25 February 2011

Vocation and the work-life balance

It's been an 'up and down' few weeks in the Lanky household. Term-time is flying by at a frightening pace, and it doesn't feel like there's time to stop and think. Indeed, this is my first blog post for some time. LittleLanky's teething extravaganza hasn't helped either.

Over the last few days, there have been heated discussions in the Lanky household. Some might call them arguments. The topic, in the broadest sense, has been to do with 'work-life balance'. This is a term that is common in public and private employment sectors, but it hasn't made it's way into the church; certainly not into the realm of theological training. Maybe that's for good reason. In one sense, the binary opposition of 'work' and 'life' is out of step with talk of an all encompassing vocation. But the intention of those who speak of work-life balance is for the enhanced wellbeing of workers, whether or not they happen to be Priests (even trainees). The intention is to recognise that to be healthy and productive in all areas of life, you need to have multiple dimensions; other places. They acknowledge that if we spend all of our time in one place, we start to find life hard, and burnout becomes a reality (recent Lancaster folk might recall Chris Bonington's 3 legged stool metaphor from Graduation speeches).

I've seen the worst cases in previous jobs. My bosses have all been driven, career minded individuals. They've achieved great things, but I look at them and ask 'where's the balance'? Where's the attention to the other?

I see it here in Cambridge too. Living in community (to whatever extent) constrains the possibility of experiencing anything 'other'. Every hour is filled with something. Especially with a family, there's barely time to do the basics, let alone to experience the culture of Cambridge. If I get an hour here or there, I feel like I should be using it to learn the aorist endings in Greek, or prepare for one of many essays.

Of course, for me, there is an 'other'. Having DrLanky and LittleLanky in Cambridge with me forces me to exit the Westcott/Cambridge bubble on a very frequent basis, and that helps to keep me sane. But just lately, that Cambridge/Westcott bubble has seemed to expand at the expense of my family. Hence the heated debates.

Of course, it's not binary. 'Home' or 'Westcott'.
It's more like a Venn diagram, as DrLanky makes a massive effort to be part of the community here. But it's still hard; a balancing act.

And I know it will be hard when I get out into parish life; if anyone else tells me that its to prepare me for parish life, they are likely to get a smack in the mouth (en agape, of course).

Through all of this, I keep coming back to some words of advice offered by our Principal in my first week at Westcott. 'God doesn't call us to conflicting vocations'. These are wise words, and have become my mantra. My family, and my activity outside of the bubble is a valid part of my vocation. They are not a 'bolt-on'. My vocation is to be the person God calls me to be. That includes being a father, a husband, a friend and a priest (in no particular order). My job is to balance the mess of priorities, and to trust that my calling is to live my entire vocation. Not just one bit of it.

Of course, it's easy to say all of that... In reality, I'm a work in progress, just like anyone else. I still want to do well in my degree, but I don't it to be at the expense of being a good father, husband and friend.


  1. As another one with the same struggle for balance. I like the "God doesn't call us to conflicting vocations" quote. And here's another, from my DDO this time, just before we left Bristol "To be a good priest, you need to be a good father and a good husband. You cannot be a good priest unless you are doing the others." For me a big part of this journey has been about bringing my life into unity to be one whole person and as a father and a husband and an Ordinand, I cannot be one without the others.
    I'm not sure how much it helps practically though.

  2. We are made in the image of a God who is One and Three; we are trinitarian creatures.

    Somehow, I think, part of our vocation is about accepting this seemingly absurd contradiction (aka a Mystery) and living it out in all its joy and pain - easier said than done, but look at that cross on Calvary.

    Mary, Mother of God the Son, Spouse of God the Spirit, Daughter of God the Father, is a beautiful model of this ternary complexity, is she not? I find praying with her is, for me, a way of offering my contradictions (my work-life balance, certainly) and my fears about this to the God who loves.

    I'll never be able to 'balance' my life as a father, a husband, a son, a brother, an uncle, a nephew, a god-father, a trainee-teacher, but when in the silence of prayer, God lifts me up in my muddled messiness and says: it's OK, I love you; messy as you are, muddled as you are, sinner though you are, crazy as you are, inconsistent as you are, unbalanced as you will inevitably be, I love you.