Choosing to Cheat
Who Wins when Family and Work Collide
Multnomah Books, 2003, 142 pp., ISBN 1-59052-329-2
Andy Stanley is the founding pastor of North Point Community Church in Atlanta and the author of several very practical books on church and the Christian life. In a life filled with too many obligations and too little time, a person often has to cheat work or family. This book is about establishing priorities and saying no to important things for the sake of better things. There are excellent study guide questions at the end.
Cheating usually involves giving up an intangible virtue for a tangible reward. In this book it refers to giving up one thing in order to gain another. When you are on a diet and want to eat, you cheat either your appetite or your waistline. You make such decisions every day. Every responsibility competes for your time and you have to cheat somewhere. Many feel trapped in the pull between job and family. Such ongoing tensions can fatally strain even solid marriages. The answer: you must cheat work rather than family. (9-12)
1. Everybody cheats
"I love to go to work. And like you, I have more to do than I can ever hope to get done." "At the same time, I love my wife and kids. I love to go home. And like you, there is more to do at home than will ever get done." "…somebody is going to feel cheated." I'm going to cheat somewhere. The question is where. I am much better off to cheat by design. (19-22)
2. A collision course
Your work and family shape your sense of identity more than anything else. God gave Adam work before the curse. It is part of our life on earth. "When our attitudes and actions are right, our work is actually very pleasing to God. That's the role of work in its purest form." (27)
"Whereas work is task-focused, the family is relationship-focused. One is about doing, while the other is about loving." "Family requires an entirely different set of tools and standards of evaluation. You do your job. You love your family. It is when we reverse the order that the tension escalates and the tug-of-war begins." (28)
Work is primarily a way to provide for the family. Clearly work serves family. "But in reality work becomes far more than a simple means to an end. For many it becomes the end." "The rewards are tangible, progress is measurable, and the accolades are notable. Before long we aren't working to support our families. We are working to support something far less virtuous--our egos." (30)
"The point is work, whether in or out of the house, can become not only an occupation but also a preoccupation. When that happens, the task steals a piece of us that belongs somewhere else. Before long our families begin to sense it. The people who deserve your undivided attention aren't attended to while the projects that could wait are." (31)
"Your Creator does not define your life by your career achievements or the neatness of your pantry." (31)
"Contentment…is found when we align our priorities with His as it relates to both areas of responsibility." (32)
3. Watch for falling rocks
Stanley uses an illustration of a man who asks you, as a friend, to hold a heavy rock for him while he goes off to do a variety of tasks. He keeps doing more and more tasks, leaving you to hold the rock. How do you feel?
"Everybody is willing to be 'understanding' when a loved one needs to cheat a little. And in real life, cheating is unavoidable from time to time. But when they are left to carry a load they were not created to carry, it is just a matter of time before things will begin to unravel. There's a point at which that mental willingness succumbs to something our families have no control over." "[It becomes] emotional exhaustion. And when that happens, the rocks come tumbling down. There's always a final straw…." (45) "When the rock drops, there is always some permanent damage. Most rocks can't be put back together again." (46)
4. Picking up the pieces
What your family wants from you more than anything else is to feel that they are your priority. (47) Perhaps you love your family in your heart but you don't love them in your schedule. They can't feel your heart because of your schedule!
They hold things together while we're gone because they want to please us. They hope their sacrifice will result in our deeper love and appreciation. They will do almost anything we ask. But over time the enthusiasm wanes. "When we leave our families holding the rock for too long, their sacrifice becomes a source of the very thing they dread the most--rejection." (50) We send the message: "You're important…but right now something else is more important. When we take advantage of their willingness to support our dysfunctional schedules and misprioritization, we send a message of rejection." (51) "Cheating at home is translated as rejection." (52)
The author tries to check the gauges frequently with his wife and children. "With our kids I'm more specific. At least twice a week at bedtime I ask each of them this series of questions:
· Is everything okay in your heart?
· Did anyone hurt your feelings today?
· Are you mad at anyone?
· Did anyone break a promise to you?
· Is there anything I can do for you?
