This piece is dedicated to my beautiful, amazing, inspiring wife Ruth. Thanks for being my rock, for your faithfulness, and for encouraging me in all of my crazy endeavors. I couldn’t do it without you. But even more than that, it is my great joy to do these things with you. I love you.
Radical Life Change
I was recently approached by my dear friend Steve to write a blog post about “leading your family through radical life change.” My first reaction was not a favorable one. I told him, “Uhhhhh, I’m definitely not the right guy for that subject.” Why? Because in many ways, I failed to properly lead my family through what was certainly a set of radical life changes. So as I delve into this subject, I do so with a spirit of humility and some semblance of regret. My intent is to pour my heart out to you here, and may it be taken more as lessons learned than “do as I did.” My prayer is that you will glean something useful from these words, as you lead your own family in the day-in, day-out rhythms of life.
In February 2015, I was still an active duty military officer stationed in South Korea. I had a good job, a steady paycheck, a roof over my head, food on the table … everything was pretty secure. By March, I had left the military to pursue this burden that God had placed on my heart for the people of eastern Congo (www.mavunocongo.org). In the span of just weeks, I left the only career I had ever known in my adult life (the military), we moved from Korea to St Louis, we bought a home, and we dove full-time into the organization I had co-founded: Mavuno. And we did so with two kids in tow: a 9-month old and a 3-year old. We didn’t have any money, Mavuno had negligible revenue, and I honestly had no idea how things would come together or how I would feed my family in the ensuing months. We didn’t dip our toe in the water … we did a full-on cannonball. The idea was that we “trusted God” or that “where God calls, He provides.” These were things that I understood intellectually, but time would reveal if I actually believed these truths. As God put me through the fire, He exposed my unbelief, and used that to bring me closer to Himself.
As time went on, I got crushed by the immense pressure that I was putting on myself for the success of Mavuno. I felt a tremendous weight of responsibility for my family, for our staff, for the organization, and for the entire country of the Congo. I had made my plans and was working my tail off to see them realized, but I had not fully committed them to the Lord (Prov 16:3), so I was not at peace. We were working in the will of God - we can know His will, as it is revealed in the Scriptures – but I was often forging my own path, with God as an afterthought. This brought me much anxiety. I would say that the primary pressure I felt was the need to provide for my family. From the date of Mavuno’s founding, I didn’t take a salary for 14 months. At one point, our family got down to our last few hundred dollars, I was working sometimes 18-20 hours per day, and my stress got so bad that I ended up hospitalized.
Let me list 5 points that somewhat defined this season of life for us:
I let work consume me (I don’t care what your vocation is, I know some of you can relate to this). It occupied my thoughts day and night, and I could never “unplug.” I was “on” all the time.
I was home every night, but I was rarely present. I didn’t frequently engage my wife, because my mind was on other things. I didn’t consistently pursue her, date her, engage her in meaningful conversation, build her up in prayer…any of those things.
My kids would try and engage with me, or invite me to enter their world, but my head was so filled with other things that I wouldn’t even realize that my son was at my feet trying to interact with me. My wife would have to get my attention to snap me back to reality.
I was “too busy” to take care of my most important responsibilities in life.
While we attended church, I didn’t consistently lead my family in worship in the home. I wasn’t be fueled by prayer and by the Scriptures, and I wasn’t leading my family in this either. Consequently, we all suffered.
I wasn’t relying on the Lord to be my fuel and my sustenance. Although His grace sustained me, I wasn’t being propelled by grace.
Learning from Failure
With all that said, I would like to propose some ideas on good ways by which one could lead their families through radical life change. Or better yet, I think these are good ways to just lead your family in general. I believe that sometimes we overplay the “radical” idea – God calls us to be fully present right where we are, to work for His glory in the context in which He has placed us: in our marriages, with our children, in our vocations, in our churches, in our cities. So here are 8 points that I learned the hard way, which I would submit as effective strategies for leading your family (in no particular order):
Plan. Make plans, for to do so is wisdom (Prov 21:5, Prov 16:3). Make plans for your career, for your marriage, and for your children. Make plans to be productive in your work, and to serve the poor and oppressed in your city and around the world. But don’t mess this up: it’s not the planning that is most important. I’m a planning machine, but that in itself is insufficient. These plans must be fully submitted to the Lord. Cast your plans upon Him, believe that He is in control, and trust Him. And don’t just maintain a cognitive understanding of those things, but actively do them through the hard work of prayer! To do so will allow you to operate at full capacity within the responsibilities He has entrusted to you. As I learned, to operate from your own strength is folly and unsustainable.
