Life in the ministerial home involves a complicated time framework. You are "on call" 24 hours a day, seven days a week, every week, and sometimes even during vacation. Often it seems everyone in the world is controlling your time—everyone, that is, except you. And if you let everyone else control your time, you will never bring time under your control.
Just as you wouldn't survive long if your finances were out of control, it is equally difficult if your time is out of control. While we wouldn't think of failing to budget our money, we usually don't think of time as something for which we need to account. Hours and days just pass, from one crisis to the next, and the urgent takes priority over the important. Precious time gets gobbled up by the insignificant.
God places a special importance on time management. God asks us to return only ten percent of our money—one dime for a dollar. Yet He asks us to set aside one day in seven—or 14.3 percent of our time—especially for Him. Obviously, God considers our time more valuable to Him than our money!
Often we assume that other people have more time than we do, They don't. They're just budgeting their time differently, or putting priority on different items. Let me share with you some principles that have helped me manage my time constructively.
God's time and His work
No matter what positions we hold in life, God expects us to invest time in ministry for others. Often I have fretted over time wasted just sitting and talking with my next door neighbor—when I might have used that precious time with her more constructively for ministry. By scheduling a lunch or a shopping trip with her, I might have budgeted some time specifically for informal witnessing. The fact is that unless I plan to take time for ministry, I usually don't.
A friend of mine, who is involved in team ministry, has arranged with her husband to keep the children one afternoon and evening a week so that she can give Bible studies on a regular basis. Thus, she sets time aside specifically for the purpose of winning souls, and her personal ministry has been very fruitful.
All this planning still doesn't guarantee that a neighbor will never impose on your time unexpectedly. However, I have found that when people know you are sufficiently interested in them to plan times of fellowship together, the idle gossip across the back fence generally diminishes in favor of planned activities.
Our families and their needs
Most families would have more social and recreation time together if all family members participated together in the maintenance of the home. Many wives get caught up in the superwoman syndrome. For many of us, the demand for perfection which we began to place upon ourselves when we were compared to others as young children, carries over into adulthood. We want to excel at work, have a perfectly clean house, and cook gourmet Sabbath dinners. And when we come up short in any one of these areas we anguish over our "failures."
Furthermore, many of us have been reared to believe that,"If you want something done right, do it yourself." The important question to ask, however, is not if others can do the job as well as you can, but if they can do the job well enough. Many tasks can be delegated to other family members. Delegation teaches our children and spouses their responsibilities within the family structure. It also teaches them that they do not exist to be waited upon, but to serve. Each family member should have specific jobs for which he or she is held accountable.
When things aren't done to my standard I must ask myself, "Will this matter a month from now?" If it will matter, I should correct it. If it will not, why waste the time?
For pastors' wives who have full-time jobs or careers, the dilemma of balancing and budgeting both time and money becomes particularly significant.
Sometimes we don't realize the advantages of the electronic age and the value of conveniences which allow us time that we would not have otherwise. When it comes time for you to purchase or replace an appliance, make the time element a major consideration. A freezer that does not need defrosting will save a couple of days a year. A self-cleaning oven can save hours each month. Washers that automatically dispense fabric softener or bleach can save countless minutes running back and forth on every load. Microwave ovens literally knock hours off meal preparation. These luxurious conveniences may seem like extras to some onlookers, but they can give you the opportunity for giving a Bible study rather than staying home to defrost the refrigerator. Save your time for witnessing projects, time with your family, or personal development.
If you are career oriented, you may need to hire outside help. It may seem like a luxury to hire someone to do the ironing or heavy cleaning, but it may be an expense that needs to be built into the two-career family's budget. Ellen White consistently relied on other Christian women to help maintain her busy household.
Many two-career couples find that eating out is justifiable when time considerations are more important than money.
Our responsibilities as pastors' spouses
A discussion about the unique responsibilities of the pastor's spouse has the potential for opening a can of worms, because every pastor's wife relates differently to her skills, time commitment and personal interests in that role. How involved you're going to be with the church's activities must be an individual choice. But let me share a few guidelines for prudently budgeting the time you choose to spend on these functions.
The team ministry concept affirms that wives are called, together with their husbands, to ministry. Therefore it is important that spouses work together to set their priorities for church involvement rather than allowing the agendas of others to determine those priorities.
First, decide what church activities you would be most comfortable working with and how much time each of these will demand weekly. If that is more time than you can invest, you should decline. Many of us feel guilty saying no to a worthy project. If you suffer pangs of guilt when you decline an assignment, or if you end up saying yes when you really wanted to decline, the General Conference Continuing Education Course entitled Carefronting, by Betty Lou Hartlein, could be of immense help to you.
