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Easing the Burden on Our Stressed-Out Families

We move incessantly, haphazardly and compulsively from one screen to another, one device to another, one platform to another, one distraction to another, just one more thing real quick.

That’s the way we live our lives, as Glennon Doyle Melton, who blogs at Momastery, noted recently.

Highlighting our failure at moderation, she posted the following comment, “It’s almost time for bed so I guess I’ll just check my email, Etsy, Instagram, Facebook and one full season of a TV show on Netflix real quick.”

At home and at work, our lives are out of balance. And guess what? It’s devastating to families.

Zach Dawes, noting recent statements about work/life balance from both Joe Biden and Paul Ryan, writes, “The importance of the family not only for individual well-being but also for national stability and fruitfulness is one of the few agreed upon perspectives in a society divided on a multitude of issues.”

U.S. citizens can’t agree on much, but we can find broad agreement on these two things.

First, healthy families are fundamentally important to a healthy society. And second, the hamster wheel is moving too fast for most families right now.

In the New York Times, Claire Cain Miller also notes the rising, if not new, reality of overstressed families, particularly in the growing segment of families where all parents in the household work full time.

Citing a new Pew Research study, she writes, “Working parents say they feel stressed, tired, rushed and short on quality time with their children, friends, partners or hobbies.”

And here’s the kicker from the research: The more “successful” you are, the worse it gets.

College-educated, well-paid professionals have the hardest time maintaining any semblance of balance. They don’t have as much trouble as other families in paying the bills, though.

We’ve constructed a society, then, where career “success,” the kind required to “take care of your family,” leads to unhealthy family patterns, stressed-out marriages and frayed relationships.

In other words, you can either take care of your family financially or you can actually be there to take care of your family. For a growing percentage of the population, you can’t do both.

The societal pressures against moderation and balance are great.

We value hard work. We value achievement and commitment to careers and professions. We frame calls for balance and improved family lives as the complaints of the weak and those not willing to work hard for what they want.

But we’re discovering that we do so to the detriment of moms, dads and children everywhere. The pendulum has swung too far.

As Christians, though, we have an opportunity – perhaps even a moral imperative – to propose and demonstrate a more balanced alternative.

First, we can decide to do the things in our power to create balance and health in our overburdened lives.

We can decide to turn off the TV after watching one or two episodes of our favorite show. We can put down the tablet, close the laptop and throw the phone off the nearest cliff.

Instead, we can choose to live in relationship with those we love. We can choose to value presence, rest and relationship over constant consumption. We can become fully integrated parts of a whole – whether that’s our family, our church or our neighborhood.

In short, we can choose to live full lives in real community with others and with God.

But here’s the thing. It’s not just about individual choice. This is a societal problem. A lot of people don’t have the luxury of choosing how or when to slow down.

We can’t just urge people whose day-to-day quest for survival pushes them to the brink and beyond to “slow down, take it easy and be more balanced.”

We can’t tell people who are working day and night to pay the rent and provide for their families that moderation is a Christian virtue. We have to be willing to act on their behalf.

As Christians, we have a moral responsibility to advocate for a society that values and protects and expects balance for everyone.

We have a responsibility to support measures that reward and encourage the kind of balance that leads to healthy families.

Families are fundamentally important, and the hamster wheel is moving too fast. Christians of all stripes ought to be able to speak with one voice to say with conviction that Christ calls us to live differently.

It will take individual choices on everyone’s part to simplify, to put down, to create margin.

But it will also take collective action to encourage and promote workplace policies and living wages and family support that demonstrate how much we value the family unit – and through our Christian advocacy to demonstrate how much God values the family unit and the individuals who compose them.

The headline of Miller’s New York Times article is “Stressed, Tired and Rushed: The Portrait of a Modern Family.”

If Christians were to unite, we could change that headline on Christ’s behalf for families all over America. Try this headline on for size: “Holy, Healthy and Whole: The Portrait of a Modern Family.”

Doesn’t that sound more like God’s kingdom? It does to me.

Matt Sapp is the pastor of Heritage Baptist Fellowship in Canton, Georgia. A version of this article first appeared on Heritage’s blog and is used with permission. You can follow him on Twitter @MattPSapp.