Years ago the band Queen sang a duet with David Bowie called “Under Pressure.”
It describes the impact pressure has on people and even mentions that it “splits family in two.” Not much has changed in over 35 years and perhaps it has become even worse with all our technological advances. We can do so much more with our technology but that so much more puts pressure on us to perform at even higher levels at work, and in our leisure.
The military member understands pressure. We are trained to stand up under pressure in basic training as the instructors do all they can to wear us down. The ability to overcome the onslaught of voices and tasks is what gets us through that initial training, and then helps us develop the ability to face pressures in combat and non-combat situations.
Family Under Pressure
What happens when that pressure becomes too much to handle and our families suffer as a result? The demands on us at work and home can be overwhelming, and it is too easy to act like a loaded weapon and discharge built up frustration and anger on our spouses and children. Ironically, we even mandate they perform at higher levels to ensure our home is peaceful (and dare we say, perfect). We are probably putting our families under too much pressure without realizing it.
Here are some diagnostic questions to ask yourself about the level of pressure in your home:
- Do you expect your home to be cleaner than your office?
- Do you expect your family to complete “suspenses” (chores, homework, etc.) quicker than you turn-around tasks at work?
- Do you expect your family to perform at a pace equivalent to basic training and yet allow yourself to operate at a much slower pace?
- Do you expect your children’s grades and performance at school to be perfect when your work may not be that same quality?
Don’t read over these questions too quickly. Take time to think about specific examples of how you are putting your family under pressure.
The keyword in all the questions is “expect” because more often than not, our expectations can be the root of problems at home. A simple formula may put it into perspective: E – R = F (Expectation minus Reality equals Frustration). When I expect perfection, I have set the bar so high no one can attain it. Even if I don’t expect perfection, a very high standard creates a tense atmosphere that results in decreased performance. The larger the gap between expectation and reality (big E and little R), the more frustration and anger grow. This leads to isolation, numbness, and possibly seeking other people or things to mitigate these feelings.
Basic training does demand high standards, but the instructors keep expectations in check with a firm grasp on reality. They realize new recruits are not going to be perfect, but they still apply pressure in calculated ways to help them perform at higher and higher levels. They balance reality with knowledge and experienced-based expectations to keep frustrations to a minimum (though you would never know it!). History validates this approach in repeatedly producing highly qualified warriors who are ready, willing and able to serve.
The basic training model is nothing new and in some ways mimics God’s approach in making us holy (sanctification). God has high standards for us and Jesus preached this very thing in the Sermon on the Mount, telling His followers to be perfect as the Father is perfect (Matt. 5:48). Reality tells us matching God’s character is beyond our ability because we continually miss the mark set for us (Rom. 3:23). We can’t be perfect, but God is not frustrated because He has paid for our sins (justification), and the distance between expectation and reality is covered by grace in sanctification. By His grace, our failures are paid for by Jesus (2 Cor. 5:21), and then the failures become His tool to help us depend on Him daily.
If we have received such a great grace, then we ought to offer the same grace to our families, while not neglecting properly balanced expectations. 1 Thessalonians 5:14 can be used as a road map to regain balance in your family. “We urge you, brethren, admonish the unruly (idle, lazy), encourage the fainthearted (timid, worn-out), help the weak, be patient with everyone.” When your expectations and reality become out of balance, use 1 Thessalonians 5:14 to evaluate the situation.
- Is your son being undisciplined or lazy? Then warn him by way of instruction.
- Does your daughter have a “small soul” and struggle with life? Then try coming alongside her with comforting words.
- Does your child not have the ability to keep up with the family pace? Don’t abandon your child, but slow the pace.
We are in this for the long haul with our family. They will not improve overnight just like you did not improve overnight at basic training. Reflect on God’s mercy and use it as a way to shrink your expectations and gain a perspective on reality that will bring you and your family true peace.