Thursday, February 28, 2008

When a Trailer Park is Just Right, Part Two: Responding to Thoughtful Comments on the Issue

I wasn't planning on writing more about this issue, but the comments from yesterday's post were so thoughtful that I thought it necessary to do so. To all who responded, I really appreciated your thoughtful comments. I'll interact with them briefly below in an edited form, and you (and others) can feel free to respond back.

Anonymous 1: "From a woman's perspective, I wouldn't care if we lived in a trailer, but I would feel very poor for the lack of my husband's time and energy at home if he was pouring himself into 2 jobs. I know provision is a big drive for men, but for women emotional security is more important than financial security. I don't care HOW we live, as long as it is together and the quality of our time together is real. When the focus becomes work for whatever reason, then the marriage relationship can so easily become a case of two ships passing in the night. I think the definition of provision needs to include spiritual and emotional provision, and centre less around money."

Anonymous friend, you make good points here. Please note that I would concur in not wanting to pit emotional security against financial security, and that I was not attempting to encourage men to do so. What you and I are saying is not unrelated. I think that you might have misread me such that you think that I am saying that a man should work as much as possible to provide as much possible because I understand this to be a man's role. This is not what I am saying. I am saying that I believe that Scripture calls a man to provide for his own. If he must tax himself to do so, then so be it. But I am nowhere encouraging men to work so much that they have little home life. No, a man should work hard such that his family has shelter and food and a certain level of comfort. These are the basic needs of life, and anyone who does not so provide for his family is worse than a pagan. (1 Tim. 5:8)

Depending on what a man does, this may mean some long hours, and that may in turn mean a loss of time with family. The basic needs of shelter and food are so significant to a biblical definition of manhood, though, that according to the Bible, this man is acting rightly, even if we can all agree that the situation is less than ideal. The "two jobs and a trailer" lifestyle is not the model, and I would hope that it would be the uncommon exception rather than the rule. It may, however, be necessary in some situations, and though that is regrettable on one level, the man who cares in such a way for his family is honoring God, though he must still strive with all his might to emotionally care for his family.

You and I have significant agreement which could be confused in this discussion. I actually explicitly encouraged men not to work in such a way that their home life was compromised. The ideal, as I can see it, is for a man to both provide well for his family and have significant time with them. A man should attain all the training he can, all the education he can, in order to fit himself for a vocation (or calling) that uses his God-given gifts and that enables him to meet his family's material needs while giving him much time to spend with them. He should then go out and work and meet his family's material needs but do so, ideally, in such a way that he can cherish, care for, and disciple his wife and raise his children in the fear and admonition of the Lord by means of a loving, gentle, courageous spirit.


Kyle E.: "How do you pursue your Ph.D. studies and uphold providing at the same time? I experience the tension between study and work right now too--I'm a 2nd year M.Div. at Trinity. Thanks!"

Kyle, how nice to get a comment from a fellow TEDS student. I appreciate it, and thanks for writing on this humble little slice of the web. The easy answer is this: there is no easy answer! For me, providing for my family to this point in my life has meant a pretty busy life. My MDiv at Southern Seminary was a whirlwind for my wife and me. We existed in that "non-ideal" realm I mentioned above. It was difficult, and there was no getting around that. At the same time, though, we did what we had to do. We needed to pay bills, put food on the table, and be able to save a bit for the future, and so I worked, and my wife worked, though she did so to supplement our income and not because she had to. I would have been happy for us to have less money and for her to be home, but she was fine with working at that time, and so she did.

Essentially, I worked seven days a week for a year and a half. Monday through Friday I had work and class (four of them, and I did the language-intensive track), Saturday I caught up on the homework I couldn't do most weeknights due to the need to spend time with my wife (and due also to my own exhaustion), and Sunday I did work in between church services. It was a blistering pace, and I thank the Lord that we are out of it. That's one of the realities of certain seasons of life like that which the MDiv brings for most of us seminarians--I don't really see any way to remove some level of difficulty and hardship. If you stretch it out, you're in school forever and you can't minister like you want to. If you speed it up, you put your family through the grinder (if, it could be hoped, for a brief time). I chose as the head of my home to go hard and fast through seminary, and though it was hard and less than ideal, I think it was the right choice.

My PhD and job are actually more manageable than my MDiv and job. I'm not sure that's normal, but that's how it worked out for us. Whatever taxing degree program one is in, though, one has to commit oneself as a man to working hard for the good of his family, to taking the load on his own shoulders, and not placing it on his wife's shoulders (particularly when kids enter the equation). For me and many friends I knew, that meant long nights, sleepy days, and less time than we would have liked with our dear families. In the end, though, one makes it out, and perhaps the next season is all the sweeter for what one has just come through. Maybe that is the Lord's gift to us.


Anon. 2: "I worked two full time jobs and lived in an apartment in an old building so that my wife could be a full time caregiver. If only she had considered me and her son to be more important than television and drugs, it might have been worth it."

Anonymous (number two), I am so sorry to hear this. I don't know if I know you, but this sounds like a heartbreaking situation. If you are a Christian, I can only say to you that your hard work was honorable to the Lord, and will be rewarded, I am sure, on the last day. If you are not a believer, I commend you for your commitment to your family, and would encourage you to consider another costly example of sacrificial love--the love of Christ. This love will save your soul even as it frees you to forgive those who have caused you great pain on this earth.

Thanks to the commenters. Please note that I do not present this matter as uncomplicated, as neat-and-clean. As the responders have noted, the duty of masculine provision will often involve seasons of difficulty and hardship. Sacrifices will perhaps be called for. God never promises us that doing the right thing means that our lives will be neat and clean. No, doing the right thing often means the opposite. Difficulty must not turn us away from truth, however. More than this, it must not turn us away from joyful service in God's name. Whatever comes, we must gloss all our work with the remembrance that what we do, we do for God. That may sometimes be our only reward, but that is all the reward we need, is it not?

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3 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for your response Owen.

I think my concern is that the needs of the family are held in balance. I think I probably reacted strongly because in my first marriage the emphasis was SO heavily on the money side that everything else was put aside, and the marriage died as a result (before I was a Christian), so it's still a touchy subject for me. The crazy thing was that money wasn't lacking, it just didn't meet the "needs" of our materialistic lifestyle. (There would never have been enough money for all of our materialistic desires!!)

I guess the way I see it now is that I just want my husband, and I'd be willing to go without food for it, because his time is of far greater value to me than what goes in my mouth. I would rather downsize from the trailer to a cardboard box so that he could drop from the 2 jobs to 1 and spend more time with his family, and be sufficiently rested that he could actually do well in the job he had.

I HATE seeing the pressure that this provision thingy puts on men. In the end, it's God that provides. Through the man is just one way He does that. Since I became a Christian God has NEVER failed to provide for all my needs, often quite miraculously, with and without the help of men, when I have been financially responsible and when I haven't. God is faithful, ALWAYS. And I've learnt that even when I thought I didn't have enough, that it is still true that He always provides, so it was a matter of my perception and I've learnt to be grateful for what He has given me. (And that my needs are less than I think they are!)

I'm think I'm rambling :)

God bless.

4:21 PM  
Blogger Kyle E. said...

Owen,

And how nice to see a thoughtful blog from a fellow Trinity member! I really appreciate you taking the time to give me the scoop on your experience with provision through seminary. I find it rare though helpful to hear the testimony of others who have survived the M.Div., and I do mean "survived." I can resonate with the blistering pace. It seems a sacrifice in whatever way you pursue it: if too much time in one area, another area suffers. My wife works full time in a demanding role in corporate. I work part-time and attend classes full time--mixing income and degree completion to a level that seems the less of all evils so to speak.

I'll have to introduce myself to you sometime on campus. My full name is Kyle Sprecher. I am thinking through possible Ph.D. work sometime in the future, but I think my heart is for the pastorate for the foreseeable future.

God bless,
Kyle

6:39 PM  
Blogger Brian said...

I'll provide my comments on both posts here. We who are bivocational - either in the academy or in the local church - live on the front line of this issue. We live two biblical calls - to feed the flock and to minister and provide for our families. Sometimes, its under different circumstances. One may do so as to not burden the church. The other one may do so to gain experience while being able to provide. Most fall under both those guidelines.

But, we must remember, it is a calling. No man or his wife can endure this unless God has gifted them uniquely to deal with the many pressures and demands that this entails. Having only a small bit of seminary training, I will assume this goes for seminary students and faculty.

I, like so many in ministry, desire the best for our families, and pray that God will bless us. He does, but not always when and how we desire, and sometimes not as the world sees blessing. Dealing with mortgage payments, car payments, everyday bills, and the unforeseen tragedies and surprises (like having to support two families for a time), can lead you to look for more than what God has graciously provided us. Too often, this leads to, as anonymous says, a materialistic lifestyle that focuses too much on meeting our self-perceived "needs", rather than on focusing on what's important.(Guilty, your Honor)

The faithful believer, whether they are in vocational ministry or not, should be focused on maximizing their opportunities to minister. I, in my humanness, would give my right arm and learn to type with my left in order to be able to enter full-time ministry. I hope to do so if He wills it. But, right now, I will do whatever I need to do in order to do His good pleasure.

7:20 PM  

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