Moody works in Public Relations, focusing particularly on social media. She is a graduate of the 2015-2016 Capital Fellows Program.