Priorities. Don’t seek balance, but rather, fight for your priorities. Balance is a myth, and presents your priorities as competing entities. Really, when your priorities are kept in order, they should work in harmony with one another. The compound effect of properly held priorities produces fruit. If you’re not sure what your priorities should be, start with these: 1) God, 2) Your spouse, 3) Your children, and 4) Your job. I found this insight from Pastor Thabiti Anaybwile to be particularly helpful:
“Keep that order and you’ll also find that the priorities have a way of pushing blessings down through each level. If you keep a close walk with the Lord, that tends to bless your relationship with your wife. If you love your wife well, that will spill over into the entire family. If you care for your family well, then you will be both qualified for and a blessing in your ministry. This, of course, means you have to say ‘no’ to many very good things in order to say ‘yes’ to the best things…Live this set of priorities as graciously and consistently as you can and I think you’ll achieve what most people mean when they say ‘balance.’”
Teamwork. Even in the midst of chaos and uncertainty, you should be working as a team in your marriage. When things get crazy, that is not the time for each person to just take care of their own responsibilities – that is the time to join together, and to fight through trials as one unit. My advice for this? Just start by being best friends. Hang out. Have fun. Keep a weekly date night. Pursue your spouse. And keep doing that when life gets hard. It’s in those times that you most need to work as a team.
Lead your family in worship. That’s what I love about Bring It Home – it’s educating, encouraging, and equipping parents to do just that. Let me just say it like this: if you’re a Christian father, it is your responsibility to lead your family spiritually in the home. Not should. You must. Pray with your wife, pray over your children, and read the Scriptures as a family. And when you get really busy or when you’re going through “radical life change”, that means you should do this more, not less. This is how we keep our family strong in those times; it’s how we maintain a Gospel-centered culture in our homes. And don’t overcomplicate it. It’s quite simple. After you finish dinner, pray with your family and then crack open an age-appropriate Bible and read a chapter. I would also recommend New City Catechism as a great tool (http://www.newcitycatechism.com/home.php). It only takes 10-15 minutes. It’s not that we don’t have the time for this, but rather, we’re too undisciplined or selfish to actually do it. Just do it.
Boundaries. In times of change, or in crazy seasons of work / change, we must put limits on ourselves in order to allot time for our priorities (see point 2). It’s easy to get in the trap of just working day and night. But here’s the news: if you still have a bunch of work to do, and you leave work at 5pm to spend time with your family, the sun will still rise tomorrow. Furthermore, on a very practical level, if you put limits on yourself, it can actually aid in your productivity (look up “Parkinson’s Law”). I’ve found it very helpful to architect my day with large blocks of time devoted to different priorities. Here is the link to my personal weekly template – feel free to use and adapt this to your own needs: https://www.dropbox.com/s/s1ii2zcgft4i88j/weekly%20schedule.xls?dl=0
Rest. In times of change and heavy workloads, we must rest before we get burned out. A mentor recently told me that sometimes in the midst of running waters, we can’t even see ourselves for who we are. We must take time to rest, so the waters can settle and we can see our own reflection. In addition to calming the waters, these are the times wherein we can be rejuvenated in the Lord, and reconnect with our spouses and children. And really, I think this will help you do your job better too – you’ll be reenergized to better serve and lead.
A couple practical ideas:
Sabbath. Take at least one full day off to rest, where you do nothing but spend time with the Lord and with your family. God Himself took a full day to rest; we can too.
Vacation. Take a vacation with your spouse (without the kids). The same mentor I mentioned above basically commanded me to do this haha. Relax, connect with each other, and let the waters still. Don’t wait until you’re burned out to do this. My wife and I haven’t done this yet, but we have it scheduled!
The Gospel. You should be fostering a Gospel-centered home. The Gospel is the good news that God Himself entered human history through the person and work of Jesus Christ, and accomplished salvation for us by dying on the cross and taking the punishment for our sins. When we believe in Him and rely on His good work (rather than our own), He rescues us from judgment for sin into fellowship with Him. God will restore all of creation, which we will then get to enjoy with Him forever. That is good news for us, and for our families. When this is the center of our homes and infuses every aspect of our lives, it frees us to better love and serve others, doing so for God’s glory and for our joy.
Our Need for God
Although this past season of much change has been difficult, I wouldn’t trade it for the world. God has used this time to expose my weaknesses; to show my need for Him. And while it has been difficult on our family at times, I think we’ve been made better for it. We’re now about to embark on another season of “radical life change” as we get ready to move our family to the Congo. We pray that God’s grace would sustain us in future seasons, and that we would heed all of the above advice. While we pray that our work would be a light for the Gospel, we also pray this for our household, and for yours.
Dan Myatt is the co-founder of Mavuno and serves as its CEO. Dan is a passionate leader who believes the Congolese already have the right people, the right talent, and the right ideas – his goal is to simply unlock the doors of opportunity.