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Family burden

Sleek haircut. Sharp suit. Expensive watch. Late 30s / early 40s. Very rarely does a man fitting this description stop for prayer. I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s because seeking prayer, especially in public, is an admission of need. For some, prayer belies the image of having it all together. Not to mention the belief that we can live up to the image.

But not for this guy. He didn’t just admit need. He admitted guilt: “I love my wife and kids, but sometimes they feel like a burden.” He didn’t mean a financial burden, but a burden on his time. His work was challenging and fulfilling and required a lot of his attention. I knew the sentiment exactly, although I’d never been brave enough to put it in those words. Who wants to call their family a burden? Yet there are only 24 hours in a day, and the demands of our professional lives and personal lives often add up to more.

About five years ago, I remember my heart sinking when I realized my daughter’s upcoming birthday party felt like just another item on my to-do list. And I don’t mean preparations for the party; I mean the party itself. I thought I should be looking forward to this celebration of her life, or at least not putting it in same category as a trip to the grocery store. But no such luck. I can't remember if I enjoyed the party, but it's okay if I didn't because I know she did. And way more often than not, I enjoy her.

Perhaps it’s okay to feel that a loved one is a burden every now and again as long as we treat them as the blessing they are. For the man who stopped for prayer, this includes giving his family his full, undivided attention with what precious time he has. (No sneaking emails on the smartphone, for example.)

Divided attention implies a divided heart, which scripture cautions against over and over. And no wonder. Doing something of importance while your head and heart are elsewhere is a cognitive achievement that carries an emotional cost. No one has time for that.