Second, there are people in the church who will want you to deliver messages, copy recipes, devise games for the church social and anything else that pops into their heads. I have found it impossible to remember all the items that people want me to accomplish or provide for them. When someone says, "Oh, by the way, I would like such and such, I simply reply, "You know, I have a short memory. If you will get me a note about that, I will be better able to remember to do it." You would be surprised how many times an apparently urgent need is not sufficiently important for someone to spend two minutes jotting a reminder for you. So is it important enough for you to spend the time which you have budgeted for church-related projects?
Personal growth and development
Without proper care of ourselves, we cannot serve God or others well. Physical, mental and spiritual growth are absolutely vital.
Physical exercise clears the mind and tones the body. After an hour of exercise, I feel better prepared to face the tasks a t hand and find that I work faster and accomplish more than I did before. You are probably asking, "But where will I find the time?" Perhaps you can budget some of the time you are going to save from implementing the suggestions mentioned in this article.
It is equally important sometimes just to relax and do nothing. If you are a person who gains inner strength from solitude, this is not time wasted. In the long run you will have the strength to do more. You can also use that time for exercise, meditation, or prayer. My sister gets up an hour early and goes for a walk. By the time she returns, her husband and son are up and ready for breakfast. This walk is her quiet time to prepare herself for a full day.
"Rest is the step backward before the leap forward." Make certain you get adequate rest. That includes going to bed the same time each evening. Don't try to stay up to finish "just one more project." Get up earlier in the morning instead. Arising before everyone else gives you some quiet time for meditation and study. That extra 15 to 30 minutes can start your day with a much better outlook on life.
Regularly saedule some free time. Go to a museum, art gallery or shopping. Visit a friend. Or just stay home and read a book—alone. Many times when I get home at the end of a difficult day, just taking a shower refreshes and adds strength for accomplishing my evening tasks.
If you wish to improve your use of time, it is important to find out where time is being lost. One way is to keep a time ledger for one week. Record each job, what you did, when you did it, and how long it took, in 15 minute time increments. At the end of the week, review the overall picture. Where has time slipped through your fingers? What were the most productive times?
Using lists to save time
One way to keep important items prioritized is to maintain a "to do" list, plus a larger monthly project list. The long-range list might include projects such as cleaning out the garage, storing seasonal clothing, planting flowers, etc. Keep in mind these hints for utilizing your lists.
1. Avoid over-scheduling. Remember that tasks always take longer than you think they will.
2. Prioritize your list. Schedule the most important items for your peak energy hours.
3. Review the list each morning. Add new items as some are crossed off.
4. Evaluate listed items. If an item has been on your "to do" list for several days, was it really important?
Time robbers, time gifts
Television and the telephone are the big twin time robbers! Think about the times you have walked through the family room and something on the television caught your eye. Before you knew it, twenty minutes had been lost. Leave the television off unless there is something specific you planned to see. You might find that a VCR helps you control the television: with a VCR, you can watch what you want, when you want, without commercials.
Telephone calls can cause havoc for the best laid time plans. If someone calls and says, "This will only take a minute," you can politely reply that a minute is all you have and if it will take longer, you will have to call him or her back another time. It might be helpful to install a telephone answering machine for those times when your husband is not at home, or when you wish to remain undisturbed for study or devotions.
Just as some things tend to rob us of time, every so often we are granted a "gift certificate" of time. These bonuses can come at the dentist's office, while riding in the car, or waiting for your partner. With these times in mind, I almost always have a book I want to read or a needlepoint project I'm working on. I can't remember an evening in the last ten years when I sat down specifically to do handwork; almost all of my projects have been done during these bonus times.
Think of each day as your personal time account. Every morning you are credited with 1,440 minutes. Whatever you fail to use wisely will not be carried over; it is erased from your account forever. Count the importance of every minute. Just as pennies make dollars, minutes make hours.
As we struggle to keep up with the march of time—sometimes, it seems, marching to a faster beat than we feel we can keep up with—we need to remember how much our Savior accomplished in His short and a half years on earth. He took quality time for His family, never forgetting the needs of His mother and close friends. He took time for personal revitalization and prayer, in order to gain the strength needed to finish His mission. By establishing our priorities and requesting the guidance of the Holy Spirit each one of us can manage the time we have on this earth to prepare ourselves, our families, and our neighbors for the soon coming of Jesus.