"I sacrificed my family in their growing years for the work of the church."
Brian Winton drummed his fingers irritably on the table as he glanced at the clock for the 10th time in five minutes. How could Emma and Sarah spend so long in the bathroom Lin Sabbath mornings? His teenage daughters seemed to have a policy of turning the day of rest into a time of confrontation.
Sullen silence marked the drive to church. Carla, his wife, made only token attempts to make bright conversation, for her mind had slipped into Primary Sabbath school mode. Brian's main concern was for his role as senior deacon. He must check the windows, the toilets, the PA system and he wondered whether all his team would be there for their appointed duties.
"I know no one is indispensable, but Brian and Carla certainly come close," the pastor had remarked at the nominating committee meeting. Brian was a member of the nominating cornmittee and, at the time, the statement had caused a small glow of satisfaction.
But Brian had increasing felt the pressure of his church responsibilities. Besides being the senior deacon, he also served as the Pathfinder leader and he and Carla held a midweek Bible study group in their home. Sometimes it seemed that their home no longer belonged to them; people were always coming and going for meals and meetings.
The usual hectic Sabbath morning routine passed by until the Wi ntons were back in their car and heading for home. Emma and Sarah bubbled with excitement.
"Dad," Sarah said, "will you take us to the Entertainment Center tomorrow night? The Giants are playing the Wildcats and it should be a good game . . ."
"Yeah," Emma cut in. "All of the kids are going, and we'll meet for a drink afterwards. It'll be great."
"This isn't a Sabbath topic," answered Brian reprovingly. "And you all know that the board and business meeting is tomorrow night."
"Dad, you always say that," sighed Sarah.
"Come on, Dad, the church can do without you this once," Emma snapped. "They just use you anyway."
Suddenly the conversation turned sour. It was as if the dam had broken. All the pent-up fury and frustration of the two teenagers rolled over their parents, until Brian thought his own two daughters had become the Wildcats.
As the car rolled to a stop Sarah defiantly imitated her father's voice, "This isn't a Sabbath topic, you know. But as soon as I'm old enough I'm getting out of this, and then you'd better believe there won't ever be any Sabbath topics talked."
Both rear doors slammed as the girls got out of the car.
Lives of overwhelming services does not put people in the religious hall of fame.
Their stunned parents were too dismayed to move. Where had they gone wrong?
Brian and Carla had made the mistake of placing the church above the needs of their family. They had become "churchaholics." All the good that they had been doing for their church had lost its significance as they considered what was happening to their girls.
A compulsive churchaholic is a person obsessed with the need to do more and more through church work. Just as workaholics use work to avoid the responsibilities and problems of relationships, so do churchaholics. Interpersonal relationships are developed as a result of service to the church organization.
At any sign of conflict, the compulsive churchaholic retreats into church work. Here intimacy can be avoided by spending increasing amounts of time giving apparent, dedicated service in the belief that God applauds their efforts.
The activity of religion becomes a drug. It appears to such admirable work that it makes this addiction more deceptive than most. Real addicts can't find fulfillment at home with their families; instead, their very reason for existences seems to center around times of church worship. The opening church doors signify the opening of their hearts to the backup routines in which they engage.
Religious addicts are requested to serve and keep serving the church. They respond by becoming involved in numerous groups, committees and meetings. They willingly sign up and sacrifice their family and friends to meet the system's needs. In the belief that they are serving God they allow their egos free rein, and in the worst and wrong sense, zeal for the house of God consumes them (John 2:17).
Leading lives of overwhelming service that excludes all else, including family love and support, does not put addicts in the religious hall of fame. Rather, it puts them in hospital or breaks relationships.
One diligent church worker reported, "I sacrificed my family in their growing years for the work of the church. I felt guilty choosing the family over the church. Consequently I missed seeing my children in some school activities and sporting events. I learned too late that the church can and does survive well without me."
The Christian faith is one of self-sacrifice, but carried to an extreme it can become a compulsive act rather than an abundant life of compassion and witness.
Frequently it takes a crisis in the churchaholic's life to show such a person it is time to make a few changes. These addicts are generally very hard on themselves and everyone else. They are driven by all-or-none thinking.
But by acknowledging that there is an imbalance in their Jives, they will be able to surrender the process of change to God. Without such a relationship with God there is no power to change.
We're all part of the body of Christ. Hurts that occur within one family also injure the larger body of Christ. If, for example, the deacon's family is hurting and the solution is time off from his duties, then it is not a drain on the congregation, but should be mutually helpful. Besides, the congregation should see that tasks are shared and adjusted.
Every family needs to work out limits for that family's participation in the church that are appropriate for their stage of marriage and family development. Each family member's ideas as to the level of time commitment to the church are important. Without such communication, children may have little recourse except to build up resentment, bitterness and distrust.
The following specific suggestions can help toward solving the problem:
1. Prayer and mediation
On a daily basis we all need time for prayer, meditation and contemplation. The tragedy is that so often the busier we are in doing good things for our church, the more we neglect our personal devotions.
2. Time off
This may mean strenuous physical exercise or a day of inactivity to recharge physical, emotional and spiritual batteries. It must involve a change of pace. In our home this is Sunday.
3. Bonding with your children
Spending special time with your children is essential if they are to know that they're important to you. Unique times of going for walks, taking them individually or collectively for ice-creams and special treats are low-cost, but important gestures. Most children are satisfied simply by having undivided, undistracted time with parents.
4. Family vacation
This calls for more than just time off. Holidays are a retreat for spiritual rebuilding and rebonding with the family. Participation in family activities requires emotional involvement, not just time and ideas.
5. Learn to say no
The measure of one's spiritual and personal maturity is the ability to say no occasionally—even to situations where you may be able to help. Learning to say no is a measure of maturity rather than defeat. The mature person is able to keep life, work and love in perspective.
Christ has shown us the way to live a balanced religious life. He took time to eat. He took time to rest. He took time to pray. He took time to spend alone with His disciple family. And He spent time alone, getting away from crowds. He couldn't go on until His own needs were met.
Likewise Christ desires for each of us a place of rest and a time to regain perspective. If you don't have that time because you're driven to meet the needs of everyone else, take a second look at where you are.
If you're angry, exhausted and depressed, take the time to back away and find the rest that God wants for you. If you have become so preoccupied with your work that your family is being destroyed, recommit your life to one of balance.
Ask others around you, such as your spouse or children, if they think you have become fanatical in your church activity. Many need others to point it out for them or they will continue and believe that they are honoring God.
A healthy faith and a healthy believer are characterized by the capacity for balanced love. As faith grows, every aspect of the believer's life is improved. In the balanced practice of faith, families grow closer together; friendships become stronger; and conflict is more easily resolved.
"If you are guided by the Spirit you will not fulfil the desires of your lower nature.... the harvest of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness" (Gat. 5:16, 22,23, NEB).