That fourth question is really important to me. I accidentally promise my kids stuff all the time. I say 'accidentally' because they hear everything as a promise. 'I'll think about it' sounds like a promise to my kids." (55)
"But the point is, you've got to slow down long enough to check the family vital signs." (56)
"Cheating strategically allows us to communicate the message our families long to feel--you are important to me. You are more important to me than anybody or anything else in my world." (58)
5. A double-edged sword
There are times to take a stand. You may be trying to be a loving, understanding spouse when in reality you are simply facilitating the failure of your mate. "Husbands and wives are hesitant to put their foot down because they feel like they are betraying their commitment as a supportive spouse." But "to facilitate your husband or wife's misprioritization is to add to your own dysfunction." (62)
"If your marriage is headed toward a crisis anyway, go ahead and have it while you still have your wits about you. Call the question. Show up at work. Pack up the kids. Hide the keys. Do something. But for your sake and the sake of your marriage, don't wait until you are so beaten down that there seems to be only one option." (63)
"Whatever you do, don't sit idly by while your self-esteem slowly erodes away." "Do something now while you are still strong enough to weather the ensuing storm. Do something now before you feel like your only option is to run." (64)
"Every time you cheat your family--no matter how trivial--it represents a draw against someone's emotional strength. Every time." "If the deposits don't vastly outnumber the withdrawals, there will be tension." (66)
"On the marketplace side of the equation, you are expendable. Even if you own your own company, you are expendable. You know that. At home, you play a unique role." (67)
"In choosing to put your family first, you have brought your priorities in line with those of your heavenly Father." (68)
6. A tale of two kings
You tell your kids to be like Daniel (in the Bible) and do the right thing, even when it costs you something. But somehow your situation seems unique. (74)
Daniel resolved not to defile himself. Lasting change begins with a decision. (76) "First you've got to decide to quit cheating at home before you know how you are going to pull it off, before you know how things are going to sort themselves out. Once you have made up your mind, you need to come up with a plan--an exit strategy from your current schedule--and present it to your employer." "Then, like Daniel, you need to set up a trial." (82)
7. Make up your mind
"Reprioritizing your world around your family is not just a good idea. It is a God idea." "Nowhere in Scripture are you commanded to lay down your life for your stock options. Or to love your career like Christ loved the church. We are instructed to do our jobs and love our families (see Colossians 3:23). When you love your job and do your family, you've not only stepped outside the bounds of family life, you have stepped outside the will of God." (86)
"You need something to reverse your momentum. A conviction has the power to do just that." (87) "A firmly held conviction sharpens your focus. When you commit to a direction, it narrows your options. And that in turn forces you to focus only on the options that will lead to the desired results." "Conviction eliminates options." (88)
"Deciding not to cheat at home involves 'cutting off' those behaviors and habits that are contrary to your new conviction." "Eliminating options is part of what makes this process so painful." (89)
"Are there bridges you need to burn?" (92)
"Making up your mind will require some specific commitments. They may appear to be impractical at first." (92) "The more specific you are about the results you feel called to achieve, the easier it will be to follow through. And the easier it will be for others to hold you accountable." "So what is nonnegotiable?" "Again, promising to do 'better' won't get it." "It's easier to be vague." "Everybody feels better for the moment, but nothing changes." "Let's start with this question: What change would your spouse most like you to make in regard to your schedule?" (93)
The author made a nonnegotiable commitment to leave church at 4:00 and work a 45-hour work week. (95)
"I have never felt the pressure some feel to build a successful church. My responsibility is to prioritize my life in accordance with the priorities laid out in Scripture." "What I did know was that we are never called to violate the principles of God in order to attain or maintain the blessings of God." (97)
"If I were to ask your spouse and kids what schedule changes they would love to see you make, what would they say?" (98)
"The things that will make or break you professionally are not related to the number of hours you work." (98) "With family, success is always related to time. In the world of family you have far more control over the things that really make a difference." (99)
8. A fair trial
"Specifically, how do you go about convincing your employer to lighten up? In short, very carefully." "The goal is to negotiate your way into a more manageable and flexible schedule." (101)
"God honors diplomacy and dependency." "You need wisdom, tact, and some friends praying for you back at home." (103) "Cheating at work has nothing to do with cheating your employer." (104)
Daniel (in the Bible) did three things:
1. He asked for permission to change his work conditions
2. He listened to the objections from his supervisor.
3. He proposed a test that took into account his supervisor's concerns. (106)
From that we can learn to address the issue directly; ask, don't demand; and offer alternatives. (107)
"You'll never know what God is willing to do on your behalf until you are willing to step out and to trust Him." "God honors those who honor Him." (114) "Position yourself to be blessed by conducting your business in a way that invites God into the mix." (115)
9 Trading places
"Order your world around your Heavenly Father's priorities and then trust Him to fill the gaps created by your faithfulness. Instead of asking God to stand watch over your family while you give to your career what belongs at home, turn the prayer around. Go home, seek Him first, and ask Him to bless things at work." (122)
"One day you will come home from the office for the last time." "What and who you come home to will be determined by what and who you choose to cheat between now and then." (123)
Take the thirty-day challenge. "Make up your mind not to cheat at home for thirty days. Mark it on your calendar. Sit down with your spouse and determine exactly what that will look like. And then start!" (124)
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