Confessions of a Workaholic
God sets the captives free — even when they’re doing His work.
by Bob Jones as told to Julie Guirgis
My wife, Jane, rings at 6:00 p.m. “Will you be home for dinner?” Frustration is in her voice.
“Twenty minutes, I promise,” I tell her. But as usual, I know it will be another late night at the office. I can’t remember the last time I made it home for dinner. It’s been that long.
Sixty- to seventy-hour workweeks were normal to me in pastoring a medium-sized church. It wasn’t uncommon for me to go to work early in the morning and continue late into the night. My typical day consisted of waking up at 6:00 a.m., arriving at church at 7:00 a.m., and spending one hour in prayer and reflection. For the next ten to twelve hours I maintained a chaotic schedule of Bible study, counseling, and hospital visits. Sometimes I would get home late from pastoral visits.
Striving to please
My obsession with work stemmed from my childhood. I was raised to be a high achiever and excel at everything I did. It started with getting good grades in school, then progressed to graduating with honors from high school and college. This work ethic transferred into the ministry.
I lost both my parents in a car accident when I was a baby, so my grandparents raised me. They had alcoholic parents, creating in them an unhealthy need to sacrifice for others at all costs. I also inherited this gene. Fueling my constant striving was the belief that I simply wasn’t good enough.
My grandparents raised me to believe that emotions were messy and weak, so I struggled to express my feelings. I couldn’t trust any positive emotions I felt as real — only guilt, shame, fear, and pain.
To survive my childhood, I accepted continual conflict and tight-lidded emotions as normal. I overextended myself in the ministry and became excessively responsible for others in an attempt to medicate emotional pain and repress emotions.
During my college years, I met and married my wife. A music student, she shared my devotion to the Lord and wanted to use her talents to help me in ministry. I was convinced that she would understand the demands. But my thinking couldn’t have been further from the truth.
I arrived home that night close to 11 p.m. I tried to tiptoe inside, hoping Jane wouldn’t wake up, but she did to the sound of my rattling keys.
“Where have you been? You promised you would be home for dinner!” she shouted from the top of the stairs.
“I’m sorry, Honey. One of the guys needed counseling, and I couldn’t turn my back on him.” Jane rolled her eyes at me and shook her head. I knew she was sick of hearing all my excuses.
“When was the last time you showed up to dinner without an interrupted phone call?” she asked.
“It’s late. Let’s go to sleep and talk about this in the morning.” I wanted to avoid confrontation at all costs.
The following day I left home early and purposely got home late. I didn’t want to hear Jane challenge me about work again.
I replaced her lack of encouragement with the approval and praise I received from the congregation and other pastors I worked with. My self-worth was dependent on ministry triumphs, my identity tied to what I did.
I lived with a gnawing fear that if the ministry failed, then I failed as a man. During the day the older pastors greeted me with honor and respect. “You’re one of the best pastors we’ve seen in a long time. Your devotion and passion for the ministry is incredible. Keep up the good work!” they cheered.
As years went by, my job continued to swamp my existence. I spent more time at church than at home. The only exchange of words Jane and I had was a quick “hello” each morning before rushing off.
Feeling guilty, I planned to come home early one day to spend quality time with Jane. But when I arrived, the house was oddly quiet. I called out to Jane; no reply. Something was wrong.
I anxiously looked through the house. Jane had packed her bags and left me a note on the bedside table: “Things have to change.”
I stood there, shocked. Being so preoccupied with ministry caused me to be emotionally unavailable to my wife. It made me realize how far I’d fallen and how determined I was to get help.
Counseling opened my eyes to the root issues of being a workaholic. My grandparents accepted me solely on my performance, so I translated this into my relationship with God. I believed I could please God only through productivity and performance.
I now realized I had to find my self-worth and identity in Christ, not in ministry, and that His unconditional love is based on who I am, not what I do. Over time I learned to forgive myself for not being perfect.
I read Ecclesiastes 8:15: “So I commended enjoyment, because a man has nothing better under the sun than to eat, drink, and be merry; for this will remain with him in his labor all the days of his life which God gives him under the sun” (NKJV). This verse helped me understand the balance between work and rest.
To get my life back on track, I had to take a break from the ministry. Most of the congregation understood my decision, except the pastors that once praised me. They looked down on me, calling me a quitter. But they were oblivious to their own addiction to work.
I realized I had made the ministry an idol that I worshiped above all else. This caused my relationships to suffer, especially my significant ones. Addressing my work addiction helped me renew my relationship with God and my wife.
Reconnecting and recovery
After six months of counseling, I rang Jane. Reconnecting with her was an important part of recovery.
At first, she was skeptical that I had changed. After years of broken promises and neglect, it took some time for her to trust me again. I told her about stepping down from the ministry and that I was getting counseling.
She could see the change in me and knew I was genuine about getting better. I made my marriage a priority and made sure we spent quality time together each day. After years of brokenness, guilt, and resentment, God healed our marriage.
I returned to the ministry, but not as a pastor; it was too much responsibility. Because of my experiences of work addiction, I had a passion to help others, so I introduced a work recovery support group at church. I still run it. We study from the Life Recovery Bible and other recovery literature to help us understand the nature of an addiction, its causes, and steps to recovery.
I have seen God set so many people free from this soul-destroying addiction. I am thankful that His mercy and grace have restored the broken pieces of my life and equipped me in helping others find freedom.