You Can’t Have It All

Life is a constant balancing act. You can’t have it all. That is particularly hard for me to write, because I want to have it all. I want to be a great husband, and a great dad, and a great pastor, and a great coach, and to improve my woodworking skills, and win the road races that I run in, and write, and read new books, and travel, and volunteer, and finish my basement, and garden, and paint, and to do a whole host of other things. When I’m honest with myself I have a hard enough time finding the time to try to be great at just the first four things on my list.

I’m really just tired. I’m tired of hearing people tell themselves, and each other, that they can have it all; that they can coast through life without sacrificing some of the things they love. It’s simply not possible. And believing that you can have it all creates a terrible mess of our lives and the lives of our children. Refusing to sacrifice some things means that in the end you’ll wind up sacrificing everything. I’ve seen it firsthand.

I’ve had the privilege over the last few years to coach high school Track and Cross Country. It’s a blast. I love running for so many reasons. It is endlessly challenging, and endlessly rewarding, and is itself a great metaphor for the life of a follower of Jesus.

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the Founder and Perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” – Hebrews 12:1-3

I love coaching because there is much more going on than watching kids run and encouraging them to run faster. Along the way, these student athletes are learning about life and faith. They learn what it means to set a goal and work hard to achieve it. They experience elation and joy at the end of well-run races. They experience frustration and heartache when they’ve given a race everything they had only to be beat out in the last few meters. They learn that there are countless boring miles to be run in preparation for a successful race. They learn that rest is as crucial to successful training as the quality workouts themselves.

But the most important lesson I’ve set out to teach each student athlete that comes through the program is that they can’t have it all.

The importance of this lesson was driven home for me over the last few seasons. Most of these students seem to have a huge fear of missing out. This fear of missing out drives them to be over-involved. They don’t want to miss out on any opportunity and so they join everything. They’re on the track team, and the robotics team, and the baseball team, and the soccer team, and the drama club, and in student council, and they travel with the choir, they work part time, and they try to squeeze in time for homework. I’m not sure where any of them find the time to sleep.

They don’t want to miss out so they sign up for everything and then shortchange everything. They skip practices, they skip drama club sessions, they skip meets, they skip out on robotics competitions. They give everything fifty percent of their energy and nothing gets their full energy or attention.

They wind up being mediocre in everything instead of excelling in a few things.

The end result is always the same. They can’t have it all. No matter how hard they try.

They’ve come by this belief honestly. They aren’t making it up. They are mimicking their parents and our society. As adults we talk and hear talk all the time about the work/life balance. There are articles all over the place debating whether it’s possible to “have it all” — i.e., is it possible to be an all-star in your career and have a healthy family and have cool and fun hobbies and be financially stable and have that great body all at the same time?

The conventional answer is some variation of “do more with less,” “practice time management,” or as Arnold Schwarzenegger once said, “sleep faster.” But no amount of time management or “sleeping faster” will add even a second to your allotted time in any given day.

What if the answer is to this problem is to want less? What if the answer is to accept your limitations and be content with less? What if the answer involves coming to terms with the fact that you are not God? I’m reminded of this passage from James’ letter.

“Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit’ – yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.” – James 4:13-14

Stepping away from the “I can have it all” mentality starts by asking the question, “What do I choose to value more than anything else?” and then filling in the blanks from there. The end result of asking that question and following through will look differently depending on what you value.

So if you value sports above everything else, your choices and actions will reflect that, whether you are a child or an adult. You won’t miss practice for drama club. You won’t skip that game for work. Perhaps you’ll still hold down a part-time job, but it’ll be one that bows down to the demands of your team. A sacrifice will be made.

Perhaps you value your family above everything else, and there too, your choices and actions will reflect that value. You’ll skip that work meeting to attend your daughter’s violin recital. You’ll find a job that affords you the time with your family that you desire. You’ll be sure to find teams that have practice times that work best for the demands of your family. All of the other things that you do will bow down to the demands of your family. Sacrifices will be made.

And, if you value God above everything else, your choices and actions will reflect that in the same way. You’ll make your kids skip their games and practices so that you can attend worship together, not the other way around. Or, you’ll worship at a different time if your church offers multiple services. You’ll make the time to pray each day, even if that means cutting something else out. There will still be some time in your life for recitals, and games, and practices, and many other things, but all of those things will bow down before God. Make no mistake: if you value God above everything else, sacrifices will be made.

You can’t have it all.

“No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and…”
– Jesus, in Matthew 6:24

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