Elizabeth's side: His work devours our time together
James and I met at Bair Lake Bible Camp in 1987. It was love at camp site. We were married five years later.
Since then, we've given 15 years of our lives to a camping ministry. Camp ministry requires a huge commitment of James's time and energy. Though it's been a joy, it's also a constant struggle for him to make time for me and our kids.
It feels as if too much of the year goes by, especially in the summer, when work steals our together time. The 12-hour-plus workdays seem never to end.
Sure, I knew what we were getting into when we joined the ministry. But I'd hoped we would spend more time together, side-by-side.
Again and again, James will say, "I'll be home in ten minutes." Then something will happen at camp, and he won't be home for hours. The worst part is he always has great excuses: "I had to call a homesick camper's mom," or "A staff member was struggling and needed to talk."
How can I compete for his attention when I'm up against a hundred immediate ministry needs? I constantly feel as if I'm in the back seat, a low priority on his list.
Lately, his speaking and writing hobbies have become more like a second job. Now even when he's home, he's working on that stuff.
It feels as if I, and our time together, keep falling lower on James's list of priorities.
James's side: It's hard to know when to walk away
I love Elizabeth. I love our time together.
I also love my work at the camp.I I wouldn't trade working with staff and campers for any other job in the world. But it seems something is going on every minute of every day that needs my attention. It's too easy to lose myself in the work.
It's not fair, but I constantly battle with the attitude that Elizabeth will always be there—in ten minutes, or tomorrow—but the work needs of the moment must be dealt with immediately. While I know that's not true, those thoughts constantly guide my quick, what-do-I-have-to-do-now decisions.
There's simply a difference in the urgency of work versus home demands. And I'm sure it doesn't help that I'm horrible at noticing whether a minute or an hour has passed.
The reality is that this will never be a nine-to-five job. I can be at work anytime from 6 a.m. until 2 a.m. I know I need to get home more, but there always seems to be some new emergency, conversation, decision, or activity that draws me away.
What frustrates me is that I seem only to get an hour here or an hour there with Elizabeth and the twins. If we're lucky, we get one day a week of extended time together.
Honestly, I think Elizabeth might be too easy on me. She loves the ministry too, so she tends to let me off the hook for broken promises.
There has got to be a way she can help keep me in check.
What they did
Two years ago, a friend told James and Elizabeth that he and his wife had also struggled with making time for each other, and had found help from a simple time-management chart.
On the chart, each day of the week is split into three sections—mornings, afternoons, and evenings.
At the beginning of each week, James and Elizabeth sit down and do their best to map out his time—when he's home, and when he'll be at work. During the busy summer, James must be home for a minimum of seven calendar sections—a total of two and a third days. Running in and out of the house for an hour doesn't count. He must spend one third or more of that day at home.
During the slower seasons, on the other hand, James must be home a minimum of nine sections, or three days.
"It's simple," Elizabeth says. "Within reason, no matter what comes up, James has to stop what he's doing and come home as scheduled."
The plan includes boundaries they've both agreed upon. For example, work is work. "Writing and preparation for speaking don't count as home time," Elizabeth explains. "Even if he happens to be at home while he's doing them."
A key benefit to this system is the built-in "excuse" James has when facing camp issues. "Now if something comes up when I'm supposed to head home, I'll say, 'Sorry, I can't help you with that right now,'" James says. "I explain that I have a prior commitment with my family and suggest we talk about it tomorrow."
At first it was difficult for him to tear himself away. Yet after his initial struggle, even his staff has gotten into the habit of asking, "Can we talk now, or are you on the way to family time?"
If an emergency forces him to change plans, James has to make up the time elsewhere on the calendar. So despite the schedule, there's room to change things on the fly.
"The simple act of planning is really what fixed our problem," Elizabeth says. "The time we spend with a white board helps us talk through the week."
"It forces us to communicate," James agrees. "Planning together ensures we keep the right priorities and expectations."
Sure, there are times when camp life overrides the plan, but now that they focus on needs and talk through the expectations, the ministry no longer seems to devour quite as much of their time together.
"James never seemed to have boundaries before," Elizabeth says. "It's so nice to know that he'll be home, that we can make plans, and that our time together is a priority." Although they remain committed to his work with the camp, James is able to show Elizabeth his commitment to her through taking the time to plan and follow through with this simple scheduling tool.
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