By Rev. Thomas Lambrecht
Amidst the recent turmoil in the Republican ranks in the House of Representatives, Rep. Paul Ryan made a statement about priorities that was both refreshing and encouraging. In a New York Times story, Ryan reportedly laid down conditions for accepting the job as Speaker of the House (the most powerful job in Congress). “Mr. Ryan made it clear to his Republican colleagues Tuesday night that one [condition] was sacrosanct: ‘I cannot and will not give up my family time.’”
Ryan represents a district in my home state of Wisconsin and is a devout Catholic. He was the Republican candidate for Vice President of the United States in 2012. From what I have read, he is serious about putting his Christian faith into practice in his life. “This is not new for Paul,” said Representative Greg Walden, Republican of Oregon. “He’s lived this life for a long time. He’s just now making it clear to everyone else.”
Being Speaker of the House, third in line of the presidency, is a very powerful position. But it appears that Ryan is serious about wanting to prioritize his family. This will mean giving up fundraising trips around the country on behalf of fellow Republicans in order to be home with his family. That and other changes to the position to make it more family-friendly will undoubtedly also make Ryan a less powerful Speaker. Yet he is willing to make that sacrifice in order to pour his life into his wife and children.
Professor Erika Kirby of Creighton University noted, “So I think Representative Ryan’s call for protecting his family time within a demanding job is extremely significant.” Especially since the push for work-life balance is often brought up as an issue for working mothers, not working fathers.
I am extremely grateful that The United Methodist Church has a maternity/paternity leave policy that was in effect when our children were born, enabling me to take several weeks off as a new father to help around the house and bond with our new daughters. The self-scheduling nature of pastoral work enabled me to maneuver my schedule to accommodate games and concerts and be a part of my children’s lives in other ways.
When I first started out in ministry many years ago, I had an older pastor say to me that he didn’t see how being an effective pastor could be done in 50 hours a week (which was the limit a friend and I told him we had informally placed on our work week). He probably worked 60-80 hours a week. No question, there were weeks when I did, too. But those weeks were the exception, not the rule.
I have learned over the years that there is no end to the work that needs to be done, whether it is serving as a pastor, working at Good News, or serving as Speaker of the House. I’m grateful for examples of people who are able to put their families first and still find a way to be effective in the work God has called them to do. It may require structuring the work differently, and it may require delegating work to a competent team. In my mind, that is what ministry is—a team effort by a group of people, not something that is solely dependent upon a single pastor or leader.
Perhaps Rep. Ryan’s prioritizing his family in this public way will prompt more of us to have these conversations around our dinner tables (if we even eat dinner together anymore). We find our identity first in our relationship to Jesus Christ, secondly in our most important relationships (family and close friends), and only thirdly in the work God has called us to do (whether that is pipe-fitting, teaching, politics, or church work). We often skew those three identities the other way around, leading to misplaced priorities, ineffective families, and regret in old age.
How would you describe your life’s priorities? Would your calendar agree?