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Don’t let your work squeeze out the important things

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Jeanne HuntJust about any white-collar worker under the age of 40 will confess that he or she works at least sixty hours a week, goes to work early, leaves work late, and brings work home. What has happened to us? Why has the culture replaced all other values with a need to compete in a rat race that cripples our private lives?

Labor Day is around the corner. This is a perfect time to examine what Catholic workers should be thinking concerning our “labor” and rest. Most of us work like dogs seven days a week and squeeze in family time, our marriages and other relationships, and even God. To say the least, everything gets shortchanged except work. In the language of St. Benedict, we are “out of order.” Balance of the big four — prayer, rest, work, and leisure — create a healthy person. When any one of these four is taking over our lives, we will be living a disorder that can destroy our bodies, minds, and souls. So, let’s step out of ourselves right now and look at our lives. Ask yourself these questions and be honest with your answers:

• How much time do I spend with God? Am I an
hour-a-week Catholic or an hour-a-day Catholic?

• Do I work more than eight hours per day?

• How often do my spouse and I go out for a
date night?

• Do I spend time with my children every day?

• What do I like to do for relaxation? When was the
last time I did it?

So, what does your time pie look like? The pie should be divided into six equal pieces: work/marriage/children/leisure and rest/God/self. The goal is to be vigilant about keeping things in balance. If these questions did not clarify your position, just take a look at your calendar and bank account. How we spend our money and time will give us a clear picture of what is important to us.

It is time to take back our time and reinvest in personal relationships. First with God: we must learn to keep holy the Lord’s Day. Sundays should be free from our work, that means our jobs and the work around the house. Most of us accept the secular culture’s version of the week in which there are two days after Friday on which we get caught up on everything we didn’t do during the week.

Keeping holy the Sabbath means we spend that day going to church and resting from work. It is a day to find God in the midst of our marriage, family, and homes. Ask Grandma what Sunday was like in the 1950s and you will get the idea.

All this will not happen without great effort. We will have to work hard at withdrawing time from work and investing in more family and personal time. For starters, we can create boundaries. Learn to say no to extra weekend work if it means your spouse and children will suffer. After all, when all is said and done, no job should mean more than our family. When my grandfather was dying, he had one final bit of advice for my father: “Don’t work so hard, Danny, it is not worth it.” Those wise words remain with me and help me remember to deduct work time and deposit that time into family time.

There is also the idea in our culture that we are what we do. When you ask people, “Who are you?” the usual response is “I am a doctor . . . a mother . . . a teacher . . . a lawyer.” Our image of self is related to what we do, not who we are. It is no wonder we work like crazy to be recognized as successful at our jobs. Yet, the most beautiful parts of each of us have nothing to do with work. Your best friend’s sense of humor, your little son’s imaginary stories, your wife’s warm embrace, these are the real treasures. As Antoine de Saint-Exupéry says in The Little Prince, “It is only with the heart that one can see rightly. What is essential is invisible to the eye.”

This Catholic Thoughts column by Jeanne Hunt originally appeared in the September 2014 print edition of The Catholic Telegraph.

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