March 22, 2016

Something Bigger Than Baseball

Important disclosure first: I am not a baseball fan and barely understand the rules of the game.

The surprise announcement last Tuesday of the unexpected retirement of Chicago White Sox slugger Adam LaRoche, 36, just weeks before the opening of the season caused major reactions from commentators and fans all around the country. 

LaRoche, a 12-year veteran of the game who had played for six major league franchises, hinted at the reason for his sudden retirement by using the hashtag #FamilyFirst when he announced the retirement on Twitter. 

According to some reports, the management of the Chicago White Sox had asked him to limit the time his son Drake could spend with him on the training grounds of the club. Family for Adam LaRoche and his wife, Jennifer, was so important that it ultimately led him to walk away from a contract that would have paid him $13 million in the upcoming season. Apparently, the LaRoche family had always traveled together during the past seasons and used online tutoring services for the education of their two children.

I cannot speak to the impact of LaRoche’s decision for Major League Baseball. What impacted me was the commitment to his family and the ever-present search to find the right work-family balance. Here was someone willing to pay a high price to live his priorities. $13 million reasons to compromise did not convince LaRoche — and, unlike millions who struggle with the same questions — he was able and willing to act on his convictions.

Here are two questions I have asked myself since I read the news: First, what does family mean in my professional life? And second, would I be willing to act on my convictions regarding my family — even when it hurts?

I have worked for the Seventh-day Adventist Church in full-time ministry since I finished my doctoral studies more than 20 years ago. Both my wife, Chantal, and I felt God’s urgent call and we’ve served (mostly in teaching roles) in Africa, South America, and Asia. For the last seven years, we have been working at the headquarters of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Silver Spring, Maryland. 

It’s a busy building and a hub of activity. Travel itineraries, publishing deadlines, speaking appointments, and committee meetings can make life complex and full — different from the life of a university professor living on a campus. We used to eat most of the meals together as my children went to the Adventist primary school on campus and my office was just a 2-minute walk away from our university-owned duplex home. Now, my teenage girls need to navigate very busy lives with school, group study projects, music classes, sport activities, Pathfinder club appointments, AY meetings, etc., etc., etc. We don’t eat lunch together anymore, but try hard to sit around the same table for breakfast and supper.

Like many other moms and dads around the world, I often feel that I am shortchanging my children. Modern media has made tremendous inroads into our home lives. I read work-related e-mails or other urgent communications at night on my phone or at my desk at home. Somehow the lines between work and life have become blurry.

I applaud the generous church policies, including educational help — and yet, I often wonder how mission creep has affected my family relationships. As an ordained pastor, Sabbaths are often the busiest days of my week. Thankfully, my family is committed to my service and is very engaged in our home church — but what if they weren’t?

This leads me to my second question: Would I be willing to act on my convictions regarding my family — even if it would “hurt”? 

All around the world, thousands of Adventists are acting on their convictions as they commit to faithful Sabbath observance and walk away from good jobs that feed their families when these jobs infringe on the Sabbath. As a student in a public school with Sabbath classes in Germany I remember that convictions often require costly sacrifice. But what about my other Scripture-based convictions, like family unity, honoring father and mother, looking after the weak and weary? Am I willing to follow my convictions — even if it means a pay cut, a missed promotion or the conscious effort to downsize an overly busy life?

Adam LaRoche’s choice caused me to stop and reflect about the things that really count in my life. #FamilyFirst is not just a catchy Twitter hashtag or a lofty goal we try to keep in mind now and again. It’s a Scripture-based challenge that may call for costly decisions, only you can make personally. Ellen White well understood the kind of commitment to family that Adam LaRoche so powerfully illustrated. She wrote, “Parents, your own home is the first field in which you are called to labor. The precious plants in the home garden demand your first care. To you it is appointed to watch for souls as they that must give account. Carefully consider your work, its nature, its bearing, and its results.”1


Ellen G. White, The Adventist Home, p. 200.