Here I am. Full circle. Eighteen months after a liver transplant saved my life I am in the process of going back to work full time. I have three options to consider; hard, harder and hardest. Of course, sticking with the normal pattern of my life, I am leaning strongly toward the hardest of the three options.
Last week Robin gave me the look she gives when she wants to convey just how serious she is and said, “You need to promise me that you are not going to kill yourself in this position.” Then, she made me make promises that I won’t work more than 40 hours a week, that I will take time off and that I won’t abandon healthy eating habits and exercise with the excuse of being too busy.
We’ve been together since 1982, two years of dating and 29 years of marriage. She knows me better than anyone else on the planet. She knows that sitting around drives me crazy. She knows I have to be planning, building, teaching and making a difference. But she also knows that I can drive myself into the ground.
When we started dating I was a full time college student and working at least 40 hours a week for a newspaper. I’d go to class during the day and then work at the paper until we put it to bed at 2 or 3 am. At that point, she saw that I wasn’t afraid to work hard. I imagine that was comforting to her at some level. Who wants to marry a slacker, right?
Then, when we were first married, she saw me volunteering as a youth pastor at a new church for no pay and working third shift for ServiceMaster Cleaning Company. I worked 20-30 hours a week with the teenagers and then 30-40 hours a week cleaning toilets, washing floors and shampooing carpets. My mom and dad taught me that no job was below me. I knew that providing for my family was my responsibility.
By the time our kids started making their arrivals I was on staff at a church doing what I loved and getting paid for it. It wasn’t enough to live on so I continued working a second part-time job while everyone slept or I would pick up photography jobs on the weekends. It was then that my health issues started and extra weight began moving in just above my belt.
I had one year when I traveled 26 weekends speaking at camps, retreats and conferences while working full time in a para-church ministry. That took a toll on our marriage and my health declined further. It was too much.
From 1999-2010 I slowed down and worked just one job. I was a youth pastor at a church I loved and Robin and the kids were involved with me. The first five years I was blessed with one of my favorite bosses ever, Dr. Arthur Evans Gay. Art refused to see his staff burn out. He routinely would send me home after a busy weekend or tell me to stay home after a week of camp. Art would ask me if I was dating my wife and showing her that she was my top priority.
But then, Art headed west and my workload increased again until my last few years when I was working 60+ hours a week doing a variety of things in a stressful setting. My blood pressure was high, my weight reached 310 and my stress level was through the roof dealing with frequent challenges and people problems. I was unhappy. I was exhausted. I was sick.
And then, liver disease, a grueling year-long wait with 11 hospitalizations, the loss of most of our material treasures, transplant and recovery. It was a two and a half year journey to bring me to where I am now with an amazing, miraculous recovery and a chance to begin again.
This time, killing myself is against the rules. My wife knows me. She knows my work ethic and knows I cannot switch off my mind. She’s worried. Honestly? I’m a little worried too.
I’m open to your advice. What can a workaholic do to ensure balance? I am blessed to be fully restored. I am committed to taking this second chance and doing things differently.
“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me – watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” Mt. 11:28-30 (The Message)