Considering the Alternatives
Work has been especially demanding lately. Our company has received a recent influx of work from our most demanding client. I spent the first three weeks of 2009 drilling a site in eastern Long Island and did not return home two or three nights a week. The past four weeks have found me drilling a challenging site in Franklin, Sussex County, New Jersey. Our proposal provided for approximately nine weeks (45 days) of field work and three weeks of analysis/design, after which the report would be issued. Our dear client approved the proposal, but demanded that they have the report in hand after four weeks!
As such, my darling wife was in many ways without a husband for four weeks. I worked Monday through Friday and four consecutive Saturdays during the course of the project (the last Saturday was a 15 hour day on Valentine's Day). It was not uncommon for me to be away from home for 65-75 hours a week, coming home to a wife who is greater and greater with child every day.
How easy it could have been to despair or to complain. How 'justified' we could have been in grumbling about the difficulties and suffering home life that were ours for a month. Alas, I cannot report that Becca and I were free of the above during the course of the Franklin job. We needed to confront each other daily about attitudes of ingratitude that we were observing in each other.
What most helped us to stave off such spirits of sin was to consider what the Lord had brought into our lives, and--perhaps more importantly--to consider the alternative. The simplest and most convicting exercise in Considering the Alternatives for me was just to listen to the radio news station on my way to and from work. Each day brought reports of more layoffs, bankruptcies, and/or mortgage foreclosures. The reality of our nation's fragile economy was undeniable. How could I complain about "too much work" when so many in my church and family were living daily life with a sword hanging over their heads regarding their job and their house? How could I grumble about a lack of a home life, when at least the payment of my mortgage was assured?
Becca and I have found that sometimes it is difficult to "give thanks in all circumstances" (1 Thess 5:18) by merely trying to put on a brave face. Yet it can seem disingenuous to try to meet every difficulty with some lame alternative like "at least I have my health" or "it could be worse." It is a worthwhile exercise to regularly reflect not only on the particular lines that have fallen for you, but also the lines that have not fallen.
I have already noted that I found it humbling to consider how my company has been scrambling to complete our scope of work while so many other companies are facing dire ledger sheets marked in red. Other truths upon which Becca and I forced ourselves to reflect were the following: 1) By working so many Saturdays, I made several hundred dollars in overtime pay that I otherwise would not have. 2) It was difficult to be away from home for so many hours out of the day, but at least I was spending every night in my own bed next to my wife. 3) The pregnancy with which the Lord has blessed us has not been one to cause me to worry about leaving Becca alone while I am at work. 4) By driving to job sites so much this year, my Travel Expense checks have been so big that, combined with the overtime pay, we have been able to put the last four of Becca's paychecks directly into savings! 5) By chasing two/three drill rigs around a snow-covered hillside for a month, I lost all my winter fat (all three pounds of it), and I am in lean, sinewy mid-summer form.
In discussing the above with my brother, Joel, he pointed me to the third chapter in Habakuk. In verses 17 and 18, the prophet declares,
17 Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, 18 yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation.
I am reminded that even if I could not find a "silver lining" in a situation, I am nonetheless able and compelled to praise the Lord for purchasing my soul from the depths of hell. I will perhaps find myself in circumstances for which I cannot give thanks. Yet as a redeemed child of God, my cup does not ever but